I’ve had editors on the brain since this post of alarming‘s last Sunday:
[T]he comment from the modbots chez GU warning us to refrain from mentioning Mr. Swords may well have been a wind-up but parallax has just been deleted […] for mentioning him in connection with this Gaelic bit of verse.
I’m extremely anti the concept of martyrdom – there are two sides to almost everything – but the GU is going about this in a very dumb way. [my highlighting]
Most bloggers seem to be blaming the moderators (and modbots) of The Guardian’s books blog for the flurry of comment-deletions there that have been turning threads into nonsensical hyenas’ dinners. But it’s editors who give mods their marching orders. Trying to understand the curious decisions of these GU übermenschen lately, I’ve been straining to imagine what thoughts might be at the front of their minds.
I’d say it’s a safe bet that the rise of the blogosphere is their biggest worry — that, thanks to competition from bloggers (no, not this site, of course), it isn’t only their pensions that are no longer safe but their salaries in – who can say whether it’s one year from now or five? A thought-fragment from Ishouldapologise, who is also Phil Hall , posted on his site at the weekend, has stayed with me:
If you fill your words with life . . .
And that was related to a thought-stream of his on this site that led him to say, about The Guardian’s arts blogs,
I don’t even start off by reading the article. I read the commenters.
That’s exactly how I travel on that website, now – and I’m sure that ISA and I are representative of many, if not most, other readers there. I love the way not just distinct but quirky, untameable personalities blaze through the comment sections, and am increasingly irritated by the bland, sausage-factory taste and smell of too many above-the-line posts homogenised by the clicking of winged editorial fingers.
I’m sure that there will always be readers for polished and immaculate texts that require exceptionally skilled editors. I’m guessing, though, that there are going to be fewer jobs for editors than there are now, the more we revert to something closer to the oral culture of our most distant ancestors, and retreat from the book-based civilisation of the more recent past.
That’s not my idea. It struck me as exactly right when I came across it here, last December :
. . . Lance Strate, a communications professor at Fordham University and devoted MySpace user [. . .] says he is convinced that the popularity of social networks stems from their appeal to deep-seated, prehistoric patterns of human communication. “We evolved with speech,” he says. “We didn’t evolve with writing.”
The growth of social networks — and the Internet as a whole — stems largely from an outpouring of expression that often feels more like “talking” than writing: blog posts, comments, homemade videos and, lately, an outpouring of epigrammatic one-liners broadcast using services like Twitter and Facebook status updates (usually proving Gertrude Stein’s maxim that “literature is not remarks”).
“If you examine the Web through the lens of orality, you can’t help but see it everywhere,” says Irwin Chen, a design instructor at Parsons who is developing a new course to explore the emergence of oral culture online. “Orality is participatory, interactive, communal and focused on the present. The Web is all of these things.”
For centuries, most members of the ruling class were distinguished by their grammatical and elegant prose in letters and other communications. When necessary, the powerful hired scribes and editors to hide their inability to rise to the highest standards.
No longer. Casual and even sloppy prose is now the badge of power:
[B]osses tend to have the poorest spelling and worst grammar, conveying the sense that they have better things to do with their time.
[. . .] If your e-mail messages are late, unevenly capitalized and sloppy, you could be C.E.O. material. If your e-mail messages are earnest and combative, or if you run them through spell-check before hitting send, then you may be destined for middle management.
No matter what trend the statistics show today, I’d guess that editors everywhere sense a diminishing future demand for their services. The GU books blog editors, driving away bloggers with ever-more unreasonable moderation policies, have been reminding me of drowning people seeking control, who tighten their grip – disastrously — on would-be rescuers.
What most mystifies me is why their subconscious model for the running of the books blog appears to be a school, if not quite a prison – when it should surely be a pub, a scintillating dinner party, . . . a a 17th-century London coffee house, why not? Why should conversations between grown adults require supervision and correction?