According to a new creed, we technologists are turning ourselves, the planet, our species, everything, into computer peripherals attached to the great computing clouds. The news is no longer about us but about the big new computational object that is greater than us. The colleagues I disagree with often concieve our discussions as being a contest between a Luddite- who, me?- and the future.
But there is more than one possible technological future. And the debate should be about how to best identify and act on whatever freedoms of choice we still have, not about who’s the Luddite.
Some people say that doubters of the “one true path,” like myself, are like the shrivelled medieval church officials who fought against poor Johannes Gutenberg’s press. We are accused of fearing change, just as the medieval church feared the printing press. We might also be told that we are the sort who would have oppressed Galileo, or Darwin.
What these critics forget is that printing presses in themselves provide no guarantee of an enlightened outcome. People, not machines, made the Renaissance….what’s important about printing presses is not the mechanism, but the authors.
An impenetrable tone-deafness rules Silicon Valley when it comes to the idea of authorship. This was as clear as ever when John Updike and Kevin Kelly exchanged words on the question of authorship in 2006. Kevin suggested that it was not just a good thing, but a moral imperitive that all the world’s books would soon become, effectively, one book, once they were scanned, searchable, and remixable in the universal computational cloud.
Updike used the metaphor of the edges of physical paper in a physical book to communicate the importance of enshrining the edges between individual authors. It was no use. Doctrinaire web 2.0 enthusiasts only percieved that Updike was being sentimental about an ancient technology.
The approach to digital culture I abhor would indeed turn all the world’s books into one book, just as Kevin suggested. It might start to happen in the next decade or so. Google and other companies are scanning library books into the cloud in a massive Manhatten project of cultural digitization. What happens next is what’s important. If the books in the cloud are accessed via user interfaces that encourage mash-ups of fragments that obscure the context and authorship of each fragment, there will be only one book. This is what happens today with a lot of content. Often you don’t know where a quoted fragment from a news story came from, who wrote a comment, or who shot a video.
….Authorship, the very idea of an individual point of view, is not a priority of the new ideology. The digital flattening of expression into a global mush is not presently enforced by the top down, as it is in the case of a North Korean printing press. Instead, the design of software builds the ideology into those actions that are the easiest to perform on the software designs that are becoming ubiquitous.
It is true that by using these tools, individuals can author books or blogs or whatever, but people are encouraged by the economics of free content, crowd dynamics, and lord aggregators to serve up fragments instead of considered, whole expressions or arguments. The efforts of authors are appreciated in a manner that erases the boundaries between them. The one collective book will absolutely not be the same thing as the library of books by individuals it is bankrupting. Some believe it will be better; others, including me, believe it will be disasterously worse. As the famous line goes from Inherit the Wind: The bible is a book, but it is not the only book. Any singular, exclusive book, even the collective one accumulating in the cloud, will become a cruel book if it is the only one available.
|—||Jaron Lanier, You Are Not a Gadget (via terribleflower)|