I had a brief but enlightening discussion a few days ago with our Head of Lower School regarding Andrew Keen’s book, The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture. As the title suggests, Keen takes a dim view of the Internet and is particularly disparaging of blogs, wikis and other Web 2.0 tools. In his opening chapter, The Great Seduction, he states:
“What the Web 2.0 revolution is really delivering is superficial observations of the world around us rather than deep analysis, shrill opinion rather than considered judgment. The information business is being transformed by the Internet into the sheer noise of a hundred million bloggers all simultaneously talking about themselves. … For the real consequence for the Web 2.0 revolution is less culture, less reliable news, and a chaos of useless information.”
Keen’s assertions, which many may be inclined to agree with given the anonymity of the Internet, gave me cause to reflect as one of the hundred million allegedly contributing to our “demise”. In light of his premise that democratized media will be the death of culture, we in the blogosphere must ask ourselves, “ARE we a cult of amateurs?” At the risk of over-simplification, the answer depends on whether we are generating “signals” or merely making noise.
Although an electrical engineering concept, signal-to-noise can be useful in evaluating participation in social media. As defined by Wikipedia:
“Signal-to-noise…is the ratio of a signal power to the noise power corrupting the signal. In less technical terms, signal-to-noise ratio compares the level of a desired signal (such as music) to the level of background noise. The higher the ratio, the less obtrusive the background noise.”
In completely non-technical terms, when we contribute to all that is Web 2.0, we must consider whether we are conveying accurate and meaningful information (signal) or unsubstantiated and/or misinformed opinion (noise). Unfortunately, the distinction between the two is often a matter of perception and experience; one person’s cowbell is another’s music:
The majority of blogs that I read are related to education and instructional technology, and all of the bloggers that I regularly read demonstrate evidence of professional knowledge and expertise. This is not to say that it’s wrong to express opinions or that every post requires an annotated bibliography, but credibility requires that personal beliefs are not presented under the false pretense of professional best practice.
Keen is correct in that the Internet contains an almost overwhelming amount of noise, but there is a powerful signal there as well for those who choose to listen. What, then, is the ratio for us individually and collectively? Are we a cult of amateurs, or has Keen simply focused on the static in the background?
I invite you to share your thoughts on our “amateur” status and point us toward those resources that defy the stereotype. My “Sites to Visit” blogroll has been replaced by a currently empty “Signal-to-Noise” space that I hope to fill with your recommendations. We look forward to reading your suggestions, so please share your professional insight, but go easy on the cowbell….