Houman Barekat on Planned Obsolescence: The Read-Write Generation | Los Angeles Review of Books

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Internet-based knowledge-aggregations systems — wikis, open-source software, blogs — encode a new model for editorial practice, as communities of readers pool their ideas in a dynamic and fluid system of exchange. The journalist and blogging guru, Cory Doctorow, likened the Internet’s economics of abundance to “a commons where the sheep shit grass.” It’s as colorful a metaphor as one is likely to come across in a discourse that is regrettably low on literary flourishes. The difficulty, as Fitzpatrick acknowledges, is how to reconcile this system with a culture in which reputations and credentials are indexed in an exclusively individuated manner. A degree of pluralism, in other words, is invading a sphere in which singularity was the measure of achievement. Quality control as we know it presupposes an editorial process that is, in the final analysis, stringently hierarchical, and the notion of a “content-agnostic” editorial process should, if taken literally, strike terror into the heart of any reasonable person. The whole point about scholarship is that some ideas are more persuasive than others — we are always searching for the right answer — whereas agnosticism by its very nature presupposes uncertainty. Seen in this light, the digital revolution threatens to flood the institutions of knowledge production with all manner of discredited irrelevancies, a final triumph for the specious egalitarianism of postmodernist thought.

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