Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine / Volume 2, Number 1/ January 1, 1995

Contribute More, Judge Less


In The Electronic Word, Richard Lanham refers frequently to a traditional oscillation between competing sensibilities--sensibilities that can be described in terms of the semi-eternal tension in Western culture between the philosophers and the rhetoricians in all its various manifestations. John Oughton's phrase "Contribute More, Judge Less" suggests a direction in that oscillation, a move that is implicated in network culture. On the net, academic communities are becoming more expansive, open, democratic, superficial and less narrow, focused, elitist, deep than those formed in print-based academic culture.

Print represents a decision of severe abstraction and subtraction. All non-linear signals are filtered out; color is banned for serious texts; typographical constants are rigorously enforced; sound is proscribed; even the tactility of visual elaboration is outlawed. Print is an act of perceptual self-denial, and electronic text makes us aware of that self-denial at every point and in all the ways which print is at pains to conceal. (Lanham, p. 74-75)
Certainly judging is essential to the print-based sensibility. Paring and pruning toward a nicely shaped, purer substance. The essence. The aim of writing for print/in print is often toward an imagined essence that requires continual judgment, continual consideration and rejection, to approach. The act (not just of stringing together words but of producing texts) is a mental tossing out, as weeds from a garden.

As John O. implies, network-based communities can afford (technologically and culturally) to open their arms and welcome effusive contribution. More and more and please more. The fundamental act is contribution. Shaping by addition rather than subtraction, by heaping on rather than paring away. Self-indulgence displacing self-denial. Pleasure displacing asceticism.

Displacing, not replacing. This movement is a shift in cultural direction not a pancake flipped from one side to the other. Rather, it is (as Lanham points out) old sensibilities bubbling to the surface, freed by new technologies from centuries of exile. And in the process, the mingling of old and new in this highly carbonated soup, new cultural sensibilities are emerging. ¤

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