Felix Stalder on Fri, 28 Sep 2007 00:36:48 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> The death of the Author 2.0

On Tuesday, 25. September 2007 15:03, bid wrote:
> Authorship becomes indistinguishable from the multiplicity of authors,
> this profusion transforms the culture and their creators in a unique
> body. It's the collective intelligence, it's the return of the rules
> of oral and folk culture.

While I agree with the general direction of the argument, I think at
the core, as in the passage quoted above, it is way too schematic and
one-sided to be useful.

What we can observe, rather than the death of authorship, is its
proliferation. The difference between being the author and being
the audience has become a matter of personal choice. Anybody can be
an author, in the (legal) sense producing as an individual cultural
works for public consumption, and increasingly, many people take on
this role, more or less frequently. There are many reasons for this
development, technical, economic, and cultural. Basically, efficient
tools are widely available, they are cheap and many people know how to
use them with some degree of craftsmanship.

Yet, as far as this takes place online in collaborative environments,
it does so in truly efficient systems of record keeping, capable
of making visible the various creative acts that go into producing
cultural works.

In a printed book, it is nearly impossible to render visible the
multiplicity of people and multiplicity of versions go into producing
the version that is then rendered final through the one-way technology
of the printed press. Yet, these versions and collaborative acts
are essential to writing books and it's not a co-incidence that
nearly all of them have a section called "acknowledgements" where the
author names the people who contributed to creating the work. But
this is very opaque and easily overlooked. A powerful combination of
technology and ideology places all emphasis on the single author, who,
historically, has been more than willing to bask in the limelight

Academic writing tries to make at least the sources of inspiration and
reference visible, but at the price of producing texts that, because
of the required "apparatus", are accessible only to specialists. Yet,
even here, the collaborative acts that go into writing the individual
article are equally invisible, even of there are sometimes multiple
authors listed.

Collaborative environments, on the other hand, do not require such    
a trade-off between accessibility of the actual cultural work and     
transparency of the collaborative process. They can do both at        
the same time. It is possible to create truly collaborative works     
seemingly without identifiable authors. When I install the new        
version of the linux kernel, or quickly scan a wikipedia entry, they  
appear as works produced by an undifferentiated mass of contributors  
by way of a mysterious process of "collective intelligence". But,     
frankly, this is the consumer/end-user perspective.                   

For the producers, the situation is entirely different. Here,
authorship is supremely visible and central. Every single line of code
in the kernel, every punctuation change in wikipedia is accounted
for. And, for the insiders, this renders authorship visible in places
where it was invisible before. One of the reasons, I think, why so
many programmers are truly passionate about open source programming
is because it allows them to claim, visible for all who care and
therefore matter, their own authorship. In the process, theyestablish
themselves as individually identifiable authors of high skills in an
environment that is very competitive and judgemental in this regard.
This is not unique to programmers. In short, collaboration is also
about establishing oneself as an individual talent within the relevant

I think this is where things get really interesting. Digital media
enable people to claim authorship like never before. But they do
so in relation to a community who cares enough to appreciate their
efforts. Thus, it's not really "collective intelligence" where
individuals disappear into a "unique body", some noosphere2.0. Rather,
it's a process of "connective intelligence" that is searching for
(and sometimes finding) a balance between the individual talent and
ingenuity and irreduceably collaborative character of culture.


--- http://felix.openflows.com ----------------------------- out now:
*|Manuel Castells and the Theory of the Network Society. Polity, 2006 
*|Open Cultures and the Nature of Networks. Ed. Futura/Revolver, 2005 

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