Debating Chris Anderson

I took an afternoon off from my book this week to debate Chris Anderson, author of the Long Tail, at the offices of the San Francisco Chronicle. It was organized by Al Saracevic, the Deputy Business Editor at the Chronicle, who did a nice job moderating the debate.

Here were the questions we discussed:

1. Can technology save the world?        
2. Does the Internet fundamentally change the principals of economics?
3. Online communities define the latest Internet wave, commonly referred to as Web 2.0. What is that doing to our society? And what is it doing to our intellect?
4. Where does media go from here? Can a decentralized system work, where the citizenry particpates in gathering and disseminating news?
5. What impact has technology had on academia? On one hand, information is more readily available than ever. On the other, your average Google search results do not include many high-end academic journals? Are we getting smarter? Or dumber?

The debate was a lot of fun. Chris nailed me on a couple of economic issues and I thought I got in a couple of decent jabs on the cultural front. As always in these sorts of things, the most interesting conversation took place away from the microphone. I was particularly struck by Chris' seemingly unshakeable belief in the economics of the free market. That's the intellectual core of the Long Tail.He seems to have complete confidence that the hidden hand of the market will, as a consequence of the digital revolution, enrich culture and create more wealth. Obviously, I don't share his confidence about the cultural or economic results of the Web 2.0 upheaval.

Stay tuned for the broadcast of the debate. Benny Evangelista, the Chronicle's podcast guy (amongst other things), recorded it and has promised to put it up on SFGate. The Chronicle will also run a print version of the debate in September.

My real response to Chris, however, will be my book. Just as the Long Tail captures the spirit of what I call contemporary techno-utopianism (although Chris strongly rejects this term), I hope that my book will articulate a sceptical response to the more radical aspects of his argument, particularly those pertaining to the rise of the amateur.