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Is the web really as bad as Hitler? One of BPG’s guest speakers argues it just might be

November 3, 2011 5:26 by

The internet is worse than the Nazis, said Andrew Keen, a Silicon Valley pundit and author of The Cult of the Amateur. He was talking at regional agency network BPG’s offsite training session on the east-coast UAE emirate of Fujairah last month.

Keen went on to explain his much-quoted assertion that he first made on the US TV show The Colbert Report.

“I don’t know where [BPG boss Avi Bhojani] found the quote, but my guess is he found it on my Wikipedia entry,” says Keen. Bhojani had introduced him by mentioning The Colbert Report incident.

“My Wikipedia entry, of course, wasn’t mediated, wasn’t curated by an expert editor. Someone slapped it up because anyone can put anything up on Wikipedia.”

And that, says Keen, is why the internet is at least as bad as Nazism. It’s a new totalitarianism. Once we were watched by the state. Then we were watched by corporations – Google and Facebook, for example. We are now entering an era when we are watched by one another.

Here’s the slightly paraphrased transcript, as taken from (and yes, that’s Keen in the photo):

“We will all walk around in 2020 with devices that know everything about us,” he says. “We will walk around with so much personal data packed into these little devices. It may well be sewn into our clothing, in our shoes, be in our hair, necklaces and ornaments, and other kinds of jewelry, so that wherever we go, everyone will know who we are.”

In Keen’s 2006 book, The Cult of the Amateur, he argues that user-generated media is “destroying our economy, our culture and our values” (according to its jacket).

On the wall behind him in Fujairah, a slide read, “Yes, the internet is worse than the Nazis – from the cult of the amateur to the cult of social.”

“What we are threatened with – and this is a very serious threat if we are concerned with that future of mankind – is a new kind of totalitarianism. It may not be the Nazis, may not be the death camps, may not be little men with mustaches screaming. But it could be a new age of digital totalitarianism. Where everywhere we go, the world knows who we are, what our habits are, what our identities are, who our friends are, what we like, what we don’t like, and where we’ve been.”

Around the room sat 255 people. Bhojani, in his opening speech, had pointed out that 33 nationalities were represented at BPG’s annual offsite. In an echo of Keen’s totalitarianism warnings, all attendees wore white t-shirts and caps, like a media and marketing army. Or prisoners. Even Communicate squeezed into the provided polo shirt.

Our unease was compounded when someone took a photograph of the bar code printed on the back. He showed us his smartphone. It had our name and facts about us on the screen. Keen’s threat had come true.

When BPG’s creative director marched around the room where the buffet was laid out, barking orders for employees to assemble outside for the company photograph, Communicate hid. All those identically dressed disciples looked ominously cult-like.

But perhaps a cult isn’t always such a bad thing. The offsite’s theme was “Digital, digital, digital,” and its aim was to indoctrinate the network with a digital understanding.

Bhojani said in his introduction, “Our DNA is not digital, but hopefully within the next 24 months we will get there.”

A bit of offsite eugenics might just be the way to do that.

This article was originally published in Communicate ME.

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