Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Where It Stops Nobody Knows

One of the first things you notice in reading blogs is that the feeling of "completion" seems to get further and further away the more you read. Unlike reading a novel, time spent in the 'sphere will most likely not lead to a definite conclusion after a fixed number of pages. No easy satisfaction gained in return for "time in".

Unless, of course, we make an adjustment in the way we read. We have to re-align our intentions and our expectations. The link is all about making connections. A blogger may suggest connections, but the reader is the one responsible for actively making them. Reading is often touted as being "active" (whereas watching a movie is "passive"), but blog reading actually expects that the reader form his own exposition, conflict, climax, resolution, and denoument.

Chris Anderson of "The Long Tail" points us in the right direction:
Many of those extracting new value from old content are not the original creators or rights-holders. Some of them are repurposing older material, and others are aggregators who have found ways to find new markets for material that's fallen beneath the commercial radar. Either way, they typically aren't the original record label, film studio, publishing house, TV production company or any of the other names that might be on the copyright declaration. They are someone else, probably someone entirely unexpected. This is, after all, the dawn of Remix Culture.

What's changed is the presumption that the primary rights-holder is the best at extracting the commercial potential of creative material. Instead, anyone can do it: the advertising company that remixes an old movie to sell a car; the Linux t-shirt done Warhol-style, or just plain old DJ magic. What you need to encourage this multiplicity of commercialization potential is tiered alternatives to one-size-fits-all copyright, from allowing derivative works (good marketing!) to shorter terms for the sake of the remix-culture social good. I can't think of a better example of that than Lessig's own Creative Commons, which has already become the license of choice for the right side of the Tail, where the commercial imperative is less all-consuming.
This situation is not all that strange. We have always been personally responsible for creating significance, constructing meaning from our experiences "in the world". It has just been the custom for individuals to rely on a mediator in certain areas. It is commonly considered among Catholics, for instance, that while the lay people are expected to lead lives of faith and morality based on the teachings of the Church, the clergy are duty bound to carry the weight of the salvation of their congregation in much the same way that Christ accepts the sins of others.

In the 'sphere we also have ordained ministers carrying out good works on behalf of the faithful who are actively seeking their own salvation with the help of these shepherds of the flock. (And with that I heave a sigh of relief having seen that uncomfortable metaphor through to its silly end.)

Communities like BoingBoing and Metafilter are places where experts and specialists pool together the truly "interesting" and "valuable" bits of the Web so that you don't have to. Their charge is to make a truly insurmountable task surmountable - paving the way for our akward and intuitive task of making meaning from "what's out there".

David Weinberger gets us back on track:
When you put a document onto the Web, you break it into small pieces that are much more loosely structured than traditional hierarchical documents. Rather than the author controlling the sequence, the reader does. And rather [than] having its value based on its contents, a web page may have value because of what it points to outside of itself.

Imagine a time in the not-too-distant future when it's as easy to write web pages as it is to write office documents. And imagine it's as easy to save to your intranet site as it is to save to your hard drive. We all know these two things are going to come to pass, right? Once we're at that point, we'll quickly move from thinking that we're writing web pages to realizing that we're in fact building web *sites*. After all the difference between the two is, in one sense, very small: if you break a document up into several web pages and hyperlink them together you've in effect built a site.
And in a sense, we've come full circle, which is the most resolution we can possibly hope for in the 'sphere. But I'd like to connect Weinberger's ideas together in a slightly different way, if I could. If a web site is simply "several pages hyperlink[ed] together" and that it "may have value because of what it points to outside of itself", then a website includes both its "within" and its "without". In fact, the World Wide Web can be seen as, not an unintelligible mess of countless websites sharing contiguous - or not so contiguous - space, but as a single website, with the onus of making that mass into an intelligible body reposed on the user.


Blogger coturnix said...

Anderson has a new post up that is pertinent to this, about Wikipedia, Google and blogs. Meny chime in and others respond on their blogs (he links to them, or they post links in the comments).

2:43 PM  
Blogger Colin said...

well, if i were responding to anderson's latest -- and i''m not sure how it relates back to bernasek -- what i would say is there iws -- to people who fear blogs, who fear wikipedia, etc. -- something crypto socialist about it. nobody is going to own anything. nothing is really circumscribed. erik erikson would say it's kind of anti-anal, jmust let it all flow out where it wants to go. and i think even this idea of the job of making meaning "reposing on the reader" is kind of non-hierarchical and we're not comfortable with that either. it's like what the nazi writer Franz says in "the Producers." "I am the playwright. you are the audience. I outrank you!"

5:46 PM  
Blogger coturnix said...

Exactly! I had a feeling that Anderson and others who like blogs and wiki are integrative thinkers, while detractors are hierarchical thinkers. Those two types also strongly correlate with a lot of other stuff, including religiosity (the latter more religious), political orientation (the former liberal, the latter conservative), family dynamics (teh latter more likely to be strict parents and/or in abusive marriages), patriotism/nationalism, evolution/creationism, relationship to ambiguity (the latter abhor it), etc. That has actually all been documented in psych research - I have the PDF links somewhere on my blog (search "Conservative Psychopathology")

1:30 PM  

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