Pub802 Reflections, refractions

Way back in October I wrote a paper for John Maxwell’s course Pub800: Text & Con­text: Pub­lish­ing in Con­tem­po­rary Cul­ture hoping and dreaming about what a “socialist” publisher might look like. The paper came out of my early naïve look at the book publishing industry, where I received shocking a wakeup call in the form of the realization that, hello, book publishing is a business, and accordingly is concerned with making money as much, if not more, than producing important works of art. I posited then that “If publishing was truly one of the forebears of modern capitalism, as [Richard] Nash suggests, and if capitalism is a factor that has thrown the global mood into this malaise of spirit–not to mention the suppression of knowledge–doesn’t publishing as a field have the unique opportunity to serve culture and counteract this current iteration of capitalism at the same time?” My paper went on to look at alternate business models for traditional book publishing. At the time I was aware of but didn’t want to get into Open Access publishing due to its association with academic publishing.

After Pub802 this semester, however, I feel like I might actually be able to better round out my revolutionary dreams. Our work in thinking through the business models that have emerged via e-commerce, as well as considering Open Access as a business model or case study for literary or, I daresay, art publishing, is extremely exciting. I greatly appreciate our exploration of the Creative Commons in relation to publishing, though I can’t say I’ve yet been able to walk away with answers or a clear sense of a way forward. What does it take for Creative Commons to take hold on a mass scale, a commercial scale? Is it possible? Along with more questions, what I do have is a growing toolbelt of concepts that I can engage with, continue to grow, and attempt to apply to real aspects of the publishing industry.

Funnily, I was struck by how this course continuously reiterated the contradiction of the internet: that it embodies the potential for a democratization of publishing while at the same time almost seamlessly turns every publication into a capitalized subject. I find this to be an endlessly challenging topic, but also perhaps one of the most important of our time.  Possibly the most important or urgent lesson I took from this course was how to be aware of and take agency over my data and interaction with different parties online. I think I am better equipped now to advocate for online privacy and both the functions and dangers of data tracking for studying a market.

The Hypothes.is annotations were a surprising and amazing way in which I could unpack issues like this. The ability to respond to specific ideas, and have to opportunity to receive feedback in an almost chat-like setting was like no educational experience I’ve had. Most important was how it helped foreground classroom discussion, allowing those who might not usually speak up share their opinions, and provide the initial response we felt to the readings against the synthesis of classroom discussion. Between annotations and the blog posts, which also came to feel like relatively low stakes, I felt notably that I was able to explore ideas in an academic setting without the pressure of having a finished or complete understanding of a concept.

Looking back over our assigned blog posts this semester, I’ve noticed a distinct pattern emerge in many of my responses: the Internet has changed all the rules, and we need to learn to adapt and be creative about the capabilities of new technology rather than hold onto habits of print or real-life interaction. I do recognize that this has an edge of sounding like one of Gopnik’s “Never Betters”, but that isn’t my intention: the point is that I see the way we function on the Internet, particularly in relation to publishing, opens up possibilities we haven’t yet embraced, and by necessity must leave behind forms which are better suited to other technologies. The missing piece, for me, remains that more often than not I wasn’t able to predict or extrapolate for what these different possibilities are; I just recognize that they are there and feel a pragmatic disassociation from any kind of nostalgia for print (it’s still there, believe me, I just place it to the side). Moving forward I want to maintain this criticality while continuing to imagine ways in which technology may best be applied, especially in relation to publishing on/offline and the display, annotation, and sharing of images in a digital realm. I also want to add that this course very satisfyingly tracked with our Pub801: History of Publishing seminar which we participated in concurrently: the topics explored in history’s past informed and often corresponded to our explorations of publishing’s rapidly progressing present. 

I want to add a final note about the Contribution to Public Knowledge assignment, which seemed to take a backseat to the course in some ways though, in the end, was a very interesting exercise. For starters, it was a challenge of looking at oneself and thinking “What do I have to contribute?” to a seemingly bottomless repository like Wikipedia. However, once one gets digging, the gaps and underground caverns in public knowledge become clear. From my personal experience, I was surprised, intrigued, and frustrated by how difficult it actually is to write a Wikipedia article from scratch that met its stringent guidelines. I understand the need for moderation and appreciate it; the acceptance of Wikipedia from a questionable website to a relatively reliable starting place (if a not source in and of itself) is a marked evolution I’ve noticed over my academic life. However, the guidelines that lend Wikipedia its “credibility” are through its citation and reference process: if something hasn’t been written about or published, it cannot be credibly referenced, and therefore can’t exist, at least not on Wikipedia. This self-enforcing system reminds me somewhat of academic peer review and makes me suspicious of those entities which may not appear “legitimate” enough because they haven’t gained credibility through the Web, and who truly is given access to write or be written about.

One Reply to “Pub802 Reflections, refractions”

  1. It is clear from reading this that you really engaged with the material—thank you! And thank you for taking the time to reflect deeply on your experience with the course.

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