Andrew Keen insists he is neither anti-technology nor anti-progress. Yet this veteran of the dot com era begins his recent book, The Cult of the Amateur (Doubleday/Currency, 2007), sounding much like a high-culture snob pooh-poohing the vulgar masses for having appropriated the Web as their own and, in the process, wreaking potential destruction on our economy, culture and values. Keen's polemic hints less at neo-Luddite dissent than at an underlying bitterness and resentment--at his own gullibility at having been so easily sucked into the Internet dream, and also at those who have taken the technology out of the hands of professionals like himself ("I almost became rich" [p. 11], he confesses in the beginning of the first chapter). Drawing on 19th-century evolutionary biologist T. H. Huxley's "infinite monkey theory," Keen fears what lies ahead when the masses are empowered with far-reaching technology. As the author describes it, Huxley's theorem asserts that if infinite monkeys are provided with infinite typewriters, one of these monkeys will eventually create a masterpiece. Keen updates and reverses the theorem, replacing monkeys with humans and typewriters with networked personal computers; and "instead of creating masterpieces, these millions and millions of exuberant monkeys--many with no more talent than our primate cousins--are creating an endless digital forest of mediocrity" (pp. 2-3). By the end of the introduction, a reader would have just cause to feel a bit insulted.
But if you haven't tossed the book out the window just yet as one extended tantrum--and are willing to patiently look past the author's continued candor on the infinite monkey metaphor--you begin to encounter a number of points that are likely to give you pause, possibly in alarm.