signature, authority, and Wikipedia
Matt asks some good questions about authorship in his post below:
Is authorship devalued when mass-produced? Who has authorship? Is authorship over, say, blogspace like this, granted in a way that makes the middle class the new high watermark for "authority"?I’ve been thinking about this sort of thing too, particularly as it relates to Wikipedia.
The Kaufer and Carley article describes Signature (an artifact of the Author) as a mental model that is inseparable from our conceptions of what communication is and does. Despite the postmodern constructs that many researchers ascribe to authorship in digital spaces — the Author is dead! the Author is a function! — real readers do cling to the model that somebody somewhere did in fact write this stuff.
This is part of the reason that so many people have issues with Wikipedia (aside from pure quality). Wikipedia policy demands anonymous publication and “radical collaboration.” You can, after a fashion, track the authorship through the history pages, but the pseudonyms and IP addresses aren’t really much help to a lay person. Signature-wise, it’s impossible to tell whether the entry was written by an Oxford PhD or your freshman student — and your student may have a much more thorough knowledge of, say, podcasting than the credentialed writer. Still, people want to know who writes this stuff, and that issue is most often cited in conjunction with issues of authority.
I think Matt’s thoughts about power and class are very relevant here. We’re trained to value knowledge from an elite class — the intellectual class. Does Wikipedia, by eliminating the signature, level the field too much for comfort? Is it an indication that “the middle class [is] the new high watermark for ‘authority’?” Are we devaluing it because it is indeed mass produced — written by the masses for the masses?