By Aaron Barlow
One of Philip K. Dick’s worst books, Counter-Clock World has events moving backwards while our time sense moves forward. We periodically regurgitate food that takes shape on plates that we remove, scooping into pots and pans, etc. And, of course, we shove… er… well… up our… uh, you get the picture.
Not everything moving in a direction opposite of what we expect is necessarily inane, of course—but we do tend to disparage anything that is “backwards.” But it may be that we have it a bit wrong. Hell, if Ginger Rogers can be lauded for ‘doing everything Fred Astaire did, but in high heels, and backwards,’ maybe there’s something to be said for it.
Since the explosion of online publishing possibilities, from blogs to on-demand book creation, there’s been little sense of direction at all in Internet publishing as a whole. Everyone heads where they will, but most of us still look offline for “real” publishing—even if we write extensively for the Web.
Why is that?
One reason: we’ve no way to separate the wheat from the chaff without a great deal of work. And few of us want to do that work (Does that make a second reason? You decide).
Yeah, yeah, you’ve heard this before (what am I, living in the past?): there are no gatekeepers on the web, so we can’t really take it seriously. There’s just no way to know….
Let me back up a minute. It used to be that the publishing process and business were geared towards creating a final product, something that, once offered to the public, was set in, well, if not stone, then type. Changes could be made, but they were discouraged—expensive! So, focus was on getting that product to market in a shape as close to perfect as possible.
The same process is reflected in scholarly publication. Get it all done first. Only then do you unleash it on the public and bask in the glow of a job well done. Oh, and snarl at those miscreants who can’t understand the beauty of your work. No reason to listen to them: the work’s done. The peer reviewers loved it (or, at least, didn’t object too strenuously) and the editorial staff was behind it. Besides, no one wants to go back….
Though none of that makes any sense on the Web, where something “published” can be changed with a minimum of effort and expense, we still hang on to a process that moves “forward” in the old sense, from idea to research/writing/experiment to results to review to publication.
Why does publication have to be the end, the goal? Why can’t it be the start?
Why can’t we start with ideas, move to publication, to review, to research/writing/experiment in light of review to new or refined ideas and back to publication?
Yeah, I know: most people are scared to put too much out there without preparation. They don’t want to look like fools or, worse, find they are passed over for advancement because of something they wrote that proved not to pass muster. And who’s to do the reviewing? People who comment on blogs? Are you kidding? Just think of all the backbiting. Who the hell are they, anyway, who would comment? Can’t trust ‘em. Could be anyone. This isn’t even backwards, it’s ass-backwards.
Get thee behind me, Satan! You’re still back in a pre-Web mindset. On the Web, we’ve little sense of direction anyway—so let’s experiment! Let’s pretend that our goal isn’t to turn knowledge into publication—but to do it backwards, turning publication into knowledge!
How to make it work, you ask? I really don’t know—and I’ve thought about it, imagining ways of utilizing the Scoop structure with its levels of recommendation… or of just opening things up and flogging as many people to the site as possible, hoping some will be sparked to say something that sparks the author…. But I do know this: the weight of numerous comments, and their diversity, will improve almost any research endeavor.
Let’s stop turning our backs on the new possibilities. Let’s forward backwards!
Or something like that.
Responses to “Why Can’t We Do It Backwards?”