[Foundation-l] Attribution survey, first results

Sage Ross ragesoss+wikipedia at gmail.com
Tue Mar 10 02:18:01 UTC 2009

On Mon, Mar 9, 2009 at 7:52 PM, Ray Saintonge <saintonge at telus.net> wrote:
> Sage Ross wrote:
>> This is a typical pattern when a complex technology is introduced in
>> the presence of a simpler one; it's not a simple matter of
>> replacement, and old technologies (where the infrastructure is easy to
>> maintain) can stick around and even become more significant, even
>> while a complex technology spreads as well.  (See David Edgerton, The
>> Shock of the Old.)
> Results vary.  Slide-rules were replaced by electronic calculators very
> quickly.

Certainly results vary.  Slide-rules, I suggest, do not make a good
...used as they were almost exclusively by the upper educational tiers
in developed countries.  For something broader that serves a more
fundamental role in society (like storage and transmission of
knowledge), old, easy to maintain technologies are likely to co-exist
and even thrive alongside higher-tech ones.

It's a whole lot easier to manufacture books in a poor country than to
maintain the infrastructure for robust Internet participation.  From
the perspectives of resources, required technical expertise,
infrastructure maintainability (shelves in a dry room vs. electricity
and continual replacement of short-lived hardware), there are
advantages to the older technology.

>> I'm speculating here, but it would not surprise me at all if amount of
>> print publishing is still growing, and could continue to do so for a
>> few more decades at least.
> I agree that it is probably still growing, but I would not measure its
> prognosis in decades.  That technology had a big boost in the 1830s when
> rag papers were replaced by the much cheaper wood-pulp papers.  Now the
> rapidly declining costs of electronic storage are in conflict with
> increasing costs of paper production and shipping.  When environmental
> factors are brought in the costs go up even more.  Perhaps the tipping
> point is reached when the new technology becomes accessible and
> affordable to a high percentage of the world's population.

Certainly, things are looking up for continued expansion of electronic
communication (dependent, of course, on economic developments).  But
with broad classes of technologies like printing and electronic
communication, I suggest that there are not global tipping points,
because of the drastic economic inequalities of the modern world.
Some or many cultures may reach a tipping point (even here, I'm
skeptical, given the widely acknowledge virtues of traditional print
even in rich cultures; the Internet has not brought a significant
decline in US printing, even though the Internet is now very widely
available to Americans).  But a global tipping point?  Globalization
is powerful, but not all-powerful.

Will poor countries develop electronic communication instead of
printing industries, or alongside them, or first print and only later
electronic?  The last two seem more likely, to me.  Print-on-demand,
especially, means that printed distribution of Wikimedia project
material is probably going to be on the rise for quite a while.

I don't think anyone can predict with certainty what the trajectory of
print vs. electronic communication will be.  But I do think it would
be myopic NOT to consider print among the likely significant ways
material will get reused.

-Sage (User:Ragesoss)

More information about the foundation-l mailing list