Today, we celebrated the possibility of making communal and civic minded media when we covered the possibility of the cognitive surplus in our digital world. However, I still can’t get over the Lolcats. I understand Shirky’s point that once someone has crossed over to the line of the role of creator, it is one that has empowered consumers in ways not as possible before the advent of digital technology, but lolcats doesn’t really seem to me as something counts as adding to our collective surplus, or “cognitive intelligence” a term coined long ago by Henry Jenkins.
Another thread that I wanted to discuss was the idea that as new media make production easier, it creates a lot of new work. With the advent of the movable type printing press, there were a lot more printed works, not just the important or sacred ones. Overall, the average “quality” of the work decreased, but there were new marginal works that would revolutionize culture. Those marginal works were those that led to the Protestant Reformation and the scientific revolution, arguably the two most disruptive moments of the last 2,000 years. (Wow!) The true value lies not in the quality of the work, but in the capacity of the marginal work to effect culture.
To ensure we value between the great revolutionary works, like those that begat science and logic, and those that are of little value, like lolcats, it is up to use to judge the difference between the two.
One last thing. Consider the differences between amateurs and professionals. Those terms have connotative meanings: the former meaning “cheap” and aesthetically impoverished, and the latter suggesting well-made and polished. But consider the other meanings. Amateur, as Shriky reminds us, derives from the Latin word “love” and there is a love to contributing. Professional literally means someone who gets paid to perform work. A professional creates because of an extrinsic reward, one rewarded by a market exchange. And as Shriky suggests with the example of the Israeli childcare facility, once the relationship moves to a market-based activity it is almost impossible to regain the communal value.