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(Weblogs and) The Mass Amateurisation of (Nearly) Everything... (September 03, 2003)

1// Before the world of the weblog was the time of the homepage. Back before we knew any better, it was the homepage that was going to transform the world. Everyone was going to have them. They were going to democratise publishing. Together we thought we were going to change the world. But we didn't..

Ten years on from the earliest homepages, and we now find ourselves with weblogs. There are now hundreds of thousands of active weblogs in the world - quite possibly more than a million - almost all of them powered by simple content management systems with names like LiveJournal, Blogger, Movable Type, Bloxsom... There are webloggers in pretty much every country of the world. There are celebrity webloggers, expert webloggers, political dissident webloggers, prison webloggers... Weblogs are becoming "Enterprise Solutions", they're creating empires of "Nano-publishing". Across the world, faster and more randomly than anyone has yet been able to track and collate, webloggers are linking, posting, trackbacking, commenting, aggregating and moblogging their way through the first days of the 21st Century. The world now finally seems to be changing, and weblogging is part of that process...

This is an exciting time to be engaged with this explosive community of people - and there are many intriguing debates about the nature, function and value of weblogging starting to emerge. Some are debating about whether weblog culture resembles hyperactive academic citation networks - does the "best" stuff rise to the surface? Others are asking questions about the politics of weblogs - if it's a democratic medium, they ask, why are there so many inequalities in traffic and linkage? Others are talking about a 'world-wide free-market in ideas' - with all the benefits and horrors that suggests. Still others wonder whether we're all about to sell out. A few say we already have...

These debates are heady and passionate and focused with laser-like intensity - and often they are valuable debates to be having. But their focus comes with a cost - we're losing a sense of context - why should we care about weblogs at all? What makes them different from the dying form of the homepage? How do they fit into the wider context of emerging cultural and technological trends? These are important questions because they situate weblogging within a larger shift in the way we relate to the world around us. And in the process, they gesture at our future. Where do we go from here? Through the rest of this article, then, I'm going to try and explain how weblogging fits into the wider world with an eye to showing how weblogs may form a ragged centre for our small-scale personal creative endeavours. And - as a sideline - maybe I'll be able to explain the relationship between weblogs and homepages...

2// Technically, weblogs are trivial - a reasonable programmer can assemble their own weblog content management system in a couple of hours. It's nothing but a form on a webpage glued to a database with some templating tweaks. Wherever the animating magic might lie, it's not there. Instead we have to look towards what weblogs and weblogging software accomplishes. Clay Shirky phrased it one way when he wrote an article called Weblogs and the Mass Amateurization of Publishing. In his piece, he described the way in which weblogging simplifies the concept of "Publishing" to the point that not only is it now so simple that anyone can do it, it's also so simple that there's no way of making money out of it. Publishing has come to the masses... This idea - of a form of publishing that's almost completely lacking in barriers and cost - is fundamental to an understanding of weblogging.

Another popular approach to understanding what weblogs 'do' is to compare the process of blogging to the mainstream print media. Under this interpretation, weblogs constitute not just a mass amateurisation of publishing, but a more rarified amateurisation of journalism itself. This approach highlights the possibilities of the form - that the combination of timeliness and super-lightweight content management means that the ability to comment and report on the world around us is suddenly within reach of everyone. The journalism argument is perhaps less convincing than the one concerned with simple publishing.

But what both of these attempts to understand weblogging have in common is this sense of amateurisation. They both argue that weblogging software constitutes a radical simplification of previously complex tools. Updating a website on a daily basis is no longer an activity that only a trained professional (or a passionate hobbyist) can accomplish. It's now open to pretty much everyone, cost-free and practically effortlessly...

But it's not just publishing or journalism that are going through a process of mass amateurisation at the moment. In fact over the last fifteen years or so pretty much all media creation has started to be deprofessionalised. We only have to look around us to see that this is the case - as individually created media content that originated on the internet has started to infect mass media. Hard-rocking poorly-animated kittens that once roamed e-mail newsletters (http://www.b3ta.com) are now showing up in adverts and credit-sequences, pop-songs written on home computers are reaching the top of the charts, weblog commentators in Iraq are getting columns in the national and international newspapers, music is being hybridised and spliced in the home for competitions on national radio stations. The whole of the mainstream media has started to look towards an undercurrent of individual amateur creation because of the creativity that's bubbling up from this previously unknown swathe of humanity. Mass-amateurisation is EVERYWHERE.

