I’m in the middle of a big “cleaning of the desk” party, so this thought and post are destined to be brief and they may indeed be obvious… but events of the last several days have again drawn my attention to the apparent disparity between the small, face-to-face interaction of a closed group of “in-crowd intellectuals” exemplified by the academic conference and the dynamic, voluminous, chaotic, and very public process of knowledge generation to be seen on the biggest and best of the themed newsblog communities and even mailing lists like Linux-Kernel.
Every time I have this thought, it comes to me as the sudden sense that the academics and intellectuals are as obsolete or at the very least as quaint as are any other pre-web/pre-crowdsource forms. There is no way in seven hells that a room full, a network full, or even a school full of intellectuals can produce at the rate, with the dynamism, or while achieving the same ultimate quality as so-called “crowdsourced” (what I’d rather call “crowd-produced”) forms.
Is the era of the academic over? In twenty years will every thinker that really matters be either a webmaster or a network participant, or both, with those who just want to wear berets and attend conferences trapped in an increasingly irrelevant old-boys-network echo chamber?
I think so. No matter how elite or “peer-reviewed,” the “expert” cannot hope to compete with the massively parallel crowd in a system, as we have developed them today, that privileges and places at the center of discourse the most interesting/most rewarding/most insightful work as the seed for future work by the crowd. The intensification feedback loop of crowd-based knowledge production to my eye makes the lone academic not merely obsolete but also narcissistic in their continued reliance on the forms of discourse and production that best serve their own selves.
But that’s just me thinking out loud, right now.