March 21, 2007

I Google, therefore I am

I GoogleI don’t know if the Latin is correct, probably, Googlo, ergo sum, but Kenneth Goldsmith’s post “If It Doesn't Exist on the Internet, It Doesn't Exist” highlights the central issues of the digital revolution and its implications for writers, scholars, and public intellectuals.

Here are a few highlights from Goldsmith’s post:

“If it's not networked, it doesn't exist; if it's not able to be shared, it doesn't exist. Older media needs to be digitized in order to exist.”

“What do publishing houses and magazines do for their authors? In our field, they generally don't make them rich; instead, they create a context, a framework for the work to exist. The benefits of academic publication are almost always oblique: credibility, speaking engagements, job credentials, etc. With the web, we can extend the benefits of book publishing to enhance both our careers and the institution with which we are affiliated.”

“Like publishing or academic affiliation, blogging creates another type of community: peer-based consensus garners credibility. Blogging opens up instantaneous discourse with a group of like-minded thinkers.”

And my favorite:

“It is our obligation as educators and intellectuals to make sure that the bulk of our production ends up there, preferably with free and unfettered access to all. This means not making materials available only for those affiliated with our institution, our students, or our colleagues, but giving free and unfettered access for all. Doing so means posting our works on the world wide web so that anyone, anywhere, at any time can have access to them. In this way, we will ensure that our work exists.”

This is true particularly in the case of minority writers whose subjects and work are frequently ignored by the mainstream media and the general public. Since I started blogging, the opportunities and threats of the new digital media have been clarified even as I engage in this highly recursive activity.

  • The media revolution is driven by stories of sex, power, and money. Sometimes the digital trinity transubstantiates into one. In the midst of the We Media Conference in Miami when we were talking about global warming, women’s rights, and Libyan jails, we watched the news about Anna Nicole Smith climb the Technorati charts like a newly discovered Elvis song. Some of the panelists were rightly disheartened. But as a teacher/ writer, I have chosen the vocation of educating the next generation and while some may lament the attention given to these subjects that will come and go, my attention remains fixed on those things that within the culture that are “grave and constant” and excellent. Instead of locking away and putting up more barriers to access, how can we preserve the legacy of our writers? How many books have we lost? How many books will we lose when the digital revolution is finally realized? I have a battered copy of Reel from “The Life Movie.” How many more exist?

  • I love the vision of Wikipedia and the language used to describe the subjects should remain that way. But the kind of dispassionate writing that we expect from an encyclopedia and academic writing (I hear you, Professor Zero) makes it seem as if the phenomenon was inevitable. For example, my post on dub poetry talks about the resistance that these poets met. The post came about via a question from a young writer/student. Our young writers and students need to know that there was a struggle and these facts cannot be glossed over. Sometimes our losses are amplified because we think NO ONE has ever struggled like we did. Then, we read about the previous struggles of our artists, and we realize that we need to press on with the efforts to preserve the digital memory of our writers. If we don’t do it, no one else will.

The digital revolution will change how we read and what we will read in the near future. We should also be asking, what will be preserved?


In case you missed it, here's Derek Walcott on NPR:

Derek Walcott: A Life in Poetry


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