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Clay Shirky: Here Comes Everybody
“Thus, the distinction between author and public is about to lose its basic character. The difference becomes merely functional; it may vary from case to case. At any moment the reader is ready to turn into a writer. As expert, which he had to become willy-nilly in an extremely specialized work process, even if only in some minor respect, the reader gains access to authorship.” –Walter Benjamin, from “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”
We’ve heard it all before. It’s the latest Megatrend, or the latest Microtrend. Some day, somewhere, somehow, computers will upend everything, right down to the way we think, and the nature of what makes us human.
According to the conventional wisdom, the linearity of words on the printed page encouraged linear, rational thought. This set down on paper–literally–ideas of narrative flow and stylistic constraints that have been with us for centuries since.
We were led to believe, early on, that hypertext would upend this model; by rearranging the printed page (and the media experience), it could (theoretically) rearrange human thought. The argument went–as it had earlier for word processing, with its ease of cut-and-paste–that this would divorce thought and narrative from convergent, linear models, in favor of divergent and wide-ranging associations. Add sound and visual elements to the mix, and you have–in theory–the perfect recipe for a medium that would result not only in truly new works of art, but a radically different approach to their creation.