Chris Anderson founded the TED conference, which through its website has become MTV for nerds, brainiacs, anglers for venture capital, and idlers like me who are hooked on 18-minute video presentations that let viewers feel hip and intellectual without actually doing the work of reading a book or journal article. Anderson has been flogging the self-serving but thought-provoking idea that Internet video is becoming the new foundation for collaborative innovation. A few months ago he wrote about it for Wired (which is edited by another Chris Anderson, making for what Mac Renneback calls confusementalism).
In his Wired piece, Anderson talks about the different sort of people the Internet can bring together for turbocharged collaboration: innovators, trend-spotters, evangelists, superspreaders, skeptics. As I was reading this, it occurred to me that there was an analogue here to university magazines, at least the ones that are doing things right.
Schools have a variety of pragmatic reasons for publishing magazines, but I think our higher mission ought to be providing conveyance for arresting stories that spread new knowledge, new ideas, new solutions to old problems, new art from old forms. In the university magazine analogue to Anderson’s crowd-sourced innovation, the innovators are the people we write about, the artists and scientists and scholars and trouble-makers. We fill the other roles. We’re the trend-spotters, sifting the product of all those feverish minds for the findings or ideas or provocations that may not amount to anything five years hence or may be The Next Big Thing. Once we think we’ve tagged some live ones, we’re the super-spreaders, sending those ideas out to tens of thousands of readers and waving our digital hands to get Google’s attention. We’re evangelists, our sermon is “Stop! Whatever you’re doing or were about to do? Drop it and read this instead. We mean it. Read this. You can thank us later when you get our solicitation letter.” And we ought to be the skeptics, too. “You make a claim here . . . really? How do you know? What makes you think this idea will work? This other guy thinks he’s right, and one of you is wrong . . .”
Anderson argues that for something good to arise from a convergence of minds, you need a crowd, light, and desire. Work the crowd, he urges, shed light, and fuel desire. Sounds like a damned fine mantra for a university magazine, doesn’t it?
Close your eyes, quiet your minds, then say it along with me: Work the crowd. Shed light. Fuel desire.