Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Age of the Everyman Publisher

What Gutenberg's printing press did for reading, today's Internet has done for publishing. Twenty years ago, sharing one's words with the masses required arrangements with a printing press or a radio station. The Internet has changed that. Now a penniless college student can post to a blog, and instantly anyone in the world can read it. What, then, are the ramifications of such great ease of publishing?

The Web's convenience for writers, combined with its ability to instantly bridge any distance, means that we have access to more than we can possibly read. Before us spreads a spectrum of opinions and data, some more reliable than others, many completely useless. How does the typical Internet user narrow this vast river of information to a stream small enough to understand? Human nature has already provided the answer, which the poet Emily Dickinson describes in the following stanza:

The Soul selects her own Society —
Then — shuts the Door —
To her divine Majority —
Present no more —

A person in a metropolis of a million inhabitants finds a few close friends; likewise, an Internet user frequents a few favorite sites.

Now more than ever, we choose what we will learn and how we will influence society. We can spend hours surfing the Web and remain just as ignorant as we were before. Or we can focus on the best and most informative sources, finding them more quickly on the Internet than through other means. We can clutter the Web with meaningless babble, or we can use it make our mark in the world, whatever mark that may be. The Internet, like other technological advances before it, is a tool whose impact depends on the actions of the wielder.

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