BRIAN LAMB: Andrew Keen, where did you get this title, "The Internet is Not the Answer?"
ANDREW KEEN: Well Brian, like most of my best ideas, they couldn't come from me. The original title, I can't say the exact words because this is, I'm sure, is a family show, but the original title was called "Epic Fail." And my American publisher, who you know, Morgan Entrekin, didn't like that title because he thought it was too abstract.
So we had a long conversation with my agent, Toby Mundy, from London on the phone. And at one point Morgan shouted, "But the Internet is not the answer," and then there was this silence, and they thought, "That's a good title." So it wasn't my title unfortunately. It's a good title though, isn't it?
LAMB: I wanted to ask you the minute I read this book about the whole chapter you talk about failing. "FailCon." What is that?
KEEN: Well, I'm sure you've been out to Silicon Valley. One of the latest cults, and it is a place of cults, very susceptible to cults, is this ideal of failure. You're only someone, Brian, in Silicon Valley if you've failed. And of course the reality-as so much in Silicon Valley-the reality is the reverse. The bigger success you are, the more you boast about failure.
So in one of the chapters, I attended a conference called FailCon. And one of the speakers there was a young man called Travis Kalanick, who boasted- now he's the current CEO of Uber, the darling of Silicon Valley, a company worth $40 billion. But in his speech at FailCon, he boasted about being sued by the record labels for a quarter of $1 trillion because he had a company called Scour, which had essentially, like Napster, legitimized the stealing of music.
So the cult of failure is really one of the most sort of grating and irritating aspects of Silicon Valley. You have people like Tim O'Reilly-a very well known publisher-he makes speeches like "How I Failed."
But of course the real truth about Silicon Valley is they're the winners. And the real failure is people who don't have jobs, people who are watching this, people who are unemployed, people who are under employed, people who can't get into college.
They don't boast about failure. They don't go around saying, "I'm a failure." Do you ever say you're a failure? I failed, but I'm not proud of it, and I think that this cult of failure is one of the reasons why Silicon Valley is so profoundly out of touch with the rest of the world, because it's the one sector in the American economy fortunately that's doing well. It's the one sector driving innovation, driving change. So when you have a cult of failure there, it's particularly grating.
LAMB: Where did you grow up?
KEEN: I grew up in London, North London, a place called Golders Green.
LAMB: What was your life like in London?
KEEN: My life in London was middle class. Jewish. North London, for those of your viewers- I don't know what the equivalent would be in New York. What's a sort of middle or lower-middle class neighborhood in New York? Brooklyn of some sort.
So my family were shop keepers. My great-grandfather had come over from Poland, and he began life in the East End, the docks of London-the old docks. Now the East End is being reinvented as a financial center. But the old docks, he came over and he sold fashion fabric, which was in those days most women, in particular, made their own clothing. This was before the ready-made revolution.
So he would wheel his cart from the East End to the West End, which was the fancy neighborhood of London. And eventually my family did better, and they had a store on Oxford Street, which was the major shopping street of Europe. And so I was lucky; I had a quite a privileged upbringing.
LAMB School: LAMB: School: how much?
KEEN: Enough. I was at school in North London High School. And then I went to the University of London, and I went to a place called the School of Slavonic Studies. I was an East Europeanist, specialized in Balkan history.
This was before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, so I was particularly interested in the history of communism and the history of pre-communism, so I specialized in Russia, history of Germany, and the history of countries that then existed like Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, which now, of course, have fragmented.
After I graduated from the School of Slavonic Studies in London, I was a British Council Scholar, which is the equivalent of a Fulbright scholarship, in Sarajevo in the old Yugoslavia, which now of course is Bosnia. This was both before the civil war and before the Olympics. This was '82, '83.
And then I came to grad school at Berkeley. I came as a political scientist, and I actually had the fairly unique achievement of coming as a scholar and then being thrown out as a trouble maker. So I've had my moments of failure too.
LAMB: What kind of trouble were you making?
KEEN: I made fun of the stodgy academics, you know, these career academics who have nothing say for themselves. And as you can tell from my work, I find it hard not to be sometimes a little brutal, and certainly I like to try and tell the truth or what I see as the truth.
And American academia is so mired in tradition, in bureaucracy. It's so reactionary, whether it's from the left or the right. You know, you've got political correctness. And in England, you're trained to think for yourself. When I was a student in England, my professors, my teachers expected me to argue with them, expected me to think for myself.
So when I came to Berkeley, it was a real cultural shock when you've got these professors who expected you to agree with them, who expected you to toe the line, who expected you to read their boring articles and theories and then spew them back to them. So, of course-perhaps rather immaturely-I wasn't willing to do that, and they weren't very happy, so I was thrown out.
The pinnacle of my career at Berkeley, if one can call it a pinnacle- I had a particularly stodgy, old Austro-Hungarian professor, Hungarian. And one day, he had some visiting students from Harvard. And so he particularly wanted the graduate students to behave themselves. And this was during the period of CeauÈ™escu, and of course CeauÈ™escu was this awful dictator in Romania. And I gave this rather entertaining presentation comparing CeauÈ™escu with Vlad the Impaler, the old medieval ruler of Romainia. And after, that this Hungarian, this old, crusty, boring, bureaucratic Hungarian professor never spoke to me again, and that was my kiss of death.
So no, I didn't fit into academia, which is kind of ironic in the sense that sometimes people think I'm a defender of the old elite, of traditions, but I like to think of myself in more rebellious terms.
LAMB: Where do you live now?
KEEN: I live in Santa Rosa in California. Are you familiar with the movie "Shadow of a Doubt"?
LAMB: I don't think so.
