Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy is a book by Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Director of Scholarly Communication at the Modern Language Association and Visiting Research Professor of English at New York University, published by NYU Press on November 1, 2011. Authorship is one of the chapter’s from this book. In this chapter, Fiztpatrick talks about changing the traditional authorship methods of writing scholarly articles. She thinks that we need to approach authorship from a different perspective in the digital age—the key lying in interaction. She critics the individualistic and solitary approach to writing a paper as an elitist and limited way of approaching a particular topic. She accepts that the traditional method holds more originality and authorship to the article but on the other hand she feels that academic articles must be more accessible to everyone by making them more collaborative and interactive by enabling readers to comment and develop their own ideas which the author could implement in their writings.

Thus, Fitzpatrick defines in her chapter the significant changes that should happen with academic authorship – from a final product to a process of constant interactive changes, from an individual effort to a collective achievement, from an original idea to a remix of several different perceptions, and from intellectual property to the gift economy. Essentially what she is talking about is a shift from the accepted traditional method of authorship to a one that involves a community of interested readers to generate different ideas and formulate an article with more minds than one. She identifies that the word processing as a highly interactive technology that enables interested readers to revise and comment back almost instantly. She argues that by releasing the text to the readers and making them available to comment upon, authors can immerse into several different ideas that he/she may not have thought about. Essentially her model of writing would make online authorship an ongoing, process-oriented work which would increase the amount of time that they must invest in their writing. Fitzpatrick believe that allowing readers to comment on early versions helps improve later drafts.

Fitzpatrick acknowledges that online writing, and particularly the use of platforms that enable reader comments, will require authors to develop a different relationship to their work and completely rethink their perception of writing. They would have to return to their website to read constructive comments and make changes accordingly. She suggests that scholars use a Creative Commons license for scholarly work to facilitate the use and reuse of material for the collective benefit of the community. She thinks that the writers must be committed to supporting online discussions without dominating them, encouraging to share the most radical to the most constructive comments. She suggests that giving our work away “in a manner that acknowledges that its primary purpose is to be reused and repurposed, we have the potential to contribute to the creation of both better tools and a stronger sense of the scholarly public” (83).

She also discusses the academic anxiety about writing and thinks that network technologies might help us feel less alone and less lost in the writing process. Writing and publishing in networked environments might require a fundamental change not just in the tools with which we work, or in the ways that we interact with our tools, but in our senses of our selves as we do that work, and in the institutional understandings of the relationships between scholars and their now apparently independent silos of production. She argues that thinking about authorship from a different perspective could result in a more productive, and less anxious, relationship to our work. The interaction, participation, and conversation that occur during scholarly creation helps the academy communicate with the broader public. She says “We need to think less about completed products and more about texts-in-process; less about individual authorship and more about collaboration; less about originality and more about remix; less about ownership and more about sharing.” (p. 83)

I thought her proposed method of authorship is quite idealistic as it would be very difficult to moderate user comments and also verify the legitimacy of the article. Will students be able to use an interactive scholarly article for research purposes? How do we know if all the information or data on the article are accurate? Then there’s also the question of being too open and who’d benefit from the published article? The original author? Then what about the readers who have actively commented on the process of writing the article. What would be the incentive of the writer other than betterment of the community? Surely if there are no economic incentives to writing there would less and less people interested to invest their time and effort into it.

Works Cited

Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. 2009. Two: Authorship. In Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy. Media Commons Press.