Landscape organizes everything within sight.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Counterculture That Wasn’t: Fred Turner and the Manufacture of a State Religion for Silicon Valley

Fred Turner’s 2006 book, From Counterculture to Cyberculture, is an important book. For those interested in the information revolutions that led to the present, Turner presents three crucial turning points crucial to the making of contemporary Silicon Valley. The first two are straightforward: a moment of institutionalization in the 1980s, and a moment of corruption in the 1990s around the ideas of deregulation. The third is more difficult.

Some time between 1985 and the present, the internet witnessed the manufacture of a state religion for Silicon Valley. That religion is dominated by a predominantly masculine, educated, jet-set elite, deracinated from their roots; they are unified in an understanding of the telos of history. They have defined and hire for the identifying marks of an initiate in their religion. They have invented, in contradiction to their stated values, a world that rewards men for gift-like exchanges of information but exploits women for the economically unrewarded exchanges of nurture and counseling because of which their world thrives. This is the story of the manufacture of a state religion for Silicon Valley. This story is available to readers of From Counterculture to Cyberculture, but it is more difficult to identify, because it is not the tale that Turner set out to tell.


My students of information revolutions are studying Fred Turner this week in my course at the University of Chicago. I value Turner because he does a good job of setting out the dates since 1985. He tells us about who the economic players were, who created innovations in bureaucratic management, how the politics of Silicon Valley shifted in the 1990s, and what some of the consequences were. All of these events are crucial to understanding the way the internet and the companies that rule it are reshaping the culture of corporations and government’s role with respect to development and information management.

The first of these watersheds was the moment of institutionalization that made Silicon Valley. Turner begins his discussion of these events with the 1985 founding of the WELL, the first online community as the date for the emergence of an ideology based upon dialogue as a social leveler and economic catalyst. The narrative then links the institutionalization of this ideology to the migration of the information industry from MIT to Silicon Valley by the 1980s. Turner’s explanation is that California’s culture of openness lured talent and then capital across the country. The explanation, while insufficient, is provocative. Turner shows too how dialectical ideology became implanted in the very fiber of California-based consulting strategy. He traces the establishment of GBN and the reinstitutionalization of IFTF, both of which wedded the insights of experiment-guided dialogue towards the format of organizational psychology. Northern California institutionalized dialogue as an alternative corporate structure to that of the traditional postwar bureaucracy.

Second, as to the moment of corruption. The 1993 founding of Wired Magazine sets the date for the unholy marriage of dialectical ideology (with its hippie roots) and new-right anti-regulation political policy. The deregulation of media giants like Turner is countenanced by a libertarian-left California alliance that hopes to have already vaccinated the electronic future with an anti-hierarchical open-source movement that will benefit from deregulation. Turner hints at more than he makes explicit, but the implication is clear: the new internet giants like Microsoft and Google were allowed their far-ranging monopolies over communications because the hippie left and libertarian right formed a consensus against regulation. We are now living in that moment of massive deregulation, and it is too early yet to judge the consequences.
These turning points are, I think, correct, and represent useful contributions to the history of twenty-first century society.


Yet the book’s ambitions aim much higher. Turner wants to show, as his title indicates, that the values of the hippie era were transported unblemished into the backbone of the internet. He offers us a set of heroes that he credits with the transformation, LSD-dropping radicals such as Stewart Brand and John Perry Barlow, whose thirty-year trajectories bridged the worlds of Haight-Ashbury and Sand Hill Road. The hero-drive account is seductive, but it becomes problematic when it comes to identifying the political ideas of counterculture and cyberculture, their origins, their influence, and their affects.

. To accredit the 60s with the values of contemporary Silicon Valley, Turner strains to make every connection prove the radical credentials of the internet’s birth. It turns out, according to Turner, that everyone alive between 1954 and 1982 participated in a set of values defined as the counterculture. A similar symptom is defining the openness of the cyberculture inventor in terms, not of their beliefs and actions, but of their milieu. Brand’s adolescent travels around America, for example, are given as evidence of his exposure to the entire diverse milieu of radicality, including abstract impressionism in contemporary New York, SDS, the Free Speech Movement, although no connections have been shown to the actors he names. By this definition, any liberal youth of the baby boom who listened to Bob Dylan while Jackson Pollack was painting next door was necessarily aware that his drug-taking was an opportunity to radicalize perception. This is poor history: to show milieu is not to demonstrate the transmission of ideas. The historian who shows that Napoleon was young during the riots of the French Revolution has shown less than the one who demonstrates the strategies of rule that shaped his formation as a mind. Brand’s strategies for bringing together clever young men around tools have more to do perhaps with the laboratory revolution that hit American university science in the 1920s than with the counterculture. The reader would like to know what strategies Brand and his fellow-entrepreneurs learned from the past. To say that they learned "openness" is to beg the question.

