An Internet entrepreneur and critic rails against the inexorable growth of social media.
Keen (The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing Our Culture, 2007) claims that the onslaught of social media and the willingness of users to share every detail of their lives online signify that “we are forgetting who we really are.” The author takes on serious issues like privacy concerns and how online communities create real-world isolation, and he offers thoughtful analysis of what a shared online experience could mean for the future. But despite his passion, the author never creates a satisfying argument and struggles to establish connections between past events and the online realm today. For example, he unconvincingly tags the “narcissistic generation” of 1960s “bohemians” as the forerunners of the “free-floating, fragmented butterflies of today’s age of Foursquare, SocialEyes and Plancast.” Keen’s tendency to ping from subject to subject—e.g., from the Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851 to Vermeer’s 17th-century painting Woman in Blue Reading a Letter to Orwell’s 1984—confuses considerably more than it elucidates. Lacking historical analogies for other points, the author falls back on excessively provocative statements, often without any evidence to back them up—a social reading app, for example, would herald “the end of solitary thought.” Adding to the jumble is Keen’s heavy-handed insistence on drawing parallels between our online lives and the plot of Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller Vertigo—he even devotes nearly an entire chapter to the movie’s plot—possibly in an attempt to justify his book’s title.
Occasionally insightful but tiresome and scattershot.