“In this era of exploding media technologies there is no truth except the truth you create for yourself.” That’s the assertion of Richard Edelman, the founder and CEO of one of the world’s largest public relations companies. The work of PR professionals has always caused concern from people who believe in the importance of truth-telling. But Edelman’s observation suggests that in the communications ecosystem that is the Internet, where everyone is a spinmeister, the very idea of truth becomes less and less plausible. The quote from Edelman is in a new book by journalist Andrew Keen called The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet Is Killing Our Culture (Doubleday/Currency). “Today’s media,” writes Keen, “is shattering the world into a billion personalized truths, each seemingly equally valid and worthwhile.”
Andrew Keen hasn’t always been so negative about the Internet. He almost made a fortune in the 1990s by founding Audiocafe.com, one of the first digital music sites. Keen got involved in that project because he wanted to make the world’s best music more available to more people. But the more time he spent among the digirati in Silicon Valley, and the more he heard the utopian pronouncements of its most energized leaders, the more he realized that his view of culture and theirs were at odds. He wanted to expand the audience for great music. The Web enthusiasts wanted to make money by allowing more people to distribute home-made music, no matter how unimaginative and insipid it was, and collect revenue for all of the web advertising that accompanies the narcissism-enabling websites.