. The celebration of “60s values” by way of history has been around for a while, and it comes with an agenda. Since the moment of the 60s itself, baby-boomer historiography has tended to celebrate all revolutions – Vietnam War Protests, Free Speech, Back-to-the-Landers, and Civil Rights – as a seamless continuum of justice, peace, and love. The agenda is visible in what’s left out. Those who emphasize unity tend not to think very hard about why the 60s failed. They tend not to detect the rift that happened when feminists walked out on SDS; they tend not to inspect how Yippie irony alienated public consensus in favor of the left; they don’t think very hard about the forms of political consensus that had a chance to succeed and why they failed. Baby-boomer historiography, California style, congratulates California for having invented the new age, seeing LSD as the fulfillment of radical politics. Other historians would look to LSD as its betrayal. Baby-boomer historiography, Berkeley style, attributes highest laurels to Mario Savio and the Free Speech Movement. Other historians fault the college-educated counterculture for alienating the poor white families of Vietnam veterans, and so directly abetting the rise of the right. Turner does not show a precise set of countercultural values that definitively influenced cyberculture in its early stages. Instead, he too blurs the events of the 60s, telling us about what happened on the other side of Manhattan while Stewart Brand was young. The blurring is meant to suggest rather than identify the transmission of radical values. Good enough for some, perhaps. But…

. If one cares deeply about mid-century utopianism, one would like to know which revolutions Silicon Valley intended to participate in, and which version of the history of radical ideas it absorbed: a Marxist critique of the origins of capitalist inequality? A Situationist critique of radical culture? A mystical vision of an era of peace lead in by an occult elect, such as the Rosicrucians of Southern California were promoting? We don’t get these nuances out of Turner. We get instead a trite amalgamation of all-things-1960s, a baby-boomer’s nostalgia for multiple movements of peace, love, experimentation, and openness: these, and nothing more specific, will define the roots of cyberculture.

. Another alternative would be telling a longer story about the making of a Californian politics and its role on the internet. The story has to start long before he places it and involve a far broader set of interests than the heroic, peace-loving, Zen-meditating hippies he wants to credit. Take two of the terms key to the founding of the EFF, the Electronic Frontier Federation. Turner convincingly shows that two of the essential terms to the EFF’s self-understanding were the “frontier” and the hive.” Both terms seemingly appear out of nowhere, illustrations of “new communalist” logic spontaneously evolving out of Brand’s fertile skull. Turner thus misses two other points of origin for the terms that are deeply significant in their ideological freight. The role of the frontier in American history was described by Frederick Jackson Turner; the “hive” that would populate the frontier was described by Leary as the next phase in the spontaneous evolution of an Irish-Jewish intellectual elite who would wrest the controls of society from its traditional Anglo-Dutch leaders. These terms appear at the EFF courtesy of SB, thus clouding the possibility that they circulated more widely in a larger group of actors who had a shared conception of what it meant to be Californian and hence a Californian Programmer in the 1970s and 1980s.

. It is worth considering different versions of Cyberculture’s social origins. Long in advance of Silicon Valley, California’s faith in technology was shaped by the ideology of manifest destiny, the westward migration of late-nineteenth-century theosophists, deviant transvestite culture around the turn of the century, women preachers like Annie Semple McPhereson, early twentieth-century migrations, war work, and Pentacostalism. Historians George Pendle and Megan Shaw Prelinger have already given us critical stories about how the California religion found its way into the culture of Boeing and NASA. By 1968, these forces had already set firmly in place the millennial hopes for a technology-based social revolution, long in advance of hippie culture. The hippie contributions to Cyberculture were neither the first to proclaim openness, the first to embrace millennial destiny, nor the first to proclaim the transcendence of gender, class, and hierarchy.

Telling the history in vague terms means getting away with vague definitions of “counterculture values.” Turner’s argument concludes that “experimentation” and “openness” were invented by the counterculture and adopted by cyberculture, and it relies on fuzzy definitions of both terms.