3// So what is generating this explosion in unprofessional production? Fundamentally it's because the gap between what can be accomplished at home and what can be accomplished in a work environment has narrowed dramatically over the last ten to fifteen years.

The first shift towards the mass amateurisation of everything arrived with a rise in the power of computers and a drop in the price of sophisticated software. Desktop publishing was the first professional tool to meet the mainstream - but it was never going to have a massive effect because the price of producing and distributing a magazine were always going to remain relatively high. You still need paper. You still need someone to drive your creation to all the news retailers. But while desktop publishing was never going to create a massive network of underground magazine publishers, its bastardisations in products like Microsoft Publisher and Word did set a trend that has been ongoing ever since - a trend towards giving amateurs tools at inexpensive prices that have all the power that professionals have become used to.

Today we have applications that are supplied free with our computers that allow us to assemble video footage into forms that can be burnt onto DVDs and played on our home televisions. Other free applications allow us to touch-up photographs or be our own DJ. There's a vibrant culture in making animations with Flash or Director while for a few thousand pounds it's possible to download enough high quality applications to record and mix music in the home - or even to compose it. Professional video-editing software and high-powered computers have dropped to such a price that now it's possible to create broadcast-quality TV shows with little more than a DV camera, an Apple Powerbook and a copy of Final Cut Pro... Weblogging software is an almost trivial example of this process - but while the technology that lies behind weblogging is more basic - the power it provides is just as real...

But it's not only equipment that separates the professional from the amateur, it's also access to information. The dramatic increase in available information constituted the second shift towards mass amateurisation (and was the first that the internet provided). Suddenly it became effectively effortless to research information online and to connect with communities of people interested in the same things. Film-makers could meet one another, animators find out each other's tips and tricks, audio-professionals could learn from and collaborate with their peers. Before the internet, large swathes of technical information had no accessible forum in which to be exchanged had previously been disseminated top-down via training courses, Universities and within industries. That remains true to an extent today but to a much lesser extent - today much more information is available to everyone - one way or another. This has had a parallel effect quite outside media production - helping to amateurise almost every field of human activity from fixing cars to fixing people. For good or ill, self-diagnosis tools, support groups and dedicated information resources are increasingly helping people to figure out what's wrong with themselves and even (sometimes) to fix it.

The third shift towards the mass amateurisation of everything was another direct result of the creation of the internet - but now in terms of the distribution of amateur content. In terms of the written (or at least typed) word, the internet has already been the easiest, cheapest and potentially most targetted distribution channel for a good few years now. For webloggers, that's enough - but for people creating video or audio content, it's not. People producing video, audio, animations and the like need fatter pipes - greater bandwidth - to be able to show off their creations. Thankfully, they're getting precisely that - broadband is making it faster to distribute personally generated content just as peer-to-peer technologies are making it easier. Inevitably, each and every day, more personally produced media content is appearing online and being distributed net-wide. This process shows no sign of slowing...

4// So where does the weblog fit into this picture? Weblogging software creates a highly effective and simple way of helping people create fully functional - if unflashy - regularly updated websites. In these respects it's a clear parallel to iMovie and iPhoto - applications that help us make things. And just like the video and photography communities online, there's a community of weblog enthusiasts who have been empowered by the internet to share tips, insights, new technologies and with whom one can engage in debate. And just like these communities, webloggers are distributing their content online. Our three drivers towards mass amateurisation are clearly making their presence felt.

But I think there's more going on with weblogs than with some of these other forms of media. And I think to understand what that is, we have to return to the homepage. We have to see what has changed since publishing last claimed a mass amateurisation...

At the beginning of this article I wrote, "Before the world of the weblog was the time of the homepage. Back before we knew any better, it was the homepage that was going to tranform the world. Everyone was going to have them. They were going to democratise publishing. Together we thought we were going to change the world. But we didn't.. "

But maybe we did... There's not a lot of difference between weblogs and homepages in some respects. Both are spaces to put written content online, for one. But the fact that homepages had no sense of standard structure, required manual updating, were unbound from time and were resolutely non-discursive meant that they were static, lumpen. At their best they became monolithic tomes - bunkers for content, guides updated haphazardly that infinitesimally accrete "content". In terms of the distribution of the word, the homepage was like a "Time Out Guide to {your name here}". The simple addition of structure and mechanisms for ease of publishing have made the comparable form of expression on weblogs so fluid and quick that it borders on speech. In terms of self-representation, the homepage is like a statue carved out of marble labelled carefully at the bottom where the weblog is like an avatar in cyberspace that we wear like a skin. It moves with us - through it we articulate ourselves. The weblog is the homepage that we wear.

