I haven’t been digging too deeply into the Gorman back and forth because I’ve said my piece and unless he says something radically different, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. It’s been fun to read a few more spirited responses than mine, I like what booktruck has to say.
[H]e has an opportunity to fulfill a role as a public intellectual talking about libraries, archives and information topics that are important to the public, and he blows it on a self-referential argument chasing some bygone ideal of what it means to have reasoned discourse (bypassing, like, the last 70 years of western thought!), and in a needlessly puffy and alienating style that would (in a perfect world) never pass muster in a â€œrealâ€ scholarly setting.
Also don’t miss a counter-essay from Matthew “An Unquiet History” Battles. What is particularly interesting about his response is the bizarrely snooty comments it receives especially the first few.
[I]n the end, weâ€™re still left with a Wild West ethos on the Web where kids armed with a powerful new toy (yes, yes, the toys and tools are â€œcreativeâ€ too!) can hide behind anonymity, shirk responsibility, pretend to be professors of Church doctrine a la â€œEssjayâ€ (in the recent Wikipedia scandal), and trash and defame the character of a John Seigenthaler. All with impunity and in the name of progress, creativity (thereâ€™s that word again!), and â€œwildly individual consciousnessesâ€ (Battles is too good a stylist to float such a phrase).
If that’s the high-level discourse so often lamented to be lacking from “blogs” then I can say I don’t much miss it. It’s just blogging with a bigger vocablary, truly. Wouldn’t it be sad if the Britannica Blog just turned into another “you think you’re so great but you’re really not so great” back and forth? “Where Ideas Matter” indeed!
A few people have pointed out Michael Gorman’s blog posts, appropriately enough appearing on the Britannica blog. For reasons that evade me he has one general post split into two parts. Web 2.0 The Sleep of Reason Part I and Web 2.0 The Sleep of Reason Part II. Let me just say that Michael Gorman is a smart guy and I just wish the things he said didn’t sound so… snooty. Statements like these “The task before us is to extend into the digital world the virtues of authenticity, expertise, and scholarly apparatus that have evolved over the 500 years of print, virtues often absent in the manuscript age that preceded print.” are things I can totally get behind but then he follow-up in his later post with “Google cofounder Sergey Brin has said that ‘the perfect search engine would be like the mind of God,’ but most of us took that to be billionaire hyperventilating not blasphemy.” and I don’t understand why he has to be that way.
My take on what is happening has less to do with the nature of scholarship and more to do with the blurring of the idea of “research” as something we do for entertainment as well as scholarship. This may be something I think because I’m not really affiliated with an academic community and perhaps things have changed more than I am aware of, but I don’t think the idea of the expert is going away, only that it’s shifting in many of our interactions. So instead of us asking our expert mechanic for his or her opinion, we’ll check not only Consumer Reports but also epinions and maybe Edmunds.com when we’re buying a new car. We have more data because of the Internet and the network generally, and in many cases there’s no reason plain old humans can’t do something with that data. Gorman glibly refers to the idea his relief that there is “no discernable ‘citizen surgeon’ movement” but why is there a problem with citizen journalism? Especially if, like tagging and folksonomies, these trends are offered as supplments to the existing canon of options, not as supplanters of them?
update: aaaaand Clay Shirky’s reponse to Michael Gorman made boingboing
Good article in this month’s Searcher Magazine comparing and contrasting Wikipedia and Britannica with an eye towards castigating neither.
Letâ€™s act like careful, reasonable people. Wikipedia is a great starting point. Itâ€™s a lesson in research methodology, a fun way to share expertise, and a groundbreaking new way of working. Its consensus model represents a shift in management styles and away from hierarchical organization. You might say that Wikipedia is Zen-like. Its ever-changing nature means that when you read it, you are completely in the moment. And its collective brain is like a conscious universe in which we are all one.
Britannica is a different animal. Flawed, yes. Behind the times with regard to non-Western and minority leadership, sure. Indispensable? You betcha.