Intellectual Gate-keepers

Graham has some interesting thoughts on the future of Web 2.0 intellectual culture, in light of some current debates surrounding blogs and traditional publishing coupled with books and electronic publishing.

“There will be a surge of youth power as publication barriers are eroded. We saw bloggers like Sandmonkey become international political stars during the Egyptian Revolution, and there will be Sandmonkey equivalents in philosophy. It’s already happening somewhat with blogs. When I was in my early 20′s, you knew you were just going to have to keep your mouth shut for 10 years before speaking aloud in the profession. That’s no longer the case.

Universities are going to be around for a long time to come, if somewhat transformed. But they will turn into just one of several sources of intellectual legitimacy, much as happened in the 17th century when suddenly (unlike the Middle Ages) almost none of the philosophers were professors. But I don’t think we’re *quite* there yet. The old institutions and old media still have enough of a foothold in real conditions that they’re going to endure awhile longer.”

Whilst I agree, it is important to recognise that in digital culture, when any medium-form is decentralised, and hierarchical barriers are shredded, the situation is never as simple as accessing legions and legions of free material, and in turn being able to attract attention by solely publishing it yourself DIY style.

In any method of decentralisation the barriers simply move from a couple of rigid hierarchical organisations, to fluid facilitators: Organisations that not only distribute and facilitate content, but also (sometimes indirectly, but more often deliberately) push some relevant bits of content more than others.

It’s happened to searching for information with Google, it’s happened to videos with YouTube (and to lesser extent: Vimeo), it’s happened to music with Spotify, it’s happened to photos with Flickr, it’s happened to blogs with and Blogger (and even the majority of homebrew blogs on individual hosting server space use Movable Type or – like this one). It nearly happened to cloud-based presentation software with Prezi, but not quite yet – although in my opinion it never will.

Mutatis Mutandis the same will happen (and is happening) to academic publishing. WordPress already has some degree of dominance in the construction and hosting of SR blogs, although I have no trouble with that and long may it continue – WordPress is a fantastic organisation. The point is this; all too often we heavily rely on organisations to do some of the hosting and facilitating for us, centralised or decentralised. The obvious front runner here is Scribd – but again its not reached that level quite yet.

Moreover (and this is especially pertinent with academic publishing), once we decentralise a particular medium, there will be an even bigger emphasis on the filtering process between badly written or badly argued publications and the genuine, important publications.

It remains to be seen where the level of the facilitator will emerge; whether it is with the student, the university, the lecturer or an external organisation that supersedes all of those groups.

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