The World Wide Web v. High Culture

In the TLS, Paul Duguid reviews Andrew Keen’s The Cult of the Amateur: How today’s internet is killing our culture:

If debates about the internet are turning to examinations of our culture, this is to be welcomed. The turn may reflect an exasperation with the way economic concepts have come to dominate such discussions. Even the New Yorker, the stately home of cultural debate in America, now feels obliged to provide room for a “financial” page. Changes that fall under the heading Web 2.0 do have cultural implications. For example, collectively produced and dynamically changing pages, like those of Wikipedia, unsettle implicit notions about what a page is and how it might be understood, notions that extend back at least to the rise of print culture, if not to the appearance of the codex. The end of the page as we knew it will be unsettling not only for biblio- philes, but even for such Web 2.0 businesses as Google, whose empire depends on its ability to rank pages, and the inherent assumption that with these there is something relatively constant and coherent to rank.

A debate pitting [Raymond] Williamsites such as Benkler, who are in support of expanding popular culture, against [Matthew] Arnoldians such as Keen, who write in defence of a circumscribed “High Culture”, would not be new, but, in the context of the internet, it might nonetheless be worth having. Unfortunately, Keen, who seems happy on the plains, lamenting the loss of NBC programming, is less likely to thrive on the higher altitudes he has chosen.