And this is the big leap forward - this is where the value of weblogs lies in the newly amateurised world. This flexibility of publishing creates a fluid and living form of self-representation, the 'homepage (as a place)' has become the 'weblog (as a person)' that can articulate a voice. And when there are a multiplicity of voices in space, then the possibility arises of conversations. And where there is conversation there is the sharing of information. And conversation about what? Well everything from music and movies and animation and medical information. Weblogs are becoming the bridge between the individual and the community in cyberspace - a place where one can self-publicise and self-describe but also learn, debate and engage in community. In other words, weblogs are not only a representative sample of mass amateurisation, they're becoming enmeshed in the very structures of information-retrieval, community interaction and media distibution themselves. Weblogs are now facilitators of mass amateurisation. They're almost becoming one of its architectures...

5// So what will we see in the years ahead? We can expect computer power and technology to develop at a similar - perhaps even increasing - rate. We can expect applications to develop and evolve, leaving legacy versions in their wake that become ever cheaper and which provide ever more creative power to the hobbyists and amateurs of the world. And we can expect the internet to bring more bandwidth to our home computers and (gradually) to other devices too. And this will bring an ever-evolving culture of amateurisation into every form of creative production (or at least those that require little in the way of capital investment). Whether or not this shift will result in an explosion of creativity or a debasement of quality remains unclear. What effects it may have on mainstream media is at the moment unforeseeable. But one thing is clear - at the centre of all of this amateurisation is likely to be the weblog or something very much like it - far from them most flashy or obvious of the technologies we'll be using, but a place around which we can connect with our interest groups, learn new skills and distribute our creations.

As to the specific form the weblogs of the future are likely to take - and the ways in which they'll directly connect to the other stuff we make and the communities that are generated - well we don't know as yet... But maybe the tools and skill-sets needed to design them are starting to become mass-amateurised as well. If that's the case, perhaps we'll all be able to have in hand in their creation...

This article was originally delivered to Aula Meeting of Minds 2003 - Exposure in Helsinki on June 16th 2003 (pic).

Elsewhere on the web

The following sites have referenced this post in one way or another. If you've found this post useful, they may contain useful follow-up information, commentary or critiques...

Comments

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Clay Shirky replies:

Though I'm inclined to like the concept of mass amateurization (for obvious reasons), I'm not as sure its EVERYWHERE as you are. In the service economy there is a counter-effect, which is the replacement of formerly individual activities, now being remanded to experts. Sometimes its bourgeois pursuits, such as home decorating or gardening, but its also in clothes (20 years ago, every shopping center in America had a fabric store) and food (the fastest growing category of grocery sales is "home meal replacement" (link).

So if publishing is going amateur but cooking is going pro, there's something more complicated at work her.

-clay

Richard replies:

As a journalist who started in the profession (if you can call it that) just as the web became mainstream (1995), I've had a chance to observe a lot of this first hand. Three things came to mind from your essay. First, DTP has changed print publishing. Since the late eighties it's been possible to generate professional-looking pages from your bedroom. OK, so you have to sell subs or ads to cover the costs of print and distribution. But where there certainly was a barrier to entry in content creation (unless you wanted to look like an anarchist free-sheet or 'zine), there isn't now. And like music, you can now use the web to cut those costs, too.

But if you're a crap writer or designer, your output will still be lousy, on web or in print.

Second - and I hate to revive your favourite "bloggers vs journalists" debate - but not everyone has something worth saying. And I use lots of writers who have stuff worth saying but who just can't say it very well. So your can amateurise the publication process, but the number of people actually attracting attention will probably remain static, even if they are now "rising to surface" by blog referrals.