. “Experimentation” and “openness” turn out to be marvelously flexible categories. Turner relies throughout the book on small gestures to stand in for full-out intellectual and political revolution in the history of ideas. He instead gestures towards LSD and Timothy Leary, a season studying radical theologian Tielhard de Chardin. Turner extrapolates a brief exposure into a lifetime of study. The book is not a history of ideas, however, and it remains content to define “openness” in terms of novelty – any type of performance new in the 1960s is defined as open; openness need not be defined in terms of inclusion, social justice, or class or gender identities. Openness in cyberculture is not a form of politics. Ill-defined ideas about novelty are offered as illustrations of the heroes’ sense of adventure.

. A blurry definition of "openness" absolves Turner from pressing a gender or class critique too far. Pressing would reveal the fissures between stated values and social practice. Take the “gift economy” Turner finds at work in the early WELL; the result, he concludes, of countercultural immersion in ideas about tribal belonging and “openness.” Turner gives evidence that the kind of knowledge that would be traditionally coded as feminine – listening, counseling, and giving romantic advice – was freely given, largely by women, free of charge, in vast quantities, without compensation in a form that could benefit one’s career. By contrast, knowledge coded masculine – information about stocks, future technology, and code – was freely exchanged, largely it seems by men, and led directly to the spiraling financial success of reviewer/consultant/journalists such as Howard Rheingold. In other words, the WELL community structurally reduplicated the division between freely-given, non-compensated female labor and freely-exchanged but actively-compensated male labor that formed the most reprehensible characteristic of American postwar suburban housewifery. Turner gives the evidence, but doesn’t perform the analysis. He cites the later career burnout by Ellen Ullman, one of the women who participated in the WELL, without indicating the extent to which gender difference seems to have structured the split between male success post-WELL and female burnout.
The ideas are manhandled this way in the service of his larger mission, a heroic portrait of Stewart Brand, John Perry Barlow, and Esther Dyson as the architects of a more just world. It manhandles ideas in ways deeply flattering to Silicon Valley.

. The result of all this muddling is history in the vein of hero-worship. Turner concentrates the bulk of his research on the biographies of a few saintly counter-cultural digerati -- Stewart Brand, Kevin Kelly, and John Perry Barlow -- as metonymy for the whole. They become impossible geniuses, launching initiative after initiative; idea after idea, if only because Turner starkly refuses to do the research on where these ideas came from or how widely held they were. This is not history; it is biography written in the key of modern lives of saints, like those nineteenth-century idolizing tributes to Napoleon as the advocate of all liberties that tried to tie all the best idylls of the French Revolution and all the rights of man to the general’s experiences in adolescence.

. Such histories tend to miss what is so interesting about the period (a larger movement among a particular set of actors who didn’t exist before, and who are much larger than the individual). History by way of biography tends also to miss what is so interesting about the individual (a leader, wrote John Steinbeck, is the one who happens to be at the head of a crowd when there is a movement happening).

. In fact, staged against the long genesis of California culture, the characters described by Turner look downright backwards. Turner’s evidence points everywhere to the early internet as a gentlemen’s club for bearded hackers, many of whom thought women should stay at home. Once enthusiasm is peeled away, what Turner describes is the coming of an international jet-set elite, removed from the concerns of social justice that typified the 1960s. He writes of two of his heroes, characters he advertises as riding Air Force Two between nations, feted at Davos and the World Economic Forum: “Barlow and Dyson had become packets of information, shuttling from boardroom to conference to media outlet. Their sense of place had become dislocated and their sense of home, like the notion of home on the Net, distributed.” It doesn’t take much interpolation to conclude that Turner is describing the evolution and deracination of a new elite. The new version of the Elks Lodge and Harvard Club, in other words, was the WELL, where one could go expecting rational conversation and sympathy with others of similar background, status, and economic interest. Turner explains that Cyberculture changed everything, but the evidence he gives portrays a nineteenth-century politics of equality for the already privileged, transported unblemished to twenty-first-century California.

Turner indeed proves that contemporary Silicon Valley believes in the lineage he’d like to give – the best of hippie culture, the back-to-the-earth, peace-and-love, radicalism determined to succeed. He conclusively shows that as early as the 1980s, hacker culture in California thought of itself that way: the direct heirs to the movement.