KEEN: That's the great Hitchcock movie made in 1943, and it's the ultimate film about the innocence of small town life in America. And as a big fan of Hitchcock, who even wrote a book called "Digital Vertigo," I like the idea of living in an innocent America, which of course, isn't quite as innocent as it appears.
LAMB: Going to run a clip from your tex- I mean, your TEDx speech that you gave and eventually show something from Vertigo.
But before we do this, and we've got several excerpts, you gave this speech in 2012. What is TEDx, and where was it?
KEEN: TEDx is a sort of- TEDx is the franchise of TED. So there's a couple of main TED events, which are very exclusive events, again, for the sort of technology elite, who like to think they're improving the world, and in order to improve the world they'll spend $6,000 or $7,000 to socialize with each other for a weekend.
But anyone can now buy in to the TED brand, and you can put on a TEDx event. They're very good actually; some are better than others. They're all a lot more- they're all a lot less exclusive, a lot less elitist than the main TED. So I've done them in- I don't know which speech you're talking about...
LAMB: This is Brussels.
KEEN: I've done Brussels. I've done Budapest. I've done them in Europe. So- I've done them in Holland, so they're a lot of fun. I mean...
KEEN: Have you ever been to one?
LAMB: No, I watched them while I'm online.
LAMB: But do they pay you to do these?
KEEN: They pay expenses, but you get to meet interesting people. The one at Brussels, if you're going to show a clip of, I spoke just before Steve Wozniak, you know, the co-founder of Apple. And he was very friendly afterward. He said my speech made him cry. I don't know whether it was for laughter or sadness, but certainly had an impact.
LAMB: Well let's watch a little bit. We have more than one clip. We'll watch this and then ask you more about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
We are data. Or we are emerging as data. That's the thing that Steve Wozniak, for better or worse, put into motion. That's the thing most- that's the industry that most of us are involved in. And as we look at each other in the future, in the later part of the 21st century, we won't see question marks. We will see data. We will see information.
And indeed, one company in Silicon Valley-you may have heard of it, it's called Google-they're even designing glasses, which when you put on, you won't see these physical question marks. You will see data.
Bang, bang. That's the corpse, that's the murder.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: "Bang, bang" refers to a song you used with Nancy Sinatra singing...
KEEN: Right. That was the theme of the show, "Bang, Bang." So I couldn't resist using that.
LAMB: So what are you trying to do at a speech like this, and who's the audience?
KEEN: Well, the audience- that particular event, which I think is the largest TEDx in the world, there were about- it was in Brussels, in downtown Brussels, sort of about 3,000 people in the audience, and the tickets are relatively affordable there, maybe 100, 150 euro.
So the audience would be made up of technologists, journalists, students. It's a good audience. I did a similar one in Budapest to a wonderful audience. You're trying engage and entertain. Everyone at TEDx gets I think it's 16 minutes to speak. And you're supposed to make it engaging. You're supposed to make it a memorable experience.
LAMB: Is it scripted?
KEEN: No, not at all.
LAMB: So, when you- we watch you with this, you're just- it's off the top of your head?
KEEN: It's of the top of my head. TED likes- the TEDx people like to get people to prepare, and they like practice. But I never do it, and they always get annoyed at me because I never show up to the practice, because I think speeches, when they canned, they're worthless. I think they have to be spontaneous. And I can only get motivated if I'm in front of people. I'm the kind of person- my books are always late, my articles are always late. I like this kind of experience because I can't put it off. So I can only really take something seriously if I'm in front of 3,000 people, because that forces you not to screw up.
And it's an invigorating experience. I think for me, the live experience is excellent. I've been able to prosper in this economy because of that. As a pure writer, I think I would be struggling a lot more. And was- I don't necessarily celebrate that, because I know many very fine writers and very fine thinkers struggle in front of a live audience.
The real opportunity now in the digital age, ironically, is the physical experience. What the digital has done has commodified the copy; it's made it worthless. No one pays for anything online.
But what's that's done, ironically enough, is made the physical experience a lot more valuable. It's why events like TED, as a franchise, are now so valuable. It's why people go to events. What the internet has done is made us want to physically meet people more, which means that we're not going to disappear into the digital ether. There'll always be the physical experience. But to do well in this world, particularly as an entertainer or a thinker or as a writer, you have to be able to perform. You have to be able to entertain.
LAMB: In your talk- and we're going to see an excerpt of it, you- and set it up if you don't mind, the whole use of the Vertigo clip. And where did you get the idea. Did you use this for a long time?
KEEN: The Vertigo clip of...
LAMB: Of Jimmy Stuart and...
KEEN: Right. Well for me, I've always had an obsession with Hitchcock's Vertigo. I think it's his major achievement. I remember seeing it. I've always been a huge cinema person. I think I first saw it at the Everyman in North London in Hampstead when I was about 16. Then the new print came out. I saw it at the National Theatre. That is one of those films that attracts, I think, obsessives like me, because there are so many layers. Every time you see it, you peel another skin.
And of course, for me it was a wonderful opportunity to write about Silicon Valley, because I've always thought of technology as the great seduction, as the thing that you fall in love with. And you think you're falling in love with one thing, and you're actually falling in love with something quite different. And Vertigo is the ultimate movie about falling in love with something that doesn't really exist.
I'm sure most of your listeners- most of your viewers are familiar with the movie, but it's a film about a man who falls in love with a blond who turns out to be a brunette- who falls in love with what he thinks is a blond, beautiful, San Francisco heiress and turns out to be a brunette from Kansas who works as a shop girl. So it's all about that.
LAMB: Well let's watch it and then you can...
KEEN: We're going to watch Vertigo? Or we're going to watch my clip?
LAMB: No, we're going to watch this clip- or with- starts with Vertigo.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
Here she goes. Look at him, he's already transfixed. He's in love. And he hasn't even met her, he hasn't even talked to her. He's watching. Å½iÅ¾ek, the great Slovenian philosopher, calls this the parallax view, that doorway.
Here she comes. Look at her. Kim Novak, a beautiful blond, American heiress from San Francisco, who drives a green Jaguar around town. He's fallen in love. He's gone for her.
Now what does Vertigo have to do with the information and data? I fear the truth of the movie some of you may have seen is that the blond isn't really a blond. She in fact, she is a brunette shop girl from Kansas. All women from Kansas, I think, work in stores, and they're brunettes.
And he is about to be set up. He's about to be sucked into this vortex of heartbreak and murder. And that's what we're here to talk about today, because just as Jimmy Stewart got sold a false blond, we are being sold something also, which is a scam. Something which is undermining who we are as a species.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: What's the scam?
KEEN: The scam is the ideal of being able to self-publish online. The scam is Facebook, Instagram. The scam is Twitter. And you know I'm as easy to seduce as anyone, so I'm on some of these things too. I'm not claiming not to be.
The scam is the idea that these platforms give us the opportunity to realize ourselves, to tell the world what we think, what we see, to distribute our photography, our music, our movies, our texts, allows us to become online bloggers and photographers and videographers.
But the scam is that we're being used. Mike Moritz, the very brilliant Silicon Valley venture capitalist who invested in Google and Yahoo and many of the other big hits, describes this as the data factory economy. In the old days, in the industrial age, people went to work in factories. They were paid for their labor. They worked nine to five, and they went home and did what they want with that money.
Today we're all working in these factories like Google, like Facebook, like Twitter, but we're unpaid labor. We're working 24 hours a day. We're not rewarded. It's not even acknowledged that we're creating the value for them.
And worse than that, we are the ones who are being packaged up as the product, because of course, what these companies are doing is learning more and more about us from our behaviour, from what we publish, from our photographs, from our ideas, from what we buy, from what we say, from what we don't say. They're learning about us, they're creating this Bentham-like Panopticon, and then they are transforming us, they are repackaging us as the product.
So we are the ones being sold. Not only are we working for free, but then we're being sold. So it's the ultimate scam. It's a perfect Hitchcock movie.
LAMB: Who is Bentham? And what's a Panopticon?
KEEN: Bentham was- Jeremy Bentham was an early 19th century British utilitarian philosopher, the founder of utilitarianism. And he invented this idea of the Panopticon, a prison which had a tower which could see everyone. Bentham believed- and that, the panopticon idea, could also be used in schools and hospitals. Bentham believed that this would create discipline in the new industrial society.
The French historian and philosopher Michel Foucault has written extensively about Bentham. Interestingly enough, Bentham inspired John Stuart Mill, the great 19th century theorist of liberalism. Mill reacted against Bentham and wrote a book called "On Liberty" in which he went beyond utilitarianism, what Bentham called his pleasure and pain principle, and saw it in more complex terms. But I love Bentham. Or I don't mean I love Bentham. I love the idea of Bentham. And Bentham, both his corpse and his ideas, play a central role in the narrative of "Digital Vertigo."
LAMB: You mentioned Twitter. I want to show you a list of the top 10 people in the United States who have Twitter followers and look at the numbers, and just tell us what this means to you when you see it.
We'll look at that bottom- all the way up to the first five. We've got Katy Perry, who has the most followers at 63 million; Justin Beiber up there at 59 million; Barack Obama at number three at- which is 52 million; Taylor Swift at 50; YouTube, who- I don't think YouTube is a person, but they have 48 million followers. In the bottom, Lady Gaga at 43; Britney Spears at 40...
KEEN: Well, these aren't the bottom. They're just the next five.
LAMB: I mean the bottom of the 10.
KEEN: Yes, yes.
LAMB: Justin Timberlake at 40 million; Rihanna at 39; and finally Ellen DeGeneres at 37. What's that say to you?
KEEN: What it says is that the internet again has created a world not of cultural democracy. It's not what Thomas Friedman calls a "flat world." It's actually as rocky, as hilly, as mountainous as the old world. It's created this infrastructure for a winner-take-all culture economy, as well as a winner-take-all economic system, in which a tiny group of superstar entertainers are controlling our attention.
There's a very brilliant business writer at Harvard Business School called Anita Elberse. I may have mispronounced her last name. She's written an important book called "Blockbusters." And what she says is she compares the digital economy with the old industrial economy. We were promised that the internet would democratize, would sweep away the old elites, the record labels, the Hollywood studios.
But actually we've got more of the same. It's even worse now. What we have is a system where a tiny group of people control our attention. And if that isn't bad enough, the other thing that's an even worse consequence is that this economy is hollowing out the middle. The old entertainment economy- it wasn't ideal. I'm not defending the labels and the studios. They produced a lot of garbage, and they were corrupt and they supported certain kinds of elites. I don't deny any of that.
But what it did at least guarantee was the infrastructure, the ecosystem of the middle class economy of gatekeepers, of editors, of people who would film shows like this, of journalists, of people who had regular, middle class incomes.
What the internet has done is swept away that old class. None of these people have any role in the digital economy, and it's enabled a superstar class of Rihannas and Lady Gagas with 10's, 50 million followers and destroyed the old middle class. So we all lose again. This is a lose-lose rather than the classic Silicon Valley notion of win-win.
LAMB: As you saw on the list, Barack Obama was third, and he's the only person on the list that's a politician other than...
LAMB: ...the rest are entertainers. But I want to show you a clip of a- he did a seven-minute video some time back-the day before he went to Iowa to make a speech about the internet. And he did it in the oval office. I don't know if you've seen this.
LAMB: But I want to show it as- to get you to comment, because this president is using this kind of media all the time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA: One of the things that I'm going to make an early announcement about this week is the issue of getting faster broadband. I want to take a look at something I've got here on my iPad.
This is internet download speeds by city. OK. I can zoom up if you want so you can see the names there. So you got Seoul, South Korea, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Paris. These cities all have really fast access to the internet, because they've made the investments in broadband.
Now here's what's interesting. Right next to it, you've got Cedar Falls, Iowa. Now Cedar Falls isn't really a big place. You've only got 40,000 people in Cedar Falls, but the reason they can compete with these other world cities is because citizens got together and made the investment to bring competition in and make sure that internet speeds were just as fast there as anywhere else.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: What's your reaction?
KEEN: Well my reaction is that broadband is a really complex issue. I think it's not an area that I'm, I would say, an expert in. I'm more of an analyst of the broader internet economy and its cultural economy. What I would say is I think there is an exaggerated sense of the poor quality of American broadband. America actually does better in broadband than some people think.
Having said that though, I do like the Korean model. I myself have no problems with public investment in broadband in the same way as I tell the story in "The Internet Is Not the Answer." The internet came out of government investment. It came down as a top-down project. So I am not an opponent of public investment in things like broadband.
LAMB: I wanted to ask you also the political question about this, the President using this device the day before his speech. He- I think he's the first president who's ever done this. And I actually found online, there's a whole list of people at the White House like Kori Schulman. She's the Director of Online Engagement for the Office of Digital Strategy. Makes $73,000 a year. Ashleigh Axios, her title is Creative Director for the Office of Digital Strategy. Jesse Lee, Director of Progressive Media and Online Response. See if I've got the...
KEEN: What's the difference between progressive media and regular media?
LAMB: I don't know. But it says he makes $95,000 a year. And then we have another White House profile on Adam Garber. I want to make sure that- yes. He's a $72,000 a year guy. And he doesn't have a- yes he does. He's Video Director for the Office of Digital Strategy. I'm...
KEEN: He probably took the- he probably did the video of that Obama thing.
LAMB: And I wanted just- there's more. Lindsay Holtz is the Director of Digital Content for the Office of Digital Strategy. And finally, Nathaniel Lubin is Acting Director for the Office of Digital Strategy and he's a $80,000-a-year man.
KEEN: You think they're over-paid, Brian?
LAMB: I have no idea. I just think it's interesting, and I wanted your comment on the idea that always kind of folks work at the White House, and what's the impact on our country?
KEEN: I can't comment on those guys. What I would say is that that seems to me to be a troubling intimacy between the Obama administration and certain internet companies beginning with G. For example, the new CTO, Megan Smith, used to be the VP in charge of Business Development at this company beginning with G. I'm sure you can think of it. If not you can look it up online.
LAMB: I can Google it?
KEEN: You may be able to Google it. And there seems to be- that kind of intimacy I find very troubling.
KEEN: Because Google has an agenda. Because Google is one of the two or three most powerful companies in the world. And if Obama surrounded himself, for example, with transportation policy, with all these people who used to work for Ford, I think people would be a little troubled by that.
Google has an agenda. Google has an agenda on network neutrality. They're the owner of YouTube. It's not surprising that they're hostile in some ways to the idea of having to pay extra, because YouTube is one of the biggest users of broadband on the Web.
So I think- I'm a fan of Obama. I'm not a U.S. citizen, so I don't vote. If I did vote, I would have voted Obama. I'm a supporter of him. I'm politically progressive.
But I am troubled by the way in which Obama and this company beginning with G and certain other companies seem to be a little too intimate. And I thought after the last election when Obama made the announcement that he was going to pursue this network neutrality legislation, he has played in to the mob. He's played into this over-simplified notion that there are these evil companies out there, these cable companies, or telcos, which are just trying to destroy the internet.
And it's just absolute nonsense. It's a children's story, and worse than a children's story, it's being orchestrated by large companies like, perhaps, YouTube or Netflix, who have an agenda. The real issue of network neutrality is it's a fight between large companies about whether or not, perhaps, you should play a toll on the internet. It doesn't pertain to small people. It doesn't pertain to ordinary internet users. It's not going to slow the network down.
So it's an example of the way in which the internet gets used, gets exploited by certain marketing departments and spin doctors to exploit people to get involved in issues that they don't really understand that are so complicated that network neutrality- you ask five people in Washington what network neutrality is, and you'll get five different answers.
It reminds me, there was a- as I'm sure someone as erudite as you do. The most complicated question of the 19th century was the Eastern question-the whole question of what happens to the Ottoman Empire after it breaks up?
And I think it was either Gladstone or Disraeli-it wasn't Churchill because he wasn't around at the time-said there are only three people in the world who understand the Eastern question.
"The first is mad, the third is- the first is mad, the second is dead, and the third is my wife," or something like that. And it's a similar thing with network neutrality, which was bad enough about the Eastern question, which of course was used by various governments and eventually led to the catastrophe of the First World War. Hopefully, network neutrality won't get is into another global war, but it's an incredibly complicated issue that's being used by different groups to pursue their own agendas.
LAMB: Someone you talked about in this book, "The Internet is Not the Answer" is a guy named Tim Berners-Lee.
LAMB: We found this from a TEDx - not TEDx, this is a TED speech...
LAMB: ...that he gave. He's fast talking. You got to listen very carefully. But I want to ask you, after we watch this, how he fits into your story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIM BERNERS-LEE: There are some sites where people have started to put together a Magna Carta, a Bill of Rights for the web. How about we do that? How about we decide these are in a way becoming fundamental rights, the right with- to communicate with whom I want? What will be on your list for that Magna Carta? Let's crowdsource a Magna Carta for the web. Let's do that this year.
Let's use the energy from the 25th anniversary to crowdsource a Magna Carta for the web. Thank you. And do me a favor. Will you fight for it for me?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: Couple of things I want to ask you about. What's crowdsource?
KEEN: Crowdsource is getting many thousands of people online to contribute to the creation of something, so Wikipedia is a crowdsourced encyclopaedia.
LAMB: What role that this man played in this whole business in the internet?
KEEN: Well if you like the internet, you can thank that man. If you don't, you can blame him. That man is incredibly important.
In 1989, Brian, when all our eyes were on the collapse of the Berlin Wall, when we were told by Francis Fukuyama that history had come to an end, when we were told that the 20th century was finished and we were all are going to agree about everything.
That guy you just saw, Tim Berners-Lee, who was younger then, a recent graduate of Oxford University, of Queens College, the same college, ironically or serendipitously, that Jeremy Bentham attended 200 years earlier, the creator of the industrial panopticon- sometimes history works in funny ways. That man was at the CERN research center in Geneva, the nuclear particle- I don't remember the exact- what CERN stands for. But he was a young physicist working there, and he invented the World Wide Web. He didn't invent the internet, but he invented the World Wide Web that sat on top of the internet and made the internet accessible for everyone.
The achievement of the World Wide Web was it took the internet and made it popular. And the reason I bring up 1989 is because we all thought that history came to an end then, but actually it represents the real beginning of the 21st century.
I think in 100 years when we look back at 1989, sure the wall was interesting, the fall of capitalism, but you have the symbolic handing over of history from the issue of the Cold War to the issue of the digital revolution. And today, 1989 seems to me at least to be the year that marked the difference between the industrial 20th century and the digital 21st century.
In my view, Tim Berners-Lee is a hero. He was a typically publicly-spirited scientist who did this out of love. No one was paying him. He essentially gave it away. He could have owned the World Wide Web. He could have put all sorts of IP around it and would have become an incredibly rich man, but he didn't. He was very publicly-spirited.
The problem with Tim Berners-Lee, I think, as the internet shifted from a place for a publicly-spirited guys like him to incredibly aggressive, acquisitive entrepreneurs, is he's become kind of irrelevant. He is the symbol of an old world, which has been superseded by the Peter Thiels and the Travis Kalanicks and the Googles and the Mark Zuckerbergs.
And whilst I said I'm a great fan of his. I'm a great admirer. I think he's a very principled and a very brilliant man. I would say that his romantic vision of the internet as this place that would bring everything together hasn't been realized; it's the reverse. And when Tim Berners-Lee stands there and talks about a bill of rights, I would stand there and say, "Sure. Bills of rights are very nice, but we have enough bills of rights." And the internet is too much about a bill of rights. If we're going to make the internet a habitable place, we're going to make the internet a successful place, if the internet is going to really be the answer to our challenges of 21st century life, we need a bill of responsibilities.
That's what's missing from the internet at the moment: a sense of responsibility. It has become the receptacle for our culture of entitlement. Everyone thinks it was somehow delivered in the middle of the night. That's why this network neutrality thing is so annoying. As if it was delivered in the middle of the night as a gift to the people, as a reflection of our own virtue and goodness, and of course its story is much more complicated. And if we're going to make it a good place, if it we're going to make it a reflection of our best qualities, we need more responsibility and less rights.
LAMB: I want to bring up the TED thing again because it fits in to what...
KEEN: Are you trying to audition? Do you think you can get an invitation?
LAMB: I am not. No. I'm not at all. The reason I bring it up is, the TED thing- would it even exist without the internet? And isn't it a part of creating a community?
KEEN: TED would exist. TED used to be a fairly exclusive, small thing that was run by a guy, I think his name was Wortzer, in Southern California. And then, ironically enough, a guy called Chris Anderson, who had run a big publishing company called "Future Publishing," which went bust after the first internet boom. He was one of the examples of a kind of "internet cowboy" who tried to make a lot of money from the first internet boom.
One of his investments was in TED, and when Future Publishing essentially went bust and he lost his job-well I don't know exactly what happened to him-he bought TED and then built it into a successful franchise.
I think TED would exist. I mean they've always- TED is essentially a salon. You know, I run a salon: FutureCast. We don't rely on the internet. There's a great thirst for enlightenment. People want intelligent conversation.
One of, perhaps, the reasons why TED does so well is because our general media is so bad, not just the internet, the television. There's such an absence of serious thought and commentary that people actually want that kind of thing.
And in the 21st Century, the other thing that TED offers that's so valuable is networking. I'm ambivalent about networking. I don't like the networking world we're falling into. But the challenge in this post-industrial world is to build our own personal brand. We're not going to be doctors or lawyers. We're not going to work for Ford or Kodak the rest of our lives. We're all going to be continually inventing and reinventing ourselves. And networking is really important. The more people you know, the wealthier you are.
Value increasingly will be not in your bank account but who you know.
Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, is perhaps the great visionary. He's a very brilliant man, undergraduate at Stanford, then a philosopher at Oxford. I don't know if he was a Rhodes- he was one of- I think he was a Fulbright or a Rhodes Scholar. And Hoffman has understood this better than anyone. He has essentially invented social media or social networks.
LAMB: Here you are back at that TED speech.
KEEN: More TED?
LAMB: Back in 2012.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEEN: We are being sold something also, which is a scam. Something which is undermining who we are as a species.
One of the previous speakers talked about the importance of community-what I call the "cult of the social."-this idea that community is everything.
You come to these events- this is why I want to shoot all of you. You come to these events and all you ever hear about is community, community, community. Community is supposed to be so wonderful. Community brings us together. These books-too many of them-all about the "we." All about how important it is for us to work together. All premised on this absurd idea that technology will finally enable community.
For those of you who read Marx's German question, it's really taken a lock stock and barrel from Marx-the idea, that technology allows us to realize our species being, that we have this network, 2 billion people on it now, all this data, DNA. We are all becoming information, and we can share that information and become community. But of course, it's nonsense. And worse than nonsense, it's dangerous nonsense.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: Why is it dangerous?
KEEN: Well it's dangerous because it's not true. It's dangerous for two reasons.
Firstly, as Mill realized in his great work "On Liberty," it's the interior that's so important. And the role of government, the role of capture (ph) is to protect that interior.
In "Digital Vertigo," I end the book at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam with me gazing at a Vermeer, the great artist of the interior. And I'm a believer in that liberalism. I'm a believer in the Mill- in the Mill-ian idea of protecting the individual to think for themselves and that the social tends to lend itself to conformity. So that's the first thing.
The second thing is that the social- which I'm not against. I don't think being social is a bad thing. I don't think we should lock ourselves in our room. I'm not in favor of going back to the cave and separating myself from my fellow man. But the other problem is that social media in the digital age isn't social. It's an extension of the self. It's an extension of the culture of narcissism that increasingly pervades the internet.
So when you go on Facebook, you're not really networking. You're not really being social- or some people of course are. But more and more people are using it- or on Instagram or any of these other networks or on Twitter. You're using it to broadcast yourself, to show off yourself. And actually, ironically enough, it's more and more alienating.
As I show in "The Internet Is Not the Answer," a lot of research shows that the more people use Facebook, the lonelier they are, the more separate they are. So the social is actually fragmenting. It's alienating, it's atomizing.
And you see that particularly in political terms. We were told that social media would create these great movements: the Arab Spring, Occupy. But look what happened to Occupy. Occupy was simply a sort of an explosion of individual voices. There was never any successful moulding of those voices. It was a quilt of individuals, and that quilt never formed into a political organization. And in the Middle East, we know the catastrophe that followed the Arab spring.
LAMB: You mentioned Karl Marx in this last clip.
LAMB: Where do you put him in importance, and how much of a follower are you of him?
KEEN: Well, I'm not a follower of Marx. In digital- in the- in this book, "The Internet Is Not the Answer," I write about my great uncle Reuben Falber, who was a follower of Marx, who was the- he was the bagman of the English communist party, and here was the guy who recycled soviet money through England.
So I have a history of that in my family. Like so many Jews, we have our families are made up either of merchants or idealists, and perhaps I have a little bit of both in me. But no, I'm not a follower of Marx. And I think he was wrong. But I also think he was wrong in a fascinating way. He was wrong in a brilliant way.
So "The German Ideology," for example, which is one of his more useful books, he writes about a post-capitalist age where technology will free us from work. So he says very famously in "The German Ideology," "You can"- I don't know what it was- "You can fish in the morning and farm in the afternoon and write poetry in the evening."
And you see that echoed in a lot of these web idealists, somebody like Chris Anderson in "The Long Tail." Or somebody out will say, "Technology will free us, free us from the banality of work, free us from having to rely on going to the factory."
But of course, the catastrophe of our current wave of technology, of digital revolution, is it isn't freeing us. What it's doing is actually destroying jobs. It's doing away with labor, which means we won't have the cash to be farmers or fisherman or poets.
LAMB: You mentioned you run a salon.
LAMB: Is it televised or is it just a...
KEEN: Well I hope it's going to be televised. I hope you guys are going to televise it. It's called "FutureCast." It's held at the AT&T foundry in Palo Alto. And it's- I wear-not that you're wearing a hat-but I wear your hat symbolically. I'm the guy who sits with someone interesting, a Gavin Newsom, for example, and we talk about the impact of technology.
But in contrast with his show, it's not broadcast. We have an invitation-only group of about 50 people. So it's a kind of TED. It's supported by AT&T and Ericsson, the big Swedish telecommunications company. And it's a wonderful event. It's hold about- it's held about six times a year. We've taken it on the road. We do some in San Francisco. We do it in Atlanta and Dallas, and it gives me the opportunity to ask the hard questions or the interesting questions.
LAMB: Well, let me show- so you do an interview series. Is it still on TechCrunch?
KEEN: No. My TechCrunch now is shifted to Techonomy, which is a rival.
LAMB: A rival?
LAMB: And how often do you do interviews?
KEEN: I do them about once a week.
LAMB: Here's an excerpt of about three of them. You just...
KEEN: Oh my God. You've been doing your- you've been- you're Google. You've been watching me, Brian. Is there anything you don't know about me?
LAMB: Oh yes. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEEN: Technology continues to dramatically change the world, so dramatically indeed that even politicians, current politicians, are realizing that digital technology can change, dramatically revolutionize government. The latest politician, or perhaps the first politician to realize this is Gavin Newsom, Lieutenant Governor of California.
GAVIN NEWSOM: Yes.
KEEN: The number two guy-is that fair?-in California.
NEWSOM: It depends.
KEEN: And he is famous, almost legendary, for his insights into technology, and particularly into search.
Stephen Wolfram, welcome to TechCrunch TV. Stephen is the founder and CEO of Wolfram Research.
Now he's come up with a new book, out this week, called "Who Owns the Future?" And it's a book that is very dark.
Jaron, welcome to TechCrunch TV.
JARON LANIER: Hey. Thanks for having me here, and it's not dark. Are you kidding? It's full of optimism and...
KEEN: What you mean full of optimism?
LANIER: Excitement for the future.
KEEN: You say you've missed the future. You're nostalgic for the future.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: And this is another example of something that the internet provides you an opportunity to do. Is this an expensive thing to put together?
KEEN: Well, I don't pay for it. So, TechCrunch paid for it. And it's...
LAMB: And does it work for them?
KEEN: I don't know if it works for them. It works for me, but it's a loss leader. So I make- I shouldn't probably admit this publicly. Do you have a large audience?
KEEN: If I-
LAMB: Just huge.
KEEN: If I admit something here, will everyone know about it?
KEEN: Well, you do certain things- and this is why this economy is so challenging, and this is why people have oversimplified it. But I do the TechCrunch interview. I do the- I did the TechCrunch interview series-now I do the Techonomy one-for two or three reasons.
Firstly, it allows me to meet really interesting people. Secondly, it gets my name out there. Thirdly, it s a great way to research.
In the acknowledgements in that book, I thank everyone who was on my show. It was my way of doing research. It paid me something, but not a great deal of money.
So TechCrunch- TechCrunch's main business model is advertising and events. But videos don't get the kind of page views that text does. So I don't think that TechCrunch TV was enormously profitable.
But it was profitable for me. I love doing it, and I love the opportunity to ask questions. I think there's nothing more fun than being able to sit down with someone and ask them anything you want. And as I said to you before, they usually answer them, even if you ask personal stuff.
LAMB: Techonomy is what and what- how much of a competitor are they of TechCrunch?
KEEN: Well, they are slightly higher-end version. The problem with TechCrunch is they had a huge audience, but it was mostly pimply18 year olds who believed that they were going to become the next Mark Zuckerberg, so they're not very interested in this kind of conversation.
Technomy is run by a guy called David Kirkpatrick. He's the author of "The Facebook Effect." He's one of the smartest, the most interesting technology journalists. So the conversation is a little bit most sophisticated.
I launched the show a couple of months ago with Walter Isaacson, or re-launched the show, and it was really fun.
LAMB: Your book- I know you mentioned this earlier it's memory of V. Falber and Sons. I know you mentioned your- was he your uncle?
KEEN: Well, no. V. Falber and Son. V. was Victor Falber.
KEEN: And Victor Falber was my great-grandfather, and he was the guy who settled in East End and then dragged his cart with his son Albert, who was my great- who was my grandfather, to the West End. They bought- eventually ended up buying a store or an office on Barrack Street in London Soho.
And I use them in the book not just for nostalgic reasons, not just for the opportunity to talk about myself, because they represent an example of the way in which technological change affects business.
So I write about them as people who first rode the wave of technological innovation with the invention of the industrial sewing machine. It's allowed traders in fabric to sell their stuff to women, who would then take it home and make their own dresses.
But then you had another technological revolution, which made their business essentially redundant, when you had cheap off-the-shelf dresses and clothing, particularly for women. It made- and women's lives changed; more of them worked. They didn't have the time or the interest in making their own stuff.
So suddenly their business became redundant, and ironically enough, it's coming back now with 3D printing. Now everyone can become a dress designer.
But as I explain in the book, there are some challenges with business models, because if everyone has access to the same software, and all you're doing are buying these 3D printers, which are essentially factories that sit on the desktop, it's not clear where the business model is, and it's not clear whether or not the traditional fabric industry or the traditional fashion industry is going to get swept away.
LAMB: You talked about a nine year old boy that you had in a video I watched on our network that we had from the Strand Bookstore in 2007. Would that make him 16 or 17 now?
KEEN: 16 or 17, yes.
LAMB: How many kids do you have?
KEEN: I have two, a 17 year old and a 13 year old.
LAMB: What do they think of all these stuff you're writing about?
KEEN: They are embarrassed. My son is an avid internet user, and so he's typical of his generation. Very smart, but I have a feeling he's much more glued to his little device than he is to books. And I think he is an example of someone with all the strengths and weaknesses of this new digital age. He's someone who doesn't read enough books. He isn't interested in stuff in depth.
But as Nicholas Carr, the author of "The Shallows," writes, my son is typical of the generation that speeds across the surface. So he's very quick with making connections. He's very quick with getting things. But on the other hand, I think he struggles to get beneath the surface.
My 13 year old daughter is at a Waldorf school. I don't know if you are familiar with Waldorf education. It's where the screen is essentially outlawed. You sign an agreement as a parent which will discourage your kids from using devices like this. Screens, iPads, computers are not allowed in the classroom. So she has a more traditional kind of education.
Ironically, this education came from a 19th century Austrian educationalist called Rudolf Steiner. So she has a different kind of experience, and she still reads a lot of books. Eventually, when she gets to 15 or 16, she'll get her hands on these devices and will probably become more like my son.
LAMB: Where did you meet your wife?
KEEN: I- my ex-wife. At graduate school. We were both graduate students. She was a student of history-Chinese history-and I was a student of political science and soon to be thrown out. Then she went to the Harvard Law School and became an environmental lawyer and now is a Waldorf teacher. So she has an interesting arc too. We're still very friendly.
LAMB: Did you actually get thrown out of UC Berkeley?
LAMB: What happened then? You just...
KEEN: Well, I became unemployed and probably in some ways unemployable, which I remain. Actually I think I was rather lucky, because I didn't have a career, which meant that when I happen to turn up in Silicon Valley or San Francisco in 1995, because my ex-wife- we moved from Cambridge to San Francisco. I really didn't have much to do. I was a sort of a part-time music journalist, part-time days, part-time night, in reality I was doing very little. I was trying to be a writer, trying to be a journalist, trying to do different things.
