The Rabbit Hole of Links Is Scary To Some

by | Jul 30, 2007

As a new media intra/entrepreneur, I spend a great deal of time exploring the bleeding edges of communications technology–social networks, mobile platforms, consumer generated content, etc. Yet, I was an English major in college and I maintain a fondness for books and other printed matter — a fact which helps make the following academic discourse meaningful to me.

Sven Birkerts, editor of the journal Agni, defends print and the critical culture that analyzes it for the common good. Here’s a passage from his piece in The Boston Globe:

I am in every way a man of print, shaped by its biases and hierarchies, tinged by its not-so-buried elitist premises. My impulse is to argue that if the Web at large is the old Freudian “polymorphous perverse,” that libidinally undifferentiated miasma of yearnings and gratifications, unbounded and free, then culture itself — what we have been calling “culture” at least since the Enlightenment — is the emergent maturity that constrains unbounded freedom in the interest of mattering.

But this “mattering” requires the existence of a common ground, a shared set of traditions — a center which is the collectively known picture of private and public life as set out by artists and thinkers, and discussed and debated not just by everyone with an opinion, but also most effectively by the self-constituted group of those who have made it their purpose to do so. Arbiters, critics . . . reviewers.

The blogosphere, I would argue, works in the opposite direction. There are arbiters aplenty — some of the smartest print writers are active on blogs as well — but the very nature of the blogosphere is proliferation and dispersal; it is centrifugal and represents a fundamental reversal of the norms of print culture.

Academics and critics LOVE authority. Their very existence depends upon it. Hence, the trouble they have adopting blogs, believing in Wikipedia and the like. The thing is there’s no going back. The question is therefore, “How best to extract value from new media?” It seems to me the formal set might do well to establish their own corner of the Web where standards matter. The Web is enormous. There’s room for amateurs and pros.