Although Andrew Keen has long been involved with Silicon Valley, he has a big problem with the sunny predictions made by early champions of the Internet. And here he is on solid ground. The web did not level the political playing field, provide nearly as many jobs as it destroyed, turn every citizen into an entrepreneur or allow us to share the Internet’s bounty of conveniences without sacrificing our privacy in the process.
Keen concedes that only so many sins can be laid at the Internet’s feet, but he does indict it for an array of evils, ranging from encouraging copyright piracy to concentrating wealth in the hands of a few. He describes how digital photography reduced Kodak to ruins and how the digital copying of music toppled his beloved record stores along London’s “Golden Mile of Vinyl.”
But there’s a distinction to be made—and one Keen too often ignores—between the capabilities a new technology offers and the uses to which those capabilities are put. After all, one can hardly blame the invention of the telescope for a proliferation of Peeping Toms. Nor is there anything intrinsically sinister about new technologies rendering old ones obsolete. All technologies are transitional, and at each stage of inventive evolution there are human casualties, jobs lost and communities torn asunder. This is a major reason governments exist—to help absorb the shock of such dislocation.
That’s pretty much the solution Keen ultimately arrives at. “The answer,” he says, “is to use the law and regulation to force the Internet out of its prolonged adolescence.” Technology, after all, controls process, not its own context.