Why Stubborn Amateurs Will Save America

Kurt Andersen, host of Studio 360 on NPR, is a journalist and the author of the novels Hey Day, Turn of the Century, and The Real Thing. He has written and produced prime-time network television programs and pilots for NBC and ABC, and co-authored Loose Lips, an off-Broadway theatrical revue that had long runs in New York and Los Angeles. He is a regular columnist for New York Magazine, and contributes frequently to Vanity Fair. He is also a founder of Very Short List. 

Andersen began his career in journalism at NBC's Today program and at Time, where he was an award-winning writer on politics and criminal justice and for eight years the magazine's architecture and design critic. Returning to Time in 1993 as editor-at-large, he wrote a weekly column on culture. And from 1996 through 1999 he was a staff writer and columnist for The New Yorker. He was a co-founder of Inside.com, editorial director of Colors magazine, and editor-in-chief of both New York and Spy magazines, the latter of which he also co-founded.

From 2004 through 2008 he wrote a column called "The Imperial  City" for New York (one of which is included in The Best American Magazine Writing 2008).  In 2008 Forbes. com named him one of The 25 Most Influential Liberals in the U.S. Media.Anderson graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College, and is a member of the boards of trustees of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, the Pratt Institute, and is currently Visionary in Residence at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. He lives with his family in New York City.

  • Transcript


QuestionWhat is the amateur spirit?

Kurt Andersen: Well I think even for all the craziness of the last twenty or twenty-five years and all the bad habits that we developed over the last fifteen, twenty, twenty-five years, one of the great things that we've seen is indeed a Renaissance of the Amateur Spirit in terms of the Web, the creation of the Web itself, the creation of all these digital tools so people can make music and public and make videos and make Web applications and all of these things that have been enabled is a revival of the Amateur Spirit which is really essential to the American spirit. Let's make it up as we go along; let's give full -- let's indulge our tinkering spirit. We can do it. That sort of went out of fashion in a big and profound way over the last hundred years or so and the Web and the digital revolution generally has sort of enabled it anew. So I think if we are one of the things if we're able to write a story of wow, America turned the corner in the early twenty first century and got its mojo back, I think one of the big parts of that story will be that embrace of the Amateur Spirit, whether it's in entrepreneurial senses and the entrepreneurial spirit is all about the Amateur Spirit ultimately. But the unwillingness to believe absolutely that the experts know anything worth knowing is also part of the Amateur Spirit and certainly a too easy and too total and too complacent belief that the experts knew what was going on is certainly one of the things that got us into trouble with all these crazy financial derivatives that nobody understood on Wall Street.

So it's looking to oneself, as a citizen, as a potential entrepreneur, as an artist, as a whatever, to believe in ones own ability to know how to proceed and not simply trust it all to the experts.

Recorded on: October 13, 2009