Flash in the Pan

Luke from Lcubed is presenting at the Science Communicators meeting, they’ve got a ‘thirdway web’ business model that is web 2.0 for business. He’s doing a good job of filling in all the material that I sketched and skated over rather too abstractly. It is good to hear someone returning to some of the basic ideas of the web as a web. Been a while since I’ve been reminded of going through this like this, web as de facto broadcast paradigm to what I like to think of as a link ecology. He’s got some fantastic illustrations too, be good for classes.

The q and a afterwards proved interesting. I became unusually defensive, even irascible as the old chestnuts of trustworthiness and authority raised their heads. I think what got me so strongly onto my backfoot was that I was invited to talk about web 2, which I did, but to then want to have an argument about it just seemed, well, not what I was there for! I’m the guest, dammit. On the other hand I was in a room of science communicators and Luke and I sketched what communication looks like in this space – a space that all media is heading towards, so I didn’t actually get at the time why the resistance. I still don’t, but now I’m realising that it was resistance. Sorry everyone, you might not like it but it is a paradigm shift. I think they were shooting the messenger.

I remain bemused and shocked more than surprised by the conservativeness. I really did mean it when I described the tenor of the sentiment of the questions as being like in the Vatican sometime around 1450 and describing this new fangled printing press thing. Someone like me was saying “it will create religious and political revolution, it will lead to mass literacy, the novel, popular literature, and entirely new ways for knowledge to be made and shared” and the various Catholic knowledge experts could only see all the bad work that it would allow, and of course firmly believed that most of the cultured world would continue to come to their churches each morning to be told which way was up. As science communicators I figure they know which way that particular technological change went. But as science communicators I think there was a strong sense of threat, though this is not how it was described.

In retrospect it was like talking to a room of traditional journalists. I still vividly remember the senior journalism academic staff member telling me heatedly in a staff meeting circa 1995 that the “internet was a flash in the pan and we don’t have to teach it”.

So here’s a simple scenario. An organisation currently doesn’t allow staff to share information in the way many of us now take for granted. For the usual reasons. Fast forward ten years. Your new staff have blogged, Googled, flickred and put videos on YouTube throughout all their academic careers, much like we use our phones today. They are then told they can’t do any of this anymore. The organisation will have to change if it wants to keep staff, blogging and its ilk and its assumptions about knowledge creation and dissemination will be part of our daily fabric.

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