Open Systems, Open Minds

It was interesting to hear Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s narrative on how she became involved in digital scholarship–it arose from a natural desire to share thoughts and ideas more immediately and more openly than traditional scholarly outlets.  Her discovery of blogging filled that need.  Note here that the need came first, and the tool fit the need.

Many of us find ourselves facing a rapidly expanding array of digital tools, and then scrambling to find a way to use them.  Of course, this is perfectly valid, and may lead to some creative and productive breakthroughs, but it can be distracting.  Instead of focusing on what we want to say or do, and then finding the most appropriate way to accomplish our goal, do we not sometimes find ourselves swimming in a sea of nifty technologies unsure of our direction?

It seems to me that one of the most valid criticisms of the traditional peer review system is the abuse of that system by those in a “gate-keeper” role who, whether deliberately or unconsciously, unfairly reject works of merit.  For example, there seems to be a widespread bias against unknown authors from less prestigious institutions, and against views or arguments which challenge those views which are prevalent in a particular department or discipline.  Certainly a more open review process might permit a more productive and a more interesting discussion of particular topics.

In her conclusion, Fitzpatrick brings up an interesting point about the agility needed to avoid the calcification of a system’s structure which may occur when an attempt is made to achieve stability (p 196).  She cites Jonathan Zittrain’s work on the “generative pattern” of a new open system gradually moving from a “rich, fertile openness…to the increasingly closed, patrolled state of established systems”.  For an example of this, I would look at the music scene of the 1960’s, when, for a time, bands and venues cropped up seemingly all over the place, and the scene was wide open to new sounds and new combinations of older sounds.  Over time, though, the rock and music industry became more formulaic and predictable.  It is a pattern repeated often.  It is important to keep an openness alive in any new system, whether it be publishing or any other field.

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