So I was very lucky to turn up in San Francisco in 1995. And I had, I think, the eclectic skills, the ability to talk and sell and think and write, which allowed me to be that first wave of internet entrepreneurs.
That was an idyllic age. It was a great time to be in San Francisco. There were other people like me-sort of layabouts, people without any clear skills-who tried their hand, and some of us succeeded.
I mean I'm still very proud of that failure. I shouldn't idealize failure, especially since I'm a critic...
LAMB: What was the dot com name?
KEEN: Audio Cafe.
LAMB: And what did it do?
KEEN: That was a good question. I never figured that one out. We went from B2B to B2C to digital music to the selling of audio hardware.
I'll tell you a funny story actually about the real history of Audio Cafe. But I think it was a great time to just try something. It's different now. You can't do it. Silicon Valley or San Francisco is crawling with one of the entrepreneurs. Everywhere you go, you shake a tree and they fall down.
But when I was around, no one really knew about it. So I went from having absolutely no business experience or skills to being the CEO of a company that raised several million dollars. I had the head of Intel's Asian operation as the president of my board. I had other distinguished people on my board. So it was a really exciting time.
But I'll tell you the really funny story about Audio Cafe is we were destroyed by Amazon, not the first or the last. And we- the original focus was to sell audio equipment, hardware. And this was in about '95, '96. So we got the backing- that's why we got the investment of a company called Pandesic, which was an e-commerce platform supported by SAP and Intel.
And so we were- we were getting launched, we got a- we raised money, we had a good team, and it was a very exciting time. And then three months before we launched, Amazon-which at that point was simply an online bookstore-launched their electronic books- launched their electronic store, where they sold audio equipment, so we were kind of automatically dead.
And then a few years later, I was making a speech, and afterwards I- I was in the men's bathroom. And I turned around and there was this very, very loud voice, this blooming voice, and he kept on saying, "cult of the amateur, cult of the amateur." And then this deep laughter.
And he'd been in the audience, and of course it was Jeff Bezos. And we had a very funny conversation in the men's room where I told him the story of Audio Cafe and how he inadvertently had killed my first business, which of course had a happy ending, because I ended up becoming a writer.
And I think Bezos is an example of one of those brilliant internet entrepreneurs who are personally amazing, personally very brilliant and very, very articulate and all the rest of it. At the same time, their business practices, as I explained in this book, are somewhat questionable.
LAMB: We only have a couple minutes left and I have to bring it...
KEEN: Wow. This has been quick.
LAMB: Very quick. I have to ask you about two people that you write about and show some admiration for: Franz Kafka and Hannah Arendt. Why were they mentioned in your book?
KEEN: Well Kafka because he was describing a world of surveillance bureaucracy, which we're falling into today. A world where it seemed as if we were being watched in everything we are doing. "The Trial" and "The Castle," of course, the classic examples of this.
I make it clear that I think Kafka was a student of totalitarian- a different kind of Central European totalitarianism. That's not what's happening today. But there is something sort of peculiarly Kafka-esque about what's happening online-this world that we are embracing and yet we are being perpetually watched.
And you know Kafka at his most brilliance-and he was extremely brilliant-even he couldn't have come up, I think, with anything quite as outrageous is what's existing.
Another- to add a third to that list, I would put Borges, the Latin or the Argentine short story writer. In many ways, Borges imagined this much more accurately than Kafka. And then Arendt's interesting as the theorist of totalitarianism, as the somewhat- as the person who argues that totalitarians- the origins of totalitarianism lie in the destruction of the institutions that lie between the individual and the state.
And that's what I fear that's happening today with the internet. The internet is destroying so much tradition, so many of those institutions. And what Arendt was so brilliantly- so brilliant at was observing the anger, the- the sort of the banality of evil of fascism. And I fear that in the right economic circumstances, we could find ourself in a similar kind of catastrophic situation.
LAMB: We have seen you speaking. We have seen you interviewing. And we've talked about your book writing, and you alluded to this earlier. But how do you make your money?
KEEN: That's a secret.
LAMB: A secret?
KEEN: No. I make my money in a lot of different ways. I make my money as a writer, but writing isn't lucrative enough to pay for my kids' school fees and mortgage payments, and all the other things you need. I- I'm paid as a speaker. I do some consultancy. I do some investment. I'm paid as the Executive Producer of Futurecast. I'm paid as a Senior Fellow at a company called "CALinnovates." So I'm paid in many different ways.
A friend of mine, Hassan Miah, who was one of the original internet capitalists. He's- he was on my original board. He grew up in Detroit. He was in a poor family, grew up in the ghetto. And he always said to me that when he was growing up, he always- when he was in a room, he always wanted there to be more than one door- one- more than one place to escape.
And the way I make my living is I don't want to be reliant to one thing. So if the book doesn't work out, there's the speaking. If the speaking doesn't work out, there's the production. If the production doesn't work out, there's the consulting.
And I think my career is a kind of model for this new world, because we have to be entrepreneurial. The idea of being a pure writer and sitting in a room and churning out masterpieces was fine, maybe, in the 20th century- although even Kafka couldn't make a living. He had to work in an insurance company.
So we need to learn: if you want to be creative, you also have to be entrepreneurial. You need to learn how to take risks, and you need to learn that you need to play a lot of the boards. You need to play a lot of the table simultaneously, because you should never rely on a single thing, not a single company, not a single idea, not a single book, not a single enterprise.
LAMB: Our guest has been Andrew Keen. The title of his book is, "The Internet is Not the Answer." And we thank you very much.
KEEN: Thank you.