I finally got around to reading James’ Six posts about the present this week. It’s very good. Meaty thoughts about the impact of the network on thought, art, culture and all that.
This concept stuck in my head a bit…
We are now ready to declare the death of the work. *books are symptomatic of this death: not of the author, but of the work—of the singular, whole, completed, standalone work. They are hybrid, unformed, inconclusive—inconclusive not in the sense of vague, but their conclusions are not located exclusively within the work, but are distributed across the network.
(From the fourth post, ‘Starbooks and the Death of the Work’)
Obviously pretty bold, essentially ‘the singular, finished work cannot exist when considered in the context of the network’. I’m almost there, almost there, but I’m not convinced that this hasn’t always been true.
Ben Hammersley has a line where he talks about the incredible impact of Moore’s Law on politicians, and the fact that politics as we in the West experience it isn’t built to cope with the technological status quo shifting continuously. It’s built to cope with slower changes, over the length of several parliaments. The important point though is that change still happened. Politics and law are a continuous dialogue with the shifting social context of a people, even if they appear to be playing catch up with those people to an increasingly alarming degree.
And I think that extends to ‘the work’. The book was never the finished product, but part of a writer’s continuous dialogue with themselves, their form, and (possibly) their readers. Even when I first studied Shakespeare in primary school, it was made clear that Romeo and Juliet matters not solely in and of itself, but as part of a canon.
The network speeds all that up, making it much much more obvious, but I don’t think it’s new. In other words, ‘the work’ has always been dead.
I met a student this week who was writing his dissertation about GDS, and we joked that my management of the blog had made it very hard for him to establish a stable thesis; contant publishing, constant change and revision. And I thought ‘Man, your lecturers have no idea what’s about to happen’. Nothing is finished, but everything about the academic system (and news publishing, and lawmaking, and planning applications, and everything else like that) expects things to have a full stop.
Literacy in the network requires continuous partial engagement, across more apps and social networks than it’s meaningful to list. And it means revising how you engage all the time. That’s the network in action. (Which, brand folks, is why the only social media strategy I will ever write will be ‘Use some social media’).
Anyway, have a read. I guarantee you’ll find many things in there that totally passed me by.