I began by talking about the book’s contributions to a history of information revolutions: the migration of information technology to Silicon Valley, the solidification of dialogue-based corporate practices in Silicon-Valley businesses, and the alliance between the northern California left and the libertarian right around the deregulation of communications. I’d like to conclude by suggesting that the book’s greatest contribution is to highlight one more watershed in twentieth-century information revolutions. But this is a watershed that Fred Turner did not intend to describe: the recent revolution that consisted in manufacturing a state religion for California.

There was a moment when Silicon-Valley intellectuals began to brand themselves with the mantel of the counterculture. Barlow and Brand’s memories, Esther Dyson’s identity as a child of NASA and California, Joi Ito’s adoption by Timothy Leary – all of these factor in, of course. But there was a moment when those secret links were made explicit.

A more complete history of Silicon Valley values would have included a section Turner leaves out: a chapter on a canonization of the hippie founders of Silicon Valley, a moment that deserves its place in American History alongside the Founding of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the 1990s debate over the religion of the Founding Fathers as a moment when artificial history served to implant a new consciousness and manufacture a new political identity of enormous significance for future politics. Like them, the newest articulation of the state religion of California holds the conviction that California invented liberty, and that its forms of spirituality, technology, and politics are inherently purer, less corrupt and less hierarchical than those experienced elsewhere in America.

The canonization of Silicon Valley started perhaps with the smiley-face-adorned cover of Wired magazine in July 1997, which proclaimed “25 years of freedom, prosperity, and a better environment.” Not a big claim: the stress was on the Pax Americana, not the 25-year memory of the failed counterculture reincarnate. They played it down. Subsequent Wired articles became more daring. Canonizaton progressed with the ritual identification of Silicon Valley corporate elites with Burning Man in the 2000s. When, in 2001, Google named, as a the significant credential for hiring VP Eric Schmidt, his participation at the Burn, they canonized that relationship further, adding corporate weight to civic ritual. The manufacture of religion culminated with the publication of Fred Turner’s hagiography of hippie digerati, From Counterculture to Cyberculture, in 2006.

That history, I have tried to suggest, is more myth than fact. Even as a descriptor of present-day Silicon Valley, it falls flat. Take the Gift Economy as institutionalized for Silicon Valley by Burning Man, perhaps the most fleshed-out version of the world Turner describes. In practice, the $300 door pass plus week's supply of food and water plus transport translate into a $1000-a-year fee for participation. The Gift Economy is itself an elite club, a white-male-aristocracy. While it preaches listening, in practice it has but infrequently made concerted political efforts to reach into the ethnic ghettos, trades, and classrooms that radical bridge-building would benefit the most. Burning Man, as the yearly festival of Gift Economy, seems to celebrate a revolution already accomplished. Silicon Valley and the Hippie Old Guard come together as if they had always been one, behaving as if their message of love and justice were already realized.

Artificial histories help to plant identities. But they also work by smoothing over difference. Missing from the Wired history, the civic rituals of Burning Man, or the telling of Counterculture, is the role of dissent, that ingredient that seemed so crucial to the revolutions of 1968. Someone needs to prod these people into taking their own ideals seriously. If they actually care about a gift economy that will conquer the inequalities of gender, class, and race, they need to design an electronic economy that will reflect those values. They need a serious investigation of how, when, and why the gender equality in computer science departments in the 1980s devolved into the male bias we see today. They need to send OLPC’s to Chicago’s southside schools. They need, in terms of ideology, a critical investigation of gifting that takes seriously the possibility of giving to those from whom one can expect nothing.


I mean, God bless’em, I hope the hippie message stays strong, and I’m saving my dollars for a Burning Man ticket this summer like everyone else. All I’m saying is that Fred Turner isn’t, as it turns out, Elijah. Neither was Stewart Brand, marvelous travels though he had.

I just hope that Silicon Valley has some prophets to call out the failures as well as the successes. I’d like to read a history of those prophets some day.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Age of Digital Citation

Peer-to-peer technologies are working to unlock one of the most secretly-guarded rituals of academic citizenship, one that in former times was the most expensive to procure and the most costly to transfer: that is to say, knowledge of the canon itself.

The canon has to be mastered in a process of slow reading and even slower surfing of footnotes that occupies the first three to five years of graduate study leading up to qualifying exams and a dissertation prospectus. Even finding out what the canon is remains part of the work, eased in certain places by official departmental reading lists and historiographical classes, but finally a matter of reading and mastering the minutia of the scholarly apparatus.

