Early in July Salon put up a February Barnes & Noble interview with Clay Shirky. This is a man on whom is heaped the praise, “Shirky has emerged as a luminary of the new digital intelligentsia, a daringly eclectic thinker as comfortable discussing 15th-century publishing technology as he is making political sense of 21st-century social media. I don’t know about all that, but the interview touched on the subject of the Gutenberg revolution, and the present day equivalent, so I read the interview.
The interview was not as focused as I would have liked, or as deeply insightful as Mr. Shirky was billed. That said, he manages to articulate some points well. An example:
So when I say “publishing is the new literacy,” I don’t mean there’s no role for curation, for improving material, for editing material, for fact-checking material. I mean literally, the act of putting something out in public used to be reserved in the same way. You used to have to own a radio tower or television tower or printing press. Now all you have to have is access to an Internet cafe or a public library, and you can put your thoughts out in public.
So what happened to literacy in the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s is that it went from being reserved for a specialist class to being a general feature of the middle class. The same thing is happening to publishing — the ability to put something out in public is becoming more important to society, but the delta between “I can put something out in public” and “I can’t put something out in public” is no longer so great that you can automatically make money simply by having access to the means of publication.