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Introduction to Version One Point Zero Page 2

Page history last edited by Clare Birchall 8 years, 9 months ago

... continued from Introduction to Version One Point Zero


It is interesting that the shift in power and authority, for Alexander, is only taking place from author to editor, blogger to compiler. This is because she believes the public may not be ready to give up on editors entirely just yet. So, ‘instead of favorite bloggers we may have favorite compilers... for both mainstream and independent content’. In fact, as far as she is concerned, mainstream and independent media ‘may grow increasingly difficult to distinguish from one another’. Her reasoning is that, if all this change does take place, then ‘mainstream online media will likely need to produce more content to meet the demands of increasingly narrowcast compilations - making each piece of content less important.  Independent compilers and compilations, on the other hand, will become more important’.11


Does the recent launch in the UK of what the Daily Mail and General Trust media group’s digital division, Associated Northcliffe Digital, is calling its Local People digital news network, indicate that things are indeed moving in the direction Alexander anticipates? The plan is for this network to eventually consist of ‘50 local websites in areas where the Daily Mail General Trust does not have a dedicated regional paper website’, in order to ‘provide local communities with an online platform to discuss local issues and news, and network with other people in the same area.’ In contrast to the websites of most mainstream local newspapers, all the content on this network will be generated by its users and monitored by a community publisher.12  Intriguingly, Google has also started a site aimed at promoting amateur journalism. The YouTube Reporter’s Centre is being billed as ‘a new resource to help’ YouTube’s enormous community of citizen journalists ‘learn more about how to report the news. It features some of the nation's top journalists and news organizations sharing instructional videos with tips and advice for better reporting.’


Certainly, it would be a relatively simple matter to argue that Alexander’s point about mainstream and independent media becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish from each other is borne out by what has come to be known as the ‘Twitter revolution’ in Iran. The narrative generally constructed here is that the Iranian government’s move to prevent the country’s own journalists from reporting on the protests that took place following the disputed 2009 Presidential election, coupled with the fact that the foreign news agencies had very few reporters of their own on the ground, meant that the mainstream Western news media were forced to build up a picture of events using whatever information was available to them, without always being able to check it for accuracy first. Much of this information came from citizen journalists among the Iranian population. They were able to provide eye-witness reports from the front line of the demonstrations using Twitter and videos shot with mobile phone cameras and then posted on YouTube and Facebook. The most well-known of these was that capturing the death of Nedā Āġā Soltān. At the same time, independent online media such as The Huffington Post were able to respond rapidly to what was happening in Iran by using such citizen journalists to run live blogs, reporting events ‘during the riots... within minutes of them happening.’13 Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post, has gone so far as to describe the ‘Twitter revolution’ as a ‘defining moment for new media’: ‘You know that journalism's tectonic plates have shifted when the [US] State Department is asking Twitter to postpone shutting down for scheduled repairs so that the on-the-ground citizen reporting coming out of Iran could continue uninterrupted’, she declared.14 While all this has generated concern that the likes of Huffington’s site are ‘lending credibility to potentially false information’, with one tweet apparently reporting ‘a massacre that never happened’, Huffington herself unsurprisingly denies this. In fact she goes to great pains to point out that The Huffington Post ‘employs a news editor who “curates” reports as they come in, “adding value” by filtering and weaving them with wire copy’.15 Yet this only serves to complicate further any attempt to distinguish between mainstream and independent online media, with independent ‘compilers’ such as The Huffington Post - which recently overtook the Washington Post in terms of its number of online readers - appearing to become more important, very much in line with Alexander’s argument.


Still, while there is something to be said for overturning the hierarchy that currently structures the relationship between mainstream and independent media, especially as far as academic publishing is concerned,16  any shift such as that anticipated by Alexander would simply replace one locus of power and authority (the author) with another (the editor or compiler). It would therefore not do much to bring the authority associated with the author into question at all; it would merely transfer that authority to a different location.  Far more interesting is the potential liquid texts have to raise questions for these alternative sources or rival locations of power and authority, too, so that we can rely on neither simply the author nor the editor, the blogger nor the compiler to provide texts with authority and validity. Rather, we have to take more rigorous and responsible decisions regarding such texts, their meaning, importance, value and quality: not least because the actors that perform these functions as either authors or editors are no longer always clearly identifiable, or even always human.17 Instead, when it comes to liquid texts both the author and the editor functions are decentred and distributed across a multiplicity of often anonymous actors with unknown qualifications and credentials.


Even more profoundly still, it is not just the identity and authority of the author and editor that such open, decentralized and distributed editing has the potential to bring into question: it is also that of the work ‘itself’. For instance, with its use of open editing and gratis, libre content, the Culture Machine Liquid Books series – which now includes The Post-Corporate University, written and ‘curated’ by Davin Heckman - can be said to be decentering the author and editor functions by making everyone potential authors/editors. In this respect the Liquid Books project can be positioned as addressing a question raised recently by Geert Lovink: why are wikis and other online platforms not utilized more to create, develop and change theory and theoretical concepts, instead of theory - for all its radical interrogation of concepts such as writing, the author, the subject, the human, the text - continuing to be considered, as it is now - for all its radical rethinking of concepts such as writing, the author, the subject, the human, the text and so on - primarily the ‘terrain of the sole author who contemplates the world, preferably offline, surrounded by a pile of books, a fountain pen, and a notebook’?18


