Andrew Keen is an author, commentator and speaker. Previously a pioneering internet entrepreneur, he is reknowned for his challenging critiques of Web 2.0, social media and modern internet culture.
The Digital Revolution programme one team met and interviewed Andrew to discuss the Internet's libertarian beginnings and its expanding role in world cultures and economies.
So, do you agree with Andrew's analysis of the 'digital revolution'? That the counter culture has become the dominant, accepted culture; that there is no revolution, rather young men getting very rich on the work of many others chasing a delusion of democracy and egalitarianism?
Let us know in the comments below.
Andrew You know all technology is routed in ideology. Take, one of the big misunderstandings of the internet is that it suddenly came along, this miracle, this religious miracle that was granted to us because we were such good human beings, or, you know maybe we behaved ourselves one day so we got it as a Christmas present. Its absolute nonsense. The Internet has a cultural and a very concrete cultural ideological context. It represents the fusion of the old military industrial complex of southern California, and the hippy ethic of northern California. Both were, in a sense opposed to authority. And in a book erm written by Fred Turner, a Stamford University Professor, an excellent book, erm entitled From Counter Culture to Cyber Space, he explains that very strange union, although on reflection it's not that strange. Because both erm the military industrial complex, which invented the internet or at least financed the internet in the late 50's, and the counter culture of the late 60's, in san Francisco were libertarian or hostile to authority, hostile to the state, hostile to traditions. So on reflection I'm not sure how unnatural the union was, but these people were tied together by the libertarianism, by they're hostility to traditional forms of authority.
Intvr how did they're libertarianism come together, can you tell me a little bit more about that?
Andrew Well I think there was a you see it in the Internet is there's this hostility, the Internet itself reflects a hostility towards authority. So the Internet is an edge technology, it has no centre, its no coincidence then that it reflects the ideology of the people who invented it, and the people who drove it. Erm I mean technology is simply a reflection of human will. Technology isn't accidental, technology just doesn't come about in a vacuum.
Intvr You talk, you said that both the military industrial complex and sort of I guess hippy counter culture, northern California, San Francisco were libertarian, how does the military ..........................?
Andrew Well I think the military industrial complex was obsessed with the cold war, obsessed with hostility towards erm Eastern Europe and towards state socialism. Its no coincidence that Reagan came out of that, its no coincidence that the hippies themselves were really libertarian, were embracing the free market, its no coincidence that most of the major intellectual figures of the contemporary internet are also free market idealists, or radicals, people like Chris Anderson. So there is an ideological symmetry to what's happening, I'm not suggesting there's a conspiracy, I'm not suggesting that a, you know a couple of people from Rand and Lockheed and some long haired fatsos from San Francisco got together in the early 60's and said how are we going to, how are we going to impose our way on the world. Things in historical terms don't work that simply. But I think its very important for people to understand that the Internet, with its absence of a centre, with its obsession with the edge, is not coincidental, it reflects values. And technology can never be detached from values. Technology reflects human beings, human beings don't reflect technology.
Intvr But what do you mean about its obsession with the edge?
Andrew Well the idea that there is no centre, I mean when you listen to people like Berners-Lee and all the rest of the crowd, they idealise this notion for the first time in human history, we've created something without a centre, it can't be controlled. Well the reason we created it is because these people were opposed to the notion of hierarchy and authority. So it wasn't an accident. They created they're ideological wet dream.
Intvr but you've also said that hierarchy and oligarchy and so on.
Interruption - Andrew laughs
Intvr So how does this fit then, that if they're obsessed with the edge, a kind of web evangelised through they're obsessed with the edge and having they're .................... and they're anti-hierarchical, but you've also talked about the web being marked by hierarchy and oligarchy, how does that fit?
Andrew Well that's a really good question, and it can be summarised again in the nature of the companies, there's reality and there's ideology. So when you listen to the, the young mean who run Google, they will spout the ideology about the absence of an edge, they will talk about doing no evil, they will, they will attempt to reform the world in they're image. The reality though is they're monopolising the print business, they're putting newspapers out of business, the reality is they hire 747 jets, erm they buy the airports next to they're office and they fly around Africa. So the reality, of economics and the ideology erm seem in contradiction, but when you understand, I think, the full history of the Internet it actually makes sense. Now, again, I'm not saying necessarily that they are hypocrites, I'm simply saying that there are these parallel worlds of the Internet and the way people think. I'm not suggesting that they're consciously hypocrites or consciously opportunists, but what you have with the internet is a world on the one hand where a lot of young mean, and they tend to be young men, erm, spout off a lot of nonsense in my view, about democratisation, and egalitarianism and the opening up of everything. On the other hand these young men are become infinitely rich and powerful.
Andrew I think what's really interesting erm in terms of the way in which the counter culture has become the culture, and particularly the Madison Avenue erm media culture. Erm the work of cultural critics like Thomas Frank have shown, that the counter culture has become the thing in itself, the thing of value. Adverts, erm leverage the idea of rebellion of resistance to authority, as a way of selling products. So the counter culture has become the heart of capitalism. And erm so its no coincidence that the new Barons of capitalism, the young men in Google and, and Yahoo and My Space and Twitter and Facebook, are also deeply counter cultural.
Intvr So that way is the web rather than being as some people said a levelling equalising force actually just the next stage of capitalism.
Andrew The web as the next stage of capitalism, your beginning to sound like me now, erm, absolutely yeah. I mean the web is the digital version of capitalism, and social media is the next stage in postindustrial capitalism.
Intvr And why is it the next stage?
Andrew Well it's the, the digital version, it's the way in which industrial production and industrial society is being replaced by the digital, by globalisation, by the virtualisation of production, by all the other features and values and way's of organising that the web is. So I think that that's what's most interesting about the Internet, as the next stage in capitalism, as a very pure stage. Erm, erm a reflection of a very pure market capitalism, free market capitalism, hostility towards authority, hostility towards the state, hostility towards external laws and organisations.
Intvr so what would you say to all those people those kind of people sitting there in front of they're laptops, they're computers with these kind of dreams of that somehow they're taking part in this great equalising experiment that everyone's being connected around the world, it's a great new web family that's being created. What would you say to that?
Andrew Well what I say to the people who are sitting in front of they're computers, believing in revolution. I think I would say the same thing as those people in the 16th and 17th and 18th century who went to church, and who believed in universal redemption, or realisation in heaven. I believe that they're, that they are subjects or victims of a, of, of false consciousness, that they're wrong. That they're believing in something that doesn't really exist, and they're dupes or they're exploited. Particularly those of them who stupidly give away they're labour for free, so that young men in Silicon Valley can become infinitely rich.