Finding the canon in history, for instance, means careful reading of acknowledgements sections and footnotes correlated with cv’s, finding out who worked with whom, which texts appear with frequency, and which are dismissed. Finding the canon in comparative literature is frequently a matter of reading notes from Lacanian seminars in 1960s Paris, deducing from reported conversations the subtext that actually mattered to scholars.

All of these processes depend upon having the time to follow professors, to track them down in office hours, to pay attention to which conversations they listened to, to abstract one’s own canon from the masses. It was never enough to self-train; it was hardly enough merely to read, and visiting bookshops was a way to error rather than fruition. The canon has, until now, been secret, and it has been a matter of personal socialization to even find out what the important names were. And all of this suddenly promises to fold. Google Scholar counts citations and delivers the one true text on the transport revolution cited by scholar after scholar, or the new groundbreaking text that rocketed to a favorite within the last ten years.

The citation databases create new canons, established by numbers. Numbers have power. Sooner or later, it’s nearly inevitable now, that those numbers will begin to influence hiring decisions. Woe betide the uncited book or ignored article: relevance to disciplinary discourse can be counted and numbered. Scholarship has entered the age of the citation database.

Such highways create residual suburbs on the periphery of common activity. Journals to exclusive or small or specialist to go online, such as Cabinet, which depends on orders of back editions for part of its revenue, upload none of their articles by humanities rockstars, be they ever so bright as Wolfgang Schivelbusch or Marina Warner. Blog entries from para-academic scholars such as Geoff Manaugh of BLDGBLOG, or podcasts by David Harvey, despite their circulation, will show up in Google stats but never Scholar; it will who up on Zotero if users put it there, but part of its cache is being known to only a small group of thinkers. One finds these scholarly suburbs by knowing the right people, by following the right idea. Knowing about Cabinet means dedication to a discourse.

There are two levels of citation, two ways of knowing then: the official, the common highway, the established canon of knowledge, now finally unlocked for all. The eighteen-year-old high-school drop-out in Cleveland can learn about the industrial revolution on his own, navigating straight to the top texts if he chooses. Alongside that canon, another and more mysterious one is forming: the secret canon of para-academic, interdisciplinary know-how. The former uses Scholar and Zotero, the tools of the trade. The latter leaves traces on Delicious and Twitter, the tools of public intellectuals. Scholars following the breath of the new will want to have exposure to both.

Interdisciplinary Canons, New Fields

We can look around the curve of time to further consequences of this unlocking of canons. The proximate arenas of affect are in interdisciplinarity and the establishment of new fields.

The age of digital citation also makes possible a new age of rampant interdisciplinarity: searching for the origins of urban prisons in the nineteenth-century launches the historian into the abundant writing from literature scholars on the same subject. One no longer has to visit the art history department to develop a second field in art history; the list of innovative new texts is in easy grasp. While traditional scholars ignore other fields for the sake of expediency, the easy grasp of interdisciplinary knowledge makes ignoring it merely irresponsible.

Open canons also imply the more rapid establishment of new fields: though scholars had been writing serious studies of the city since Henri Pirenne, it took an operator like Arthur Schlesinger to establish urban history as a field. A Harvard professor could produce a generation of graduate students, a flood of scholarship, a conference, and finally a journal. For most of the twentieth century, such were the criteria necessary to generate a legitimate subfield where most departments hire and teach today.

Navigating the Information Glut

Such interdisciplinary plenitude foreshadows an age of information glut. Even as I write, I too cringe, already worn out from a morning preparing a nineteenth-century cities lecture, lured outside my historical canon by the ready availability of literature scholars’ studies of early detective fiction.

The temptation to meander is a serious one. I could waste hours there, thinking about the difficulty of finding information for the urban police, and the way those searches find their way into the middle-class fascination with Sherlock Holmes; a historical problematic of information glut not unlike my own. The task looks impossible, though, and for the moment I’ve simply avoided the other canon. I’ll concentrate on historians’ accounts of police, and leave their literary imaginal for another day. Here’s the gist of the problem: much like those urban subjects, today’s researchers have the problem of knowing which categories of information are relevant.

A second temptation is to decline responsibility altogether. Clumsy navigation of information results in a glut of citations that don’t actually reflect their user’s experience. That happens in the last efficient way now whenever a scholar cites relevant articles in a footnote without reading them, guessing from title or first page alone their content. Scholars show their finesse at navigating digital canons by citing only the works essential to their argument. A smaller list of citations frequently demonstrates real mastery.

