I went to look at some old Ze Frank videos and see what that guy was up to after my last post. As usual, he’s hard at work organizing a cavalcade of entertainments. One thing that I ran into on a tangent was an article on First Monday about Ze Franks’s experiment. I had forgotten about First Monday. It’s a peer reviewed journal about… well, I was never sure what it was about. I read some articles there at some point and never really caught a theme. So that’s fine, not all journals need a theme, but it does raise issues about what constitutes a peer.
I can’t keep up with all of my professional reading much less some theme-free tangential journal, no matter how interesting one article might be per issue. So I forgot the whole thing. But now I’m reminded, so I’ll tell you about it. The whole peer review system in general is a strange one. If you want to get into a fight after an academic seminar, bring up peer review.
It’s (almost) always anonymous, and there was a court case recently in which a journal was asked to reveal who the reviewers were for a published study and they refused. The idea is that if you’re anonymous, you will be more likely to give your honest, critical opinion. It’s supposed to keep reviewers safe from the repercussions of a bad review.
There’s lots of people saying the whole system is outdated. I would compare it to judging a youtube video by the first 3 comments. In case you’re wondering, the single deepest pit of scum and villainy in the known universe is the youtube comment area. It sucks away my faith in humanity whenever I read it, so I generally do not. This relates to a theory of the internet presented Mike “Gabe” Krahulik (NSFW).
Back to the subject at hand, we’re in an age when continuous peer review in real time is happening constantly all over the internet. The academic community is using a century-old social technology because the consequences of moving to something else are unknown. And, as youtube illustrates, some of those consequences are horrific. So, I sympathize.
Slashdot covered a story that inspired a whole line of thought. Wikipedia represents 100 million hours of thought, approximately. That represents a unit of time that is vaguely meaningful: it is a very useful product that took a lot of people a lot of time and effort. So how many wikipedias worth of effort do we spend watching television? In the US alone, “we have been burning 2,000 Wikipedias per year watching mostly sitcoms.”
And, by my estimate, we have spent about 300 wikipedias watching advertisements every year.
The horror of that statement is still registering in my mind. In a sense, the supreme, central cultural goal of our culture has been to live up to the expectations we see on the glowing tube.
But the beautiful thing is that the tide is shifting. Wikipedia couldn’t exist until now, but times have changed. The old media did not see themselves as the sponge to soak up surplus hours. They saw themselves as the shepherds of those in need of entertainment. Then they saw themselves as the elite, entitled to power and money based on their positions as the conduit through which the consumer saw the world.
Well, their tall towers are crumbling. They had a monopoly on information transmission, and it has been broken. Amusingly, the DOJ had nothing to do with it. They want the DOJ to protect them, but it is too late. It’s as though they controlled the only well in the desert, but a lake has appeared. They want it to be illegal to take water from the lake. They want people to keep coming to their foetid well. Wouldn’t you?