Friday, 29 December 2006

Authority in the Mediated Age

The lyric Who do you trust? is going round in my head. I need to find the song. This is the kind of thing the internet is good for. Being slightly distrustful of google and its ubiquity, I fire up and try there. Then when that doesn't work, I tried google, and MSN, and yahoo. The trouble is not too few hits, but too many. It's not an Eminem song I am thinking of, nor Queensryche, nor Springsteen. But that nicely illustrates what I wanted to blog about: sources of authority and web 2.0

In the old days many facts could be found in the library. The library contained the Sources of Authority, or at least it did if it was a good one. OK, it might not have been very easy to search for song lyrics for half remembered popular songs, but for standard academic stuff, it worked pretty well, especially if you had research skills. Now we have a problem, Houston.

The problem is that there are too many canons, too many places to look. How do I know who to trust? Knowledge has fractured into too many pieces: sometimes they overlap, but often they don't. And it is too easy to claim that your corner of the world is complete, and true, and consistent. If you want to talk about cooking asparagus or the best new bands or what the cool kids in Brooklyn are wearing then the cacophony of voices is fine, authentic even. But if I want to know about the harmonic language of Debussy or homology groups or the precise rules for deciding which companies go in the FTSE-100 index, I want to read something written by someone who knows what they are talking about. The investment in figuring out who that is, though, is a lot larger than in the old days, a distinct disadvantage to the much vaulted Web 2.0 paradigm. Authority can sometimes be useful after all.

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