Reducing the canon effectively is always a matter of outsourcing responsibility. Traditionally, the scholar relies upon the advisor for setting the bounds of discovery, the questions of debate, even the nature of inquiry. Derrida gives us the image of Socrates prodding Plato with his stylus to get him going; Socrates comes up with the questions and Plato does all the work. In traditional graduate departments, the student is somewhat relieved of this relationship by the possibility of multiple members of a committee. Barbara Johnson, Derrida’s feminist pupil, gives another image: Moliere’s Agnes in The School for Wives, who gains her freedom by having two teachers and choosing her own path between them.

The age of digital citation raises the possibility of hacking through the canon with other prosthetics than the human teacher. Each of them has their own limits and rewards.

Crowdsourced citation, in its most blunt form, creates simple accounts of which texts are most read. In the world of tagging, however, readers assign labels to a text or passage. Tagclouds rank the labels used by a particular group of users by frequency. A set of crowdsourced labels produces a folksonomy, or the set of terms of greatest interest to that particular set of users. Individual folk publics can emerge, each of them generating their own set of terms. Each advisor and her graduate students can communicate, it seems, in a common language of labels applied to the texts the commonly read. One could sort the entire western canon for texts labeled “governmentality” by students of Patrick Joyce. The crowdsourcing is hypothetically open: our drop-out in Cleveland can theoretically acquaint himself with the canon interpreted by Patrick Joyce and followers by searching Zotero for “governmentality.” He can theoretically contribute his own readings from Mayhew.

The generation of new terms in a folksonomy is organic, as well. For another scholar to highlight another term to the tagcloud, they need only to begin abundantly tagging themselves. A body of sympathetic users who adopt a new term can grow and find each other. In the age of digital citation, subfields have the chance to emerge in a new way. They emerge with less certainty and coherence, to be sure, than those directed by graduate advisors, but they emerge nonetheless. Landscape Studies, so long on the periphery of a dozen canons, perhaps only has a chance in the age of digital citation.
To whom lies innovation in such a setting? To the advisor, to be sure, who launches a generation of students tagging the world through a new taxonomy; but also to the innovator, who dives into the established canon, passionately splicing the world according to a new set of values: leaving behind a trail of texts for a Marxist reading of the eighteenth century or a landscapey reading of the nineteenth.

And here the problem of originality reemerges. For these alternative taxonomies to be persuasive, they much seem relevant to other taxonomists. They must not seem redundant, the mirror of so many Patrick Joyces or T. S. Ashtons who have looked at the literature beforehand.

Another means of sorting through the noise of the digital canon is to outsource the reading to artificial intelligence. A program such as Devonthink, taught by a user to group together the readings and excerpts for a single undergraduate survey, can learn that texts that mention Britain, Adam Smith, and the 1750s belong together. It can even browse JSTOR for new passages of immediate relevance to the topic, excerpt them, and highlight some of the most important words that seem to appear for frequency. The scholar still has to read: but the machine performs the work of the research assistant, diving into the archives and coming out with particular passages neatly marked.

Working with such an apparatus creates the problem of an echo chamber. If you liked this, you will also like something like it. How does the scholar find an alternative telling? Where lies innovation? The answer to this question is probably the same as it has always been in academia: one does something innovative by mastering the canon and looking outside of it. In the age of digital citation, the canon is easier to find than ever, which means that the economy of time can spare more room for reading beyond the canon in search of fresher ideas. The healthy scholar will employ digital prosthetics towards mastering established canons, leaving more energy to spare for creative praxis.

It is an age for the flourishing of scholars who have the time to read deeply and the energy to think outside of the canon. This is what’s scary about it: to keep up in the age of digital citation, scholars will have to master a series of intellectual prostheses – tagging circles, artificial reading bots, quick skimming – that will help them navigate through the masses of texts. The age of digital citation will punish scholars who merely reduplicate the canons of their mentors. This is what’s exciting about it: you no longer have to go to a university to find out what books are on the canon.

The age of digital citation is almost guaranteed to produce a phalanx of interdisciplinary thinkers, skilled synthesists, capable of putting together the big picture from a variety of micro-fields and offering new perspectives on the whole. It will be to the credit of the rest of us if we can accept them.

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