Writing, Cumulative and Exploratory
by Robbie McClintock
On this site, I will be exploring how publication on the web may affect the style and substance of critical non-fiction writing. Studies of how printing affected writing and publishing show that significant changes in the form and content of scholarship and its publication ensued, with new practices slowly emerging, highly divergent from the old. Digital communications technologies are surely having similar effects, and as these eventuate, these will become historical actualities, deserving neither condemnation nor celebration. Many familiar practices, our mix of good and bad, will be left behind, and much that is new, also a mix of the positive and negative, will take over, neither good nor bad relative to the old, but simply different. The world will have changed, with human effort and accomplishment continuing, along with errors and disappointments. Those changes are emerging through many explorations, anticipations, and accidents, through innovations buth purposeful and inadvertant. This site hosts some speculative, exploratory probing of potential changes in modes of authorship.
In working here, I will proceed with several broad hypotheses about what is taking place, about what will sooner or later reshape intellectual activity. I intend to act in the spirit of "as if," assuming that thetendencies I hypothesize will eventually predominate. Eventual experience will show whether my expectations will have been sound or stupid. Immersed in historical change, intentions must try to lead their moving targets. In my view, the movement will be historically rapid and substantial, deeply altering the practice of critical scholarship. None of the likely developments are entirely new; the difference will lie in their marked accentuation. The following are among the developments rapidly taking place.
- Copyright is becoming technologically obsolete, soon to decay and disappear, with literary activity progressively taking place in the public domain.
- Consequently, financial incentives to publication will decline, resulting in a healty de-congesting of the literary forum, which presently suffers from a vast excess of supply.
- A domain of open, common knowledge is rapidly increasing in relative importance, gaining energy and power through widespread anonymous effort guided by protocols of self-improving interaction.
- As barriers to publication diminish, its usefulness for making meritocratic evaluations will decline, diminishing the incentives driving scholarly publication.
- As extrinsic incentives to individual authorship decline, writers will concentrate more on interpreting ideas and less on communicating information. They will earn a living through other means and publish from conviction, and perhaps from a desire for fame and influence.
- Printed materials will continue in wide use, although a secondary, lesser use, much as hand written manuscript continued in the age of print as a common convenience serving the in the primary realm of printed communication.
- Thought and artistry will have its primary expression in digital forms, with reflective interpretation continuing to have its greatest power in written communications.
- Intermediaries in the relation between authors and their audiences will have a greatly diminished role, as will the distinction between creator and receptor.
- Personal authorship may flourish in close symbiosis with increased collaboration, sometimes over significant spatial and temporal distance.
These broad general assumptions contextualize what I propose to try doing on the reflective commons. More specifically, I want to work with selected essays that I have written over the past forty years to explore how to adapt them for digital publication. Much printed material is being digitized and made available on the web. I want to try something more with these essays. I wrote the all with the conventions of print publication primarily in mind. I want to revise them now, preserving the components oriented to print, but adding in functionality and substance that I think will make the revised versions more effective as essay in a digital presentation than they were in their original printed versions. This revision, this conversion, will entail some initial features, which I hope will prove to make sense as a starting procedure. But of course, it will evolve. Some things I try at the outset may get undone should they prove dysfunctional. Other things that have not yet occurred to me will get added in as ideas for them develop. And there are may things that this process of revision may involve that are not really part of it, but incidental means to make the experiment accessible to readers.