Sunday, July 20, 2008

Public then edit

I was on vacation last week. The beach in SC. Lovely, thank you, but very windy the last couple days. Good for surfers, bad for families with kids.

I try to read one non-fiction book while on vacation (along with several pieces of brain candy). This year, it was "Here Comes Everybody" by Clay Shirky. I don't always agree with Clay, but even when I think he's wrong, he's wrong with intelligence and style.

In the case of this book, he ain't wrong. It's his best work yet, I think, and a must read for anybody who's serious about thinking seriously about the ways in which the Internet (and associated technologies) are intersecting with society. I may do a longer review post at some point, but for the time being, just go read it. Lots of good, telling examples. Lots of well thought out questions, without necessarily giving any answers. Which is a good thing. Asking the questions well is important. Pretending you know the answers is less so.

Clay talks a bit about the "publish then edit" mode that the Internet enables. In traditional media, you "edit then publish." That is, producers and directors and publishers sift through (edit) a mountain of content, and then present what they think is best. On the Web, everybody publishes everything, and then we, the public, use a number of functions -- links from friends, search engines, blog posts, etc. -- to edit down the already published stuff.

In another part of the book, Clay talks about how folks all over the world are using this functionality to impact political situations. He gives examples of how smart mobs, email campaigns and even Twitter are used to turn the usual "Big Brother" thing on its ear. This started me thinking... Publish, edit, politics, government. Role reversals.

And then I started reading William Gibson's new novel, "Spook Country". Not done with it yet, but 1/3 of the way in... it's great. There's a scene where one character is talking to another who may be doing some sneaky "anti-terrorist" stuff. He says (I'm approximating, as the book's downstairs and I don't feel like getting it), "A nation is defined by its laws more than it's circumstances at any particular time. A person whose morals change with circumstance is not moral. And a nation whose laws change based on circumstance is not true to those ideals that brought it into being."

Bong. Gong goes off in my head.

Are laws, when taken as content, the result of publishing or editing? I would argue that laws themselves are a kind of editing; they keep us from doing certain things; they proscribe. Is the tendency of the current administration to do whatever the frick it wants, and then justify it later, a kind of "publish then edit" rather than the other way around? We're supposed to come up with laws based on (among other documents), the Constitution, which (as my Republican friends point out all the time) does more to limit the power of government than describe it.

OK. If government is meant to be limited (edited), and laws are meant to be editorial tools... then doing things first, then coming up with wild-ass justifications for them, is a case of going "public then edit." Action as public publishing of events; editing as the spin, rewrites, cover ups, justification, etc. after the fact.

I'm still not sure if this makes any sense. But all these thoughts are tangled up in my head in this way, and sometimes they need to live somewhere where I can come back and look at them later.

Publish then edit gives power to the creative masses. Editing, not publishing, is the proper function of government and laws.

Are the current hijinx in the White House a kind of reaction to the new balance of power imposed, to some degree, by the Web and the Flat World? Are politicians "doing more things" outside the lines of editorial (read: Constitutional) correctness because the Great Unwashed now has access to so much more creative power.

I have no idea. But it's ringing in my head.

No comments:

Post a Comment