Third, blogging is still disproportionately skewed towards relatively wealthy, well-educated people. I'm not making a point about blogging or technology, per se. But the real amateurisation of communication (which is kinda what I got from this essay) is not about technology - it's about access to, and quality of, education. Clay Shirky's point is well made. I'd rather retain professionalism in all areas - even in communication and ideas - and allow people to express themselves through their natural talents, such as cooking or clothes-making, all of which are encouraged and allowed to flourish thanks to a great education system. (I've no problem with there being more professional thinkers and communicators, by the way, nor with them using the web to communicate!)

Tom Coates replies:

I think I should redress a few misinterpretations, but first a confession - yeah totally, you're completely right, obviously the flag I'm raising here is a little simplistic and that's specifically why I'm talking in terms of 'nearly' everything. Having said that, here's a response of sorts - if you wanted spontaneously to make some clothes or to cook a great meal you'd never had before then you could do so more easily than ever before given no prior experience. You could argue that the sheer number of activities that exist around the world that an individual could decide to pursue as a passion or a hobby has escalated while the requirement to do many things that we now consider hobbies (like cooking and clothes-making) but were originally essentials has diminished. What you would probably expect is an increased distribution of activities, each with less of a 'market-share'. Maybe we're not comparing like with like - or maybe the application or device that will mass amateurise clothes construction and cooking is still to come. You might even make a case for that time already having come when it comes to food - that the mass amateurisation of cooking revolved around the creation of devices that allow people to cook quick and easy meals at home - giving them a much wider variety of foodstuffs to choose from without the previous expense and effort of making them. After all, many an advert talks about how you don't need to go out to restaurants (expert) any more because you can make the same meal at home...

Well anyway - that could be a bit of a stretch but it brings me to another aspect of the debate. Mass amateurisation does not mean a world in which everyone produces things of supreme quality. It never has meant that. In fact it could just as easily mean is an average decrease in quality, greater fluidity of job role and less of a market to support professionals. Whether that's a good thing or not is debatable, but whether it not this is happening in several fields is pretty much not - the gap between professional and amateurs is diminishing in a variety of fields. Don't get me wrong - I'm not denying that I'm an advocate of individuals learning about and utilising the new tools that are at their disposal, but it's important to realise that to an extent it's going to happen whatever I think - our role is to find ways to let that newly amateurised world function and function well. Which brings me back to this issue of quality again - you're not going to get me saying ever that the average weblog is better or more creative or more professional than the Guardian or the Telegraph. I have have never said that and I would never say it. But there remain possibilities for quality, responsiveness and creativity in an aggregate of these communities - in harnessing all the decisions and preferences and interests and expertises of these people one way or another... In other words, while mass amateurisation results in a lot of bad stuff, the challenge for us all is to find new ways to find the good stuff. Just like with the explosive power of the web and with the search engines we needed to use to have any grasp on it whatsoever...

grant replies:

Great damn article.

1. You’ve got a typo on pgh 4 of section 4/. “Haphazardly.”

2. I’m most interested in the final pgh of section 3. In some ways, that non-text content sharing was what made mp3.com so mindblowing in the early days. I found so much great music out there through them. Now, in part due to crippling suits by/distribution deals cut with the RIAA, mp3.com isn’t that friendly a place to share music with. You can’t just upload your latest and have friends comment on it or check it out right away. So I suppose I want know this: What do you think a music weblog would look like?

3. My filecard on weblogs: they’re like a hybrid between homepages and BBSes. I actually prefer BBSes – less work for me to think up content on my own, more of a sense of community. I think that’s what makes livejournal so popular (for better or worse) – it’s a hair closer to a BBS than other blogs, because the comments are integral and “community journals” are a part of the product. I think this meshes well with your conclusion of weblog-as-person, since BBSes were always a bit like villages or colonies.

4. If you really want to address ideas about amateurization and, what, "quality" or whatever, you might want to get into the stuff surrounding "vernacular" as a concept. I mean, the first big thing we remember about the printing press is that it was used to make vernacular Bibles -- the Word of God in the language of the People (amateur), not the Church (professional). I bet there's been lots more written about that.


lark replies:

All true somehow what has bee. blogged here. Where I am right now(Philippines) weblogging hasseen growth in the way people would want express themselves via the net..of course pretty soon there will be text blogging..being that we here are soo much into sms stuff

Trevor F Smith replies:

This argument has been made elsewhere, but I think it's important to point out that cheap tools are also leading more people to understand the aesthetics of imperfection which come with amateur work.

