Monday, August 13, 2012

Round the New England blogging traps 27 - crowd sourcing and the survival of New England

Almost three months since my last New England blog round-up.

Tonight we start with Outback 2012: Tibooburra Hotel, for Gordon Smith from lookANDsee is back on his outback adventures.

Over on Mind the Gap, Sarah Thorneycroft uses this cartoon to illustrate her post Says who? The post says in part:

We have in place in society at large, education particularly and academia specifically, an assumption that knowledge cannot exist of its own accord, it must be verified by others. Which, generally, is fair enough because the world is full of idiots who will happily believe anything sans any sort of critical thinking. However – when this assumption is so pervasive that it manifests itself in systems like peer review and beliefs like ‘Wikipedia is not a reliable source’, we have a problem. It strikes me that several of the component assumptions that contribute to this are completely spurious.

The assumptions are, and I quote,

  • ‘knowledge must be reviewed by experts’
  • ‘experts must come from institutions’
  • ‘experts must be verified by an authority’
  • ‘crowdsourced knowledge cannot be accurate’

Now there are some aspects of Sarah's line of argument that I disagree with. I might pick those up in my next Belshaw's World's column. Others I agree with. Those that I agree with provide me a unifying theme in today's selection of New England blogs.

The idea that only academics or at least those from institutions can be experts is actually quite new. It certainly wasn't held as a universal view by those in the early days at either the New England or Newcastle University Colleges. It really began to emerge in the explosion in university numbers during the 1970s, in the rise of "professionalisation" in the 1980s. It's a very silly view.

Consider Keith Burgess's A Woodsrunner's Diary. Yes, the topic is a narrow one in some ways -  "18TH CENTURY LIVING HISTORY, HISTORICAL TREKKING, & LONG TERM SURVIVAL" . But could anyone deny that Keith is not an expert in his area? After all, he is involved with it all the time. He also adds to the texture that is New England blogging life.

Or consider Rod Holland's Northern Rivers Geology. Congratulations, by the way Rod, on visitor 10,000. Now Rod's topic and area specific focus actually makes him the single most important source of accessible public information about the geology of the Northern Rivers. To someone like me, that's very valuable.

As a former co-editor of the now defunct student newspaper Neucleus, Winton Bates (Freedom and Flourishing) occupies a feature spot in the centenary history of UNE. His blog deals with some pretty serious stuff. It also reflects not just his academic interests, but also his experience as a senior official with what is now the Productivity Commission. Winton writes outside the groves of the academy, but could anyone deny the deep thought and research imbedded in his writing?

Paul Barratt (Australian Observer) is very different again.  In May 1999, Paul accompanied Defence Minister John Moore on an official visit to China, Korea and Japan. This photo from the trip was taken in Shanghai.

Sadly, Paul is one of those partially sidetracked by Twitter, so his blog has suffered. Paul writes on many things including defence and immigration and is frequently interviewed on ABC. He is no academic slouch. He is also a major advocate of New England causes, of its history and is a member of the New England New State Movement Facebook page.

I could give other examples such as Sophie Masson (A la mode frangourou) on food and writing. Still, I have probably said enough to make my point.

I now want to turn to a second point, that crowdsourced knowledge cannot be accurate. Now if you look at the Wikipedia definition of crowdsourcing, you will see a pretty academic definition. Let me simplify.

Crowdsourcing is a form of collaborative working and checking where the internet allows those writing to access a broad set of views on particular topics and to collaborate in ways not otherwise possible.

Crowdsourcing is actually central to the continued survival of the very concept of New England.

In a way, I dealt with all this in Keeping the New England dream alive. There I said:

This story will not be written by the big wigs or fat cats in Sydney or Canberra. It won't be told by prominent individuals. It will be told by thousands of people who care at their level within their constraints. It will be told by a Rod who cares about New England geology, by a Lynne who documents New England life and who cares about Bellingen hospital, by a Janene whose friends don't understand why she wants to work for a local newspaper, by a Paul who retains his links even though the world has taken him far away, by a Greg or Mark who try to keep the new state dream alive.

What I didn't articulate because I hadn't thought of it in that way is that New England is crowdsourcing.

New England has been deserted by the local media who have lost the ability to even see the broader whole. New England has been deserted by most, not all, of the academics who once focused on New England issues for, sadly, those issues now lack academic sex appeal and certainly do not help careers. New England has been deserted, too, by local politicians who no longer see relevance of the concept of a broader North in the pecking order games of Sydney or Canberra. 

In its place and however imperfectly, crowdsourcing has come to provide a substitute. At a time when all the traditional formal mechanisms deny or at least ignore the validity of the North as an entity, our history is being recorded via the internet; our geology is discussed there; the tenor of daily life is recorded there. In that last post, I also said:

We care. We count. Individually, we don't matter. We can be forgotten, ignored. Collectively, we will change things. Forget us at your risk, for we are not going away. You won't see what we do unless you look; both local and social media interactions continue below the horizon. Yet the interaction goes on.

Again, this is actually crowdsourcing.  I suppose that we often think of political movements in formal and macro terms. Yet what the internet and especially blogging and the various specialist fora have done is to provide a vehicle for sharing at the a wide variety of micro-levels.

I hadn't expected when i began writing what was meant to be a blog review that it would carry me back to that earlier post. I accept that there is a degree of repetition. Yet that's no bad thing.

I do promise, however, to return in my next blog review to a more detailed report on just what our fellow bloggers are actually writing!  


Le Loup said...

Thank you.

Jim Belshaw said...

A pleasure, Keith!