Saturday, February 22, 2020

Okay, so I can't know it all. But I can keep my eyes open.

A curious new thing happened to me this morning. A Sherlockian I know posted something to several social media lists I follow, and what I saw was this:

I could pretty well deduce the causes for that post not appearing, reflecting upon my own settings and administration of social media, but it reminded me of that new part of our hobby that I've been thinking a lot about lately, the fact that we're not seeing all of Sherlockiana any more.

Did we ever see all of Sherlockiana? Well, if you want to go to absolutes, we never did. If one teenager in one small Iowa town handwrote their own story of Sherlock Holmes, and than teen never met another Sherlockian, nobody was seeing that work. But the obsessive completists and collectors of our world always pushed hard to make sure we knew it all existed. Ron DeWaal's bibliographies, Peter Blau's newsletters, The Baker Street Journal's quarterly "Baker Street Inventory," and the legion of Sherlockians who fed such efforts all prided themselves on catching everything that referenced Sherlock Holmes that they could.

Enter the internet. The search engine. The social network.

Tools that, at first, were amazing in their simplest forms. We could search the Canon Holmes for a single name and have it pop up instantly, instead of painstakingly reading The Complete Sherlock Holmes one more time just to see how many times shoelaces were used (bootlaces, as something to draw personal inferences from, in "The Yellow Face" and "A Case of Identity" -- and also Milverton's killer mentions her husband's "boots I was never worthy to lace." Wow, fancy boots!).

But eventually, as happens with all software, everything was built and rebuilt so that it was no longer in its simplest form. Behind the scenes, hidden Clippy the Paperclips started tailoring our experiences to both aid and persuade us using their arcane algorithms, and suddenly my internet search of "Sherlock Holmes" and your internet search of "Sherlock Holmes" started bringing up different results, even fighting with us at times. ("Are you sure you didn't mean the more-popular item that's spelled similarly? Here are those results!")

There are more Sherlockians than there even were, and we're starting to find ourselves splitting into denominations. It fits the pattern, as the hobby has long been likened to a religion, and we now have our Catholic church and our Protestant variations. We all choose the way we want to view Sherlock Holmes, old or young, gay or straight, Canon-copy or extrapolated fresh, and the digital majicks can create a world around us based on those choices.

Copyright law didn't manage to hold Sherlock Holmes down to a specific commercial entity, but we've seen enough to know that the next major Sherlock Holmes could have enough trademarkable variation to make that version of him a super-popular, corporate-controlled character. A large enough corporate interest deciding to work its will in promoting that character could, without our knowledge, make sure that new Sherlock Holmes is the Sherlock Holmes for a generation. Or two. Or . . . .

Here's where one could just leap, arms spread wide, into an apocalyptic fantasