Andrew Keen returns to PH to talk about ‘how to fix democracy’

Pauline Macaraeg
Andrew Keen returns to PH to talk about ‘how to fix democracy’
The world-renowned commentator on the digital revolution is the keynote speaker of the 2019 Social Good Summit

MANILA, Philippines – Six years ago, author and tech entrepreneur Andrew Keen flew to the Philippines to give a talk about how the internet was an “epic failure.” He lambasted, among others, Google which was a co-organizer of the summit that Rappler hosted.

“Just as the Google guys are the nicest monopolists you’ll ever find, I’m the nicest anti-Google guy you’ll ever find,” Keen said nonchalantly at the #ThinkPH: The Internet, Big Data & You summit held in Manila in 2013. He even asked if there were people from the company in the audience.

In his speech then, Keen argued that Google is the villain, the driving force, and the central character in the Web 2.0 revolution. “What Google figured out was the way of creating content without paying for that content. None of us were paid for our logic,” he said.

Rappler brought Keen to the Philippines in 2013 because of his first book, Cult of the Amateur. For him, the internet has not aged well and it has only benefited a small group of people. If this continues, the future will soon be “unfixable.”

On September 21, Keen will again return to the country to talk about ways to not let this happen. He will discuss the contemporary crisis of democracy all over the world, and the role of technology and innovation in attempting to “fix the future.”

How to fix the future and democracy

Keen’s latest work has come a long way from pointing out the cultural and societal dangers the internet poses, to finding real solutions to bigger problems concerning the digital future. How to Fix the Future, Keen’s fourth and latest book, came out in 2018.

In How to Fix the Future, Keen traveled the world to actively attempt to address the challenge of “staying human” in the digital age, especially amid threats of artificial intelligence (AI). The book’s approach, as Keen described it, is “not theoretical, not abstract, nothing utopian about it.”

Along with fixing the future, Keen is also looking for feasible ways to fix democracy. Keen believes that many countries all over the world are facing contemporary threats to democracy as the digital revolution further advances.

Adding “podcaster” and “filmmaker” to his list of diverse roles, he launched a new podcast Keen On Democracy, and video series How To Fix Democracy in January this year.

Keen explores practical responses to the threats facing democracies in these series by interviewing influential and prominent intellectuals, politicians, writers, and industry leaders from all over the world.

Episode 19 of the video series features Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, where they talked about how the world has “stumbled into dystopia” in this digital age. The video series will also be turned into a movie.

“Because the time today is right to fix the future. If we don’t start addressing these profoundly disturbing structural issues of the digital economy, then in 25 years, the future will be unfixable,” Keen said in a speech in 2018.

The promise of Web 2.0

Keen, whose first book was published in 2007, is perhaps one of the earliest and most controversial commentators of the world’s digital revolution. He held on to this radical views even if he only got the support of a minority when he was starting out. His provocative statements eventually gained wider popularity as years passed.

But Keen is not just a raging critic who intrinsically hates the internet. In fact, he has a professional background in Silicon Valley.

In 1995, Keen put up a company called Audiocafe.com, a first-generation internet music company. This folded in 2000, but he’s back in the Silicon Valley today through FutureCast, a salon-type event series that brings together tech entrepreneurs, startup founders, and investors for collaborative discussions. He currently serves as FutureCast’s executive director.

The only difference is that Keen never drank the Silicon Valley Kool-Aid. The demise of his first startup is what precisely led him to realize the inequality created in the digital space. The internet is not the problem – it’s the principle many of the tech organizations have adopted, the free business model, which has so far driven the digital revolution.

The Cult of the Amateur criticized Web 2.0 or the rise of the much-hyped free and user-generated content websites, such as Wikipedia, YouTube, and Myspace.

In his second book published in 2012, Digital Vertigo, he suggested that social networks weren’t actually “social” and that they were actually magnifying narcissism and isolation.

Optimists promised the people a “cultural renaissance” in the digital revolution, such as more equality and more jobs, Keen would often say in his talks and interviews.

In 2015, he released his third book, The Internet is Not the Answer, in which he said that the current structure of the digital space is creating a “winner-take-all economy” that only benefits a tiny group of tech professionals and a handful of massively powerful global companies.

“I was one of the few people in 2007 to argue hard on that this isn’t actually the case. When you unleash user-generated content, you undermine expertise, you create the ideal environment for fake news,” he said in 2018.

As technology further developed at a quick pace, Keen’s works eventually became more recognized. He even landed on GQ magazine’s 100 Most Connected Men in Britain in 2015.

“What I feel rather than vindication or any kind of moral victory is that now, the real challenge begins,” Keen said.

Keen will headline Rappler’s 2019 Social Good Summit as the event’s keynote speaker. Tickets to the event are free, but seats are limited. Go here to register and know more. – Rappler.com

The 2019 Social Good Summit (SGS) is an annual gathering of citizens, innovators and thought leaders from around the world who are working together to achieve the UN’s sustainable development goals by 2030. It will be held on September 21 at the Yuchengco Hall, De La Salle University, along Taft Avenue, Manila.

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Pauline Macaraeg

Pauline Macaraeg is digital forensics researcher for Rappler. She started as a fact checker and researcher in 2019, before becoming part of Rappler's Digital Forensics Team. She writes about the developing digital landscape, as well as the spread and impact of disinformation and harmful online content. When she's not working, you can find her listening to podcasts or K-pop bops.