Sunday, May 18, 2014

A valuable report from a valuable institution.

One of the most fascinating things to come up this week was the leaked New York Times Innovation report and its frank discussion of the changing face of the news media. What does this have to do with Sherlock Holmes, you ask?

Nothing. And everything.

In the last few years I've been enthralled by the paradigm shifts that have hit the hobby of Sherlockiana. While things like  "disruptive economics" may not apply directly to a past-time that is done for love and not money, to pretend that our little area of recreational interest is a protected sanctuary from the winds of change would be a decided delusion. One can have all the confidence in the world proclaiming, "And thus shall it be forever and ever!" about one's favorite institution, but such declarations might as well be made about sand castles . . . for that is what we build in fandoms, after all. Pretty, pretty sand castles, true mind palaces of sand sometimes, yes, yet sand one day destined for the coming tide.

But lately we've been seeing those castles built of digital audio, social networks, video series, and more. No news there, but what the Times Innovation report really brings out is that it's more than just addition of new media -- it's new relationships, new pathways. The days when you just had a front page and expected everyone to enter your published world through the latest issue are gone. Once published, an article is out there for fresh eyes to find years after the moment whose circumstances caused its creation -- without the aged paper and dust that might give it at least a hint of a past context.

Words don't have dominance just for being published in this publication or that any more, and have to stand or fall on their own merit, as we saw when a particular old print piece made its way on to the net and had several strong rebuttals show up, bettering the original in some cases. Great ideas can come from someone no Sherlockian has ever heard of before, who stepped fresh on to the scene through a door no one saw was even there. And its very apparent that there are more very knowledgeable Sherlockians out there than there ever were.

Where a core value of Sherlockian culture used to be collecting in the pre-internet day, I suspect a core value of the next generation's Sherlockian paradigm will be spreading and sharing. Instead of putting out a limited number of small publications that collectors must acquire over time -- which no one was making any money at anyway -- one can now make a total publication output available to any reader at any time. Don Hobbs quoted that old Shaw maxim in the latest I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere podcast, "If you have one of something, gloat. If you have two, share." Today we find the time for gloating is nearly done, as it's so easy to share. (Yes, we're still bound by copyright laws, but sharing of knowledge gleaned and helpful quotes are within all of our purview.)

One of my favorite parts of the Innovation report so far is the section entitled "A List of Best Practices for Experimentation." Experimentation is an area where those who follow Mr. Sherlock Holmes have always sparkled. As much as I like to marvel at what "these kids today" are up to and grumble about our older institutions, Sherlockians have always been boldly going where no one else in the hobby has gone before in celebration of Mr. Sherlock Holmes, with all the energy of suitors competing for the attentions of a famous beauty. They love to try new things, to get an idea, test it out, and see where things go. If experimentation is what it takes to succeed in the brave new world ahead, I think Sherlockians will be okay.

"The Press, Watson, is a most valuable institution, if you only know how to use it," Holmes once said, and as we all re-learn what the Press exactly is in this century, the Sherlocks among us will be figuring out new ways to use it . . . or be it, as new openings present themselves.

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