Yet in his essay ‘What Is an Author?’, Michel Foucault warns that any attempt to avoid using the concept of the individualized author to close and fix the meaning of the text risks leading to a limit and a unity being imposed on it in another way: by means of the concept of the ‘work’ (or the personalized edition, in the case of the New York Times, I would suggest):


When undertaking the publication of Nietzsche’s works, for example, where should one stop? Surely everything must be published, but what is ‘everything’? Everything that Nietzsche published, certainly. And what about the rough drafts for his works? Obviously. The plans for his aphorisms? Yes. The deleted passages and the notes at the bottom of the page? Yes. What if, within a workbook filled with aphorisms, one finds a reference, the notation of a meeting or of an address, or a laundry list: Is it a work, or not? Why not? And so on, ad infinitum. How can one define a work amid the million traces left by someone after his death? A theory of the work does not exist, and the empirical task of those who naively undertake the editing of works often suffers in the absence of such a theory.19


It is a task that has become all the more difficult as far as authors who are still alive and working today are concerned. In that case, in addition to the points Foucault makes regarding books, drafts, notes and so on, prospective editors may also have to make decisions as to whether or not a writer’s emails, web pages, blogs, contributions to social networking sites, SMS messages, RSS feeds and personal metrics - to cite just a few of the more obvious and clichéd instances that come to mind - are to be included among their ‘works’, too. Are the future editors of Žižek going to have to edit his tweets? And if not, why not? Such problems are only compounded by the fact that the very web-like structure of the internet often makes it difficult to determine where online works begin or end. All the cutting and pasting, grafting and transplanting, internal and external linking that takes place blurs the boundaries between the text and its surroundings, its material support, but also between other media and cultural texts, techniques, forms and genres, making such boundaries frequently impossible to determine.20


We can see here how, if texts in the Liquid Books series are made available under open editing and gratis, libre content conditions, a number of rather substantial questions are opened up for conventional notions of the author. One issue that still remains to be addressed, however, concerns the extent to which the ability of users to remix, reversion and reinvent such liquid ‘books’ actually renders untenable any attempt to impose a limit and a unity on them as ‘works’. And what in turn are the potential consequences of such ‘liquidity’ for those of our ideas that depend on the concept of the ‘work’ for their effectivity: those concerning individualized attribution, citation, copyright, intellectual property, fair use, academic success and promotion and so on?



Continued on Introduction to Version One Point Zero Page 3...





11. Amy Alexander, ‘In the Future No One Will Be Famous or the Downsizing of Celebrity and its Possible Effects on The New York Times Online Edition’, posted on the nettime list 4 August, 2008.


12. Fiona Ramsey, ‘DMGT Launches Local People Digital News Network’, Marketing Magazine, July 2009. Accessed 5 July, 2009.


13. Arianna Huffington, cited in Matthew Bell, ‘The Challenge Is Not To Save Newspapers, But Journalism’, The Independent on Sunday, 5 July, 2009, p.81.


14. Arianna Huffington, ‘Sunday Roundup’, The Huffington Post, Sunday 5 July, 2009.  Accessed 5 July, 2009.


15. Huffington, cited in Matthew Bell, ‘The Challenge Is Not To Save Newspapers, But Journalism’, The Independent on Sunday, 5 July, 2009, p.81.


16.  See Gary Hall, ‘The Open Scholarship Full Disclosure Initiative: A Subversive Proposal’, Against the Grain, volume 21, no.3, June, 2009.


17.  Staying within the realm of journalism, take, for example, Google News, in which the decision as to what stories to feature is taken, not by humans, Google claims, but by computers. Or Google’s Spotlight section of Google News, which uses computer algorithms to  automatically select and filter ‘news and in-depth pieces of lasting value’ including ‘investigative journalism, opinion pieces, special-interest articles, and other stories of enduring appeal’ (Google News, ‘How It Works Spotlight Section. Accessed 12 October 2009. ).


There is also  Google Wave. Announced on 27 May, 2009, this is an online collaboration and communication tool which basically functions like ‘email crossed with an instant messenger’ in order to enable collaborators to chat and edit the same version of a document in real time. Google Wave enables the creation of automatic documents or ‘robots’ that annotate the text, link to related documents and pull in data from elsewhere; and do so in ‘ways that are hidden to the human reader’. (Richard Van Noorden, ‘The Science of Google Wave’, Nature, 24 August, 2009.)


18. Geert Lovink, ‘Updating Tactical Media: Strategies for Media Activism’, Zero Comments: Blogging and Critical Internet Culture (London: Routledge, 2008), p.185.


What is more, this description of how theory and theoretical concepts are created is as applicable to the latest generation of theorists and philosophers to emerge - Agamben, Stiegler, Žižek, and including many of the so-called 'children of the 68ers' such as Quentin Meillassoux, too - as it is to the 'golden' generation of Althusser, Barthes, Lacan, Derrida, Deleuze, Kristeva and Irigaray. For all that some of these theorists may nowadays be more inclined to write using a computer keyboard and screen than fountain pen or typewriter, for most their way of creating, developing and disseminating theory and theoretical concepts remains much the same. And this is the case not just with regard to the initial production of their texts and their materiality - the focus on book and print-on-paper articles, or at the very least papercentric texts - but also in their attribution of their texts to sole, individualized authors.


19. Michel Foucault, ‘What Is an Author?’, in Paul Rabinow ed., The Foucault Reader (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984).


20. See Gary Hall, Digitize This Book!: The Politics of New Media, or Why We Need Open Access Now. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), p.66.



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