Trevor F Smith replies:

As I take more of a role in media creation and publishing, I become more aware of commercial media. As I learn to use Reason, I recognize good beats. As I learn to use Final Cut Pro, I'm interested in non-Holywood lighting. As I learn to use MovableType, I understand the role of newspaper editors.

bree replies:

This is an excellent article. I've been interested lately in the meaning of amateur, in particular the way the word's been used to denigrate people's work. There's the connotation that amateur means 'not as good as professional.' In my experience, professional work is steady and predictible in quality, like a McDonald's hamburger. Amateur work varies wildly in quality, but is sometimes inspired, like the great burgers a family member or friend will make on the BBQ.

xian replies:

Excellent follow-up comments to an important essay. Tom, when you write, "Mass amateurisation does not mean a world in which everyone produces things of supreme quality. It never has meant that," I think you hit the nail on the head. I was in college when the 1984 Mac appeared and it spawned endless flyers and documents written with silly fonts and ugly layout. Desktop publishing launched a revolution and enabled a lot of really bad print design to flourish. As the playing field widens the average quality probably does go down, but the chance of an otherwise undiscovered Mozart of the form gaining access to the tools of creativity goes up.

It's interesting that your comment form asks for a "homepage" but I put the address of one of my weblogs in there.

michael replies:

Perhaps a supplementary reason for the increase in "Mass Amateurisation" besides the ease in which such activity can now be done, is that it offers an outlet that the the work environment no longer does - if it ever did. As one poster has pointed out, work is increasingly less likely as a source of inspiration, innovation, or creativity. In addition, all sorts of legal and corporate restrictions seem to stifle various 'professional' activities (journalism being one example ...) opening up opportunities for amateurs to step in.

Damien Mulley replies:

Terrific article and the comments also increase its weighting in my opinion. I very much agree with what you have to say and its set me thinking about other things. So now that blogs are allowing people to comment on everything and bring their thoughts to the online community whats next ?

Final Cut Pro is making marks as are some music creation software applications. What else are we going to see ?

Robert Nagle replies:

A previous poster asked about music weblogs. One thing I discovered a few weeks ago is that up to now music weblogs don't exist yet. That I predict will change very very rapidly. Why? When people start migrating away from RIAA music via p2p to free mp3's via websites, they need a way to share recommendations of individual URL's.
Fortunately places like IUMA allow you to download mp3's without registration. And weblogs are perfect for providing informal networks of recommendations.

Here's my music weblog I started a few days ago. I'm in the process of launching a www.sharethemusicday.com to celebrate the sharing of music. (The site has a very rough draft of my essay).

Robert Nagle replies:

Hmmm, no a href tags allowed? Let's try this--link to my music weblog called Share the music http://www.imaginaryplanet.net/weblogs/sharethemusic/

Tom Coates replies:

Can I just add (for anyone coming from Microdoc News) that I've written a response to the whole "is the word amateurisation prejorative" issue that they've brought up. All I can say is that as far as I'm concerned it's not a value-judgement and that everyone in the Olympics is an amateur sports man or woman and they're the very best in their fields.

Joel M. replies:

Mr. Coates, your last comment is too self-conscious. What your articles says is correct. The lesser artists will fight for the power of the amateur, while the confident will recognize out loud what the others secretly fear - that most of the work out there is crap (and maybe just maybe their work). It is, therefore, important to always stress craftsmanship along with creativity, because craftsmanship, the thing so foreign to much of our generation, is what allows an artist to unleash his gifts. Stick to these stresses, and continue setting a good example, and never accept all art as equal. Doing so in politically correct these days, but deep down in our heart of hearts, we know some art is of better quality. Right on with your observations! Don't back down now.

Paolo replies:

Dear Tom, I absolutely agree with what you are saying about mass amateurisation! I'd like to publish some excerpts of your article on the site I work for. Of course there will be a link to plasticbag for the complete article. Please contact me if you are interested in it.

Rory replies:

Some comments on the whole Tom v. Ed thing going on around this post, here: http://speedysnail.com/2003/09.html#criticalmass

truegossiper replies:

this is kool man! thanks for sharing the thoughts.

