Rationalizing the Past

Such a development would in turn damage the quality of research, they argue, by allowing articles that have not gone through a rigorous process of peer review to be broadcast on the Internet as easily as a video clip of Britney Spears’s latest hairdo. – NYT: At Harvard, a Proposal to Publish Free on Web

As digital distribution breaks apart traditional content forms, you’re going to hear all sorts of whining about how harmful it will be. “Downloads ruin the sanctity of the album.” “Blogs aren’t as objective as real journalists.” “They’ll never replace the smell of a good book.” The fact of the matter is that all these “forms” exist as a function of the physical constraints of distribution. It is extremely dangerous to assume that “they way things were” is and will continue to be the best or the most reliable. Rarely do traditions resulting from a lack of options rest upon solid foundations. Now that the restraints have been released, change must happen.

In the case of scholarly journals, they existed in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries because it was only way to widely distribute mid-length content. Papers couldn’t be sold individually so they had to be packaged and packaging creates gatekeepers and “respected” publications. The idea that a paper is credible only if published in certain journals came second the physical realities. Distribution dictated the process, not the other way around. Albums are the same. If they weren’t, the so called “classics” would be downloaded evenly instead of one or two tracks disparately more popular. The concept of a local newspaper was created in a time where the events in another community had little relevance to the reader. And the economic structure was designed with that in mind. The way we format movie scripts is based on the assumption that all writers are using a typewriter.

We made the best possible system based on the environment we faced. Today, the marketplace is fundamentally different, so it is time to do it again. That’s all. The rest is just short-sighted people complaining because a powershift effects them personally. They’re too attached to a system to see its glaring flaws.

The thing I think we can learn from these comical protests over forces we can’t control is that you shouldn’t ever base your identity on external factors. Otherwise, you’re a slave. And you look like a jackass longing for an ideal that never really existed in the first place.

Written by Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of Trust Me, I’m Lying, The Obstacle Is The Way, Ego Is The Enemy, and other books about marketing, culture, and the human condition. His work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared everywhere from the Columbia Journalism Review to Fast Company. His company, Brass Check, has advised companies such as Google, TASER, and Complex, as well as Grammy Award winning musicians and some of the biggest authors in the world. He lives in Austin, Texas.