Hard News by Russell Brown


Parties, seriousness and the death of Web 2.0

A couple of people asked me at Saturday night's wedding party whether I was really going for the job of editing Metro. Y'know, like it said in the paper that I was. I'm not, and have never even discussed the prospect with anyone. A certain diarist just pulled that out of … well, it wouldn't be polite to say where.

It's not that I don't like Metro. I read it every month, and my experience as a contributor for the outgoing editor was entirely satisfactory. But, even if I were to measure up, it would necessitate a halt to most of the other things I've put so much work into, and a couple of things that haven't happened yet, but might by the end of the year. It'd also be a bit like working for the man.

Still, there's no denying the appeal of getting out and researching Metro's Restaurant of the Year Awards. That would be good. My darling and I will consult the new guide when we get out and celebrate her birthday this coming weekend. (The rest of the new Metro, including a useful story on TVNZ by Jan Corbett, which doesn't seem to be pushing any particular agenda, is also pretty tasty.)

It's a busy-assed week, this one. I'll interview Ardal O'Hanlan (of Father Ted fame) for the radio show tomorrow, go along to the Freeview launch on Wednesday, speak at a freelance journalism conference on Thursday (subbing in for David Cohen, who's off in the Middle East) and attend the Magazine Publisher's Assocation awards on Friday night. I'm a finalist in the best business column category, for my regular Left Field piece in Unlimited: I don't think I'll win, but I didn't think I'd win in 2005 and 2006 either, so I guess it's as well that I'm actually going along this time.

I have no print entries in the Qantas Media Awards this year; because I was swamped and busy when the deadline loomed up and for other reasons. But I am entered in the all-new blog category (one of a cluster of online awards to debut this year), and I care more about that anyway.

What's that? Something to chew on? Try Andrew Keen, the author of The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing Our Culture and Assaulting Our Economy, which is attracting a notable buzz before it has even been published. Ironically, that buzz is developing through the very media that Keen declares is infantilising us all. Reading his blog, I'm inclined to take Keen in the spirit in which I'd take any contrarian. It's always useful to have one, but bucking established wisdom is not necessarily the same thing as being right, and I don't think even Keen believes everything he writes.

To make his argument fly, Keen is obliged to make some courageous generalisations. Does anybody really believe that all the world's blogs are of intrinsic and equal merit? Of course not.

Keen wants elites. Well, there are elites, all over the place. And those elites are more accessible to the rest of us than they ever were. Do we really want to return to a world where policy documents and party press releases only ever reached a tiny circle of lobbyists and journalists? Look at the sphere of the academic journal: while there's still no substitute for peer review, the journal system is broken in some significant ways, not least in the sheer cost for libraries and academic institutions in maintain subscriptions to journals that only reach a tiny minority of potentially interested readers. Does it benefit me that people in a range of disciplines also choose to communicate directly with a wider readership? Sure does.

We also tend to discount the leap in literacy that has accompanied the mainstreaming of the internet. Yes, you did read that right. How many of us, even us pros, wrote as much 10 years ago as we do now? How many of us ever participated in the kind of lengthy prose debates you see on Public Address System? Is opinion only meritorious if it is printed in a newspaper? And is the world of book really the worse for the rise of Amazon? Is Web 2.0 over because one of the hundreds of millions of people who use the internet killed himself live on his webcam? And where else does Keen think I'd have got the support and information I got from these amateurs when our son was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome? (And for that matter, show me a commentator who consistently nails it the way Autism Diva and her fellow Autism Hub bloggers do.)

So MySpace is mostly trivial. Was it expected to be other than that?

In the end, I have my doubts that the orderly world that Keen would wish would generate any near as much goodness as the disorderly world he attacks. Over the weekend, I watched a great BBC Four documentary called Once Upon a Time in New York, which effectively posits the Big Apple in the 70s as something akin to the South Bank of Shakespearian London. It was corrupt, crumbling and dangerous. And in a few short years it revitalised visual art and gave birth to punk rock, disco and the practical postmodernism of hip hop. That worked for me.


And, finally, the wedding I mentioned at the beginning was that of my good friends Phil and Renee. They had the ceremony in the garden of the King's Arms and had the party there later on. Blam Blam Blam played. It was great fun. And, having counted Phil and Renee as my partners in crime on any number of nights out in this town, I can confidently say that I've known few couples who complete each the way they do. They truly rock.

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