Ludology vs. narrative

Virtual tourists

The “pro-am revolution”

Over at Fast Company, Charles Leadbetter pushes an interesting idea: The increasing scientific, political, and cultural importance of “pro-ams” — amateurs who hold themselves to professional standards. One good example is in astronomy: Many astronomical discoveries these days are coming from amateurs with backyard telescopes, because technology has made those telescopes increasingly powerful. Or consider Linux, an operating system that was created by volunteers, yet which now rivals Microsoft’s top products. In the world of music, cut-and-paste apps like Apple’s Garage Band are making amateur performers increasingly polished.

The interesting thing, as Leadbetter points out, is that this completely reverses the trends of the last few hundred years:

The 20th century was marked by the rise of professionals in medicine, science, education, and politics. In one field after another, amateurs and their ramshackle organizations were driven out by people who knew what they were doing and had certificates to prove it. Now that historic shift seems to be reversing. Even as large corporations extend their reach, we’re witnessing the flowering of Pro-Am, bottom-up self-organization.

Interestingly, an example he doesn’t mention is blogging. “Amateur” authors — I hesitate to call them “amateurs” because some bloggers are more fun to read than many paid professionals — are getting so much audience these days that the pros are freaking out, as the New York Times Magazine documented last week in its excellent story on political bloggers.

Anyway, Leadbetter is set to release a book-length version of his argument in November, and I’ll be intrigued to read it.

(Thanks to Slashdot for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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