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There’s gold to be made in techno-pessimism

Andrew Keen is probably one of the best known techno-pessimists and his services as a speaker are in high demand.

[I used to work with Keen at Podtech where I was helping develop a range of tech-related video shows.]

Keen has spent many years lamenting the fall in quality of our culture because of amateurs rewriting our encyclopedias (Wikipedia) and competing with high quality TV (Youtube videos of skateboarding cats) and the decline of professional journalists and editors (and the rise of blogs).

His book Cult of the Amateur: How blogs, MySpace, YouTube, and the rest of today’s user-generated media are destroying our economy, our culture, and our values, struck a chord with many people.

In May he published Digital Vertigo: How Today’s Online Social Revolution Is Dividing, Diminishing, and Disorienting Us.

I have heard Keen speak several times and I disagree with him on most things. Plus, I don’t see the point in looking backwards, especially with a twisted mirror.

I’m far more interested in how technology and media is changing society, how it is changing us, and how it will enable us to potentially develop a completely new society and experience of humanity.

We’re entering a post technology world where it’s the economic and cultural applications that people engage with — that become the most interesting topic — not the technology.

As for the dumbing down of society? We’ve been doing a pretty good job since Greek and Roman times, we don’t need technologies such as the Internet or Youtube to go lowbrow.

Why whine about bloggers and low quality content? I don’t read or look at crap, because it’s easy to escape it these days – not so easy when the choices were limited — there were just three TV channels in the UK until 1980 and mainstream media dominated all media. We are far better off today.

Mr Keen sends me his weekly newsletter which tells me where in the world is traveling, and where he is appearing: conferences, TV, radio, magazines, etc. He’s extremely busy, his role as an articulate techno-pessimist is much in demand.

Here’s an extract from his latest e-mail:

I just came back from Sao Paolo and Rio where I keynoted The Next Web conference and then launched the Brazilian language version of Digital Vertigo.

I flew to Brazil via Aspen, where I got grilled by CNET’s Declan McCullagh at TPI’s Aspen Forum.

And the week before that I was in Scotland, where the Glaswegian novelist Ewan Morrison interviewed me at the Edinburgh Book Festival.

… I’m off to Toronto this week for a debate on Thursday at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management with my arch-frenemy, the bestselling utopian Don Tapscott.

I’ll be at both Frost and Sullivan’s GIL and Techcrunch’s Disrupt conferences next week in the Bay Area.

After that, I’m in Europe for the rest of the month, first at WPP’s Stream unconference in Athens, then speaking at the InternetBeta conference in Rzeszow, the Dutch Tax Office’s curiously named “Week of Inspiration” conference in Apeldorn and, finally, the Recorded Future conference in London.

There’s some pro-bono appearances here but the rest are paid gigs. Speaker fees at conferences can be $30k to $50k and sometimes more, so there’s a very good living to be made as a professional techno-pessimist. There’s not too many around — I’m sure the market could handle a few more.

Evgeny Morozov is a rising star in this sector. I enjoyed his takedown of TED (Has TED ‘Become An Insatiable Kingpin Of International Meme Laundering’? – SVW). He’s a very entertaining writer.

I’m neither optimist or pessimist, all the time. I am optimistic about some things and critical about others. I want to be free to choose instead of always being just one or the other. It’s easy being just one or the other.

Author | Tom Foremski: In Silicon Valley

Tom Foremski: In Silicon Valley
Tom Foremski is a former Financial Times journalist and the Founder and Publisher of Silicon Valley Watcher, which is an online news site reporting on the business of Silicon Valley and the culture of disruption. More