Jason replies:

we didn't change the world? huh?? no offense intended... but i don't really understand what you were trying to achieve by writing this article. weblogs allow someone on one side of the world to experience a non-commercial view of life in another part in the world. that's what i like about em. non-professional=non-paid=non-commercial

Greg Gershman replies:

Tom,

Does mass-amatuerism signal the end of popular culture?

Just wondering your thoughts.

James replies:

Maybe I shouold have posted this here:

http://www.plasticbag.org/archives/2003/09/is_amateur_an_insult.shtml#001883

....since its mostly a response to Tom's article. Anyway there it is. Seems to me there's some stuff here that really has to be examined, if it's going into public web space and having an influence.

Alan Sullivan replies:

Excellent article.

It may sound flippant, but regarding Clay Shirky's initial remarks, I would observe that people who write weblogs may not want to spend much time cooking or sewing. And why should they? It seems to me there's something vaguely luddite about Clay's implicit insistence on the value of such menial activities.

I think Joel M. is right on the mark regarding the need for qualitative distinctions.

mattw replies:

Demos have got there too, only they're professional so it took a little longer:

http://observer.guardian.co.uk/magazine/story/0,11913,1112979,00.html (number 6)

In 2004, 'amateur' will no longer be a term of derision - you should take it to mean you're dedicated, educated and open to new ideas. Where would society be without magistrates, the TA, lifeboat people and classroom assistants?

Moreover, in some fields amateurs are leading the way, for example self-builders, astronomy, or self-publishing 'bloggers', such as Baghdad's Salam Pax. As Charlie Leadbeater from Demos argues, 'ProAms are set to play a more prominent role in innovation.'

Wayne Myers replies:

It's taken me a while to figure out what the big problem I have with your idea of the mass amateurisation of everything is; it's hard to pin it down because on the surface it seems to be obvious that greatly widespread distribution of the means of production of.. things.. leads to more people being able to produce more things, and therefore more of those things being done badly. What's wrong with it is the embedded implication that prior to the mass amateurisation of everything, there was some golden age of a mass professionalisation of everything, where nothing was ever done badly, and everyone who was ever allowed to do anything was invariably a consummate professional whose work reflected that fact.

Yet there is no evidence that such a situation ever did in fact obtain, and suspect strongly that in fact the proportion of complete cultural kak being produced, overall, is probably about constant; perhaps lower now, even, since one great advantage of producing within the amateur sphere is the increased freedom from arbitrary and artistically damaging constraints like 'what will make money', 'what will make me famous', or 'what will most please my editor/boss'.

Your distinction between weblogs and homepages is somewhat specious - a weblog is one way a homepage might be arranged, or it might be part of one. As for 'what will rise to the surface', the answer is easy. Nothing. There *is* no surface any more. This very distinction between 'amateurisation' and 'professionalism' is only important to those still embedded in the ongoing and excrutiatingly painful death-throes of the mass media's obsession with posing as if it came from some position of objectivity; if weblogging, viewed as a gestalt thing, comes to demonstrate anything it is the abject poverty of such a view, both intellectually and morally.

It's not that the world is 'newly' amateurised so much as that the old false 'professionalism' has been shown up for the empty shell that it is now that the tools of production are so much more widely distributed. Meanwhile, it is vital to realise that while the cultural constaints on who gets to produce what have been relaxed, they have not been removed, and there is an enormously long way to go until publishing is truly democratised. All we can say is that things now are better than they were. Then again, they used to be shit, so we're still not saying much.

Tom Coates replies:

Well that's kind of my position actually. Basically in a nutshell I'm arguing that much more will be produced by people, that a good proportion of that will still be kak (just as it is now) and that will probably constitute a quantitative increase in kak even if not a proportional one. But on the other hand, the number of people who will be engaged in creating good stuff, learning skills, sharing information and the like is also likely to explode. I don't consider amateurisation to be a bad thing, although I understand that a lot of other people do. I have a lot of respect for doing things 'for the love of the thing'. It's how I learned to do web stuff (among other things) and has represented some of the most personally rewarding and career-developing experiences I could possibly have hoped for.

aaron wall replies:

Ease of entry is important, but I think what really makes weblogs amazing is the speed at which they propigate messages.
Every day I go downstairs to talk to my roommates while they are watching television. I get to tell them what will be on the news, and generally I get to experience unbiased reporting (or biased from many different angles vice just one.)

