An interesting declaration over at SEED Magazine piqued my interest this afternoon. "Nearly universal literacy is a defining characteristic of today’s modern civilization; nearly universal authorship will shape tomorrow's." As one who occasionally authors things, I thought I'd address some of the ideas put forth in the article.
In our analysis, we considered an author’s text “published” if 100 or more people read it. (Reaching 100 people may seem inconsequential, but new-media messages are often re-broadcast by recipients, and then by their recipients, and so on. In this way, a message can “go viral,” reaching millions.)
Somehow I feel like by Denis G. Pelli and Charles Bigelow miss the point. First off, if 100 people read your tweet, you don't magically become a published author. By that rationale, bathroom graffitists and tattoo inkers are "authors." Only if you want to contort the meaning of the word might this be accurate. Authorship used to entail publishing work (usually written) produced through considerable intellectual effort and thought. Why? Because printing was costly and if your work was going to be disseminated through an expensive resource, it better be worth the read. Publishing today is obviously different, what with on-demand printing and the interwebs lowering the barriers to publishing.
But there's a much bigger difference. Traditional publishing generally went in one direction: from the author to the reader. Today's tweets and blog posts aren't necessarily one-way communication avenues; they're often just segments of a conversation. People engaged in the conversation can reply, re-tweet, comment on, retort or revise. Are they all authors? And look, I'm replying to the article on my blog! Am I an author or is this part of a conversation? Feel free to let me know.
If we've learned anything from the popularity of the Facebook and Twitter, it's that most people prefer to share small (often exceptionally mundane and trivial) pieces of information with people that they know. Grand terms like audience and authorship don't really apply quite as well if your updating your Facebook status to "my dog just pooped in the conference room while we had a client meeting" (true story).
The article continues:
Today, at 0.1 percent authorship, many people are trading privacy for influence. What will it mean when we hit nearly 1 percent next year and nearly 10 percent the year after as the current growth predicts? Governments, businesses, and organizations must adapt to a population that wields increasing individual power.
I love the idea of increasing individual power, but this implication is preposterous. If everyone is influential, no one is influential. Influence requires a disproportionate weight within a community and if everyone weighs the same, who's the influential one? What will happen has already happened -- talent separates, clumping of influence emerges, the conversation gets crowded with noise, it eventually fractures, and the party moves next door with less noise.
Nearly universal authorship won't shape tomorrow's civilization, but a marketplace of accessible conversations will. Having a conversation with a group of friends in a pub is great, but that conversation is ephemeral and largely invisible to the rest of the world. But with the internet serving as an instantaneous communication conduit and faithful stenographer, that conversation has a much greater opportunity to influence the future.
Or, your dog's tendency to embarrass its owner becomes public knowledge.