Now that the World Wide Web has been with us for twenty-five years, no one can doubt that it has transformed the world forever. But, in The Internet Is Not the Answer (Atlantic Monthly Press; January 6, 2015), Andrew Keen argues that on balance the web has done more harm than good except for a tiny group of young, privileged, white male Silicon Valley multi-millionaires.
Rather than making us wealthier, he writes, the unregulated digital economy is slowly making us all poorer. Rather than generating jobs, it is contributing significantly to rising unemployment. Rather than fostering equality, it is creating a chasm between rich and poor. Rather than holding our rulers to account, it is turning the world into a brightly lit glass cage in which everything is recorded and privacy no longer exists. Rather than promoting democracy, it is empowering mob rule. And rather than fostering a new renaissance, it is encouraging a culture of distraction, vulgarity, and narcissism.
How did we get here? Keen reminds us of the innocent beginnings of the Internet as he traces its evolution from World War II to the Cold War and then to the early nineties when Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web began its remarkable rise. It was then that the U.S. government handed over the publicly funded network to the commercial forces of start-ups like Netscape & Yahoo. The turning point was the meteoric rise of multibillion dollar Web 2.0 companies like Google and Facebook, which set in motion an increasingly exploitative and monopolistic Internet economy that in no way resembles the values the World Wide Web was founded upon.
By 2039, almost everyone alive will be online. Before it’s too late, it’s up to us to stop the corruption of the Internet and return it to its founding principles to foster creativity, self-expression, small business and personal freedom. What we have now, Keen writes, is a “top down winner takes all economy run by a plutocracy of lords and masters.” What we need, he explains, is a networked society that enriches citizenship, not consumption.
Andrew Keen is an entrepreneur who founded Audiocafe.com in 1995 and built it into a popular first generation Internet company. He is the executive director of the Silicon Valley salon FutureCast, the host of the Techonomy interview show "Keen On", a columnist for CNN and he has appeared on CNN, NPR and “Colbert Report.” He has spoken at LeWeb, DLD, Disrupt, Next Web and TEDx. His books include Digital Vertigo and the Cult of the Amateur, which has been published in 17 different languages.