I get to experience all that free without commercials. To know I can learn and redistribute my knowledge to help cause possitive social change is so empowering that I could now never live without it...

Trevor Cook replies:

An excellent article, and great dialogue. On the cooking analogy, it seems to me that the technologies are not that important in terms of actually cooking eg a good chef doesn't need much more than a stove that can generate some real heat, some knives (heavy & sharp) a mixmaster and a mortar and pestle. What is required is skill and great ingredients. The skill revolution is happening through an unbelievable access to information about how-to cook through books, TV and the internet. Yet skill still requires practice and a knowledge about technique and why some things work and others don't. Writing and weblogs are similar I think. What might happen is that many more people will have to learn how-to write. Not to win Nobel prizes but just in an efficient way, that informs and entertains. This has always been one of the great journalism skills. There's no use knowing lots of stuff if you can write well. A second observation on the amateurisation comparison with cooking is the idea that great cooks know how to please the audience. It took me quite awhile to accept the fact that the best way to a valued amateur cook is to do stuff that people like and to do it as well as you can - rather than a lot of experimentation.
So, conclusion. I think the weblogs that will be valued are those that focus on giving people what they want and to do it as well as possible. Simple really but it will probably take years to find out precisely what can and cannot work in the blog format. In the meantime there will be a lot of sad, uneaten souffles out there

We replies:

You know, it's not all yeah! great! the internet rules!

"The internet and its surrounding technologies hold the promise of reviving the public sphere; however, several aspects of these new technologies simultaneously curtail and augment that potential. First, the data storage and retrieval capabilities of internet-based technologies infuse political discussion with information otherwise unavailable. At the same time, information access inequalities and new media literacy compromise the representativeness of the virtual sphere. Second, internet-based technologies enable discussion between people on far sides of the globe, but also frequently fragmentize political discourse. Third, given the patterns of global capitalism, it is possible that internet-based technologies will adapt themselves to the current political culture, rather than create a new one. The internet and related technologies have created a new public space for politically oriented conversation; whether this public space transcends to a public sphere is not up to the technology itself."

Here:

http://www.sagepub.co.uk/JournalIssueAbstract.aspx?pid=105720&jiid;=508028&jiaid;=20808

"Surveillance-based reality television has emerged as a resurgent programming genre in the US and Western Europe during a time when the online economy is becoming increasingly reliant upon surveillance as a form of economic exploitation. The portrayal of surveillance through 'reality TV' as a form of entertainment and self-expression can thus be understood as playing an important role in training viewers and consumers for their role in an 'interactive' economy. This article relies on interviews with cast members and producers of MTV's popular reality show 'Road Rules', to explore the form of subjectivity that corresponds to its implicit definition of 'reality'. This form of subjectivity reinforces the promise of the interactive economy to democratize production by relinquishing control to consumers and viewers. Surveillance is portrayed not as a form of social control, but as the democratization of celebrity - a fact that has disturbing implications for the democratic potential of the internet's interactive capability."

Here:

http://www.sagepub.co.uk/JournalIssueAbstract.aspx?pid=105720&jiid;=508050&jiaid;=24409

luke replies:

It seems to me that the argument about amateurisation is a bit separitist. Can't we all quietly go on with what we're doing? people will read and people will write, some will get read and some will not.
If the unread are passionate they'll learn more and better their skills and become read. Or drop off the radar and explore something else. Perhaps their calling was really to be a mechanic. But, in a way, as tech. progress' and people become more and more knowledgeable, the real issue is, as someone pointed out earlier: Access. Perhaps there will always be inequality in terms of "gift" or "talent" for something, but the important thing is to create access. So that, as many people as possible can engage with the available mediums and means of expressing themselves and SHARE thier creativity. In this way, the pricedrops in laptops etc. is a good thing, but it is still almost exclusively limited to the inhabitants of the western world. Where are the voices from the 3rd world? Silenced by lack of access of course! As spoilt middle class "whities" (tongue in cheek here) totter out self-indulgent rants on the ills in society they do nothing to prevent, someone in a refugee camp in africa has no chance to tell the world of the suffering perpetrated upon themn by another western backed dictatorship. AND have they not just as much right to do so as suburban m-class teenagers?. But despite my judgements, fundamentally i realise we need BOTH voices in order to enjoy true equality and emergent culture, in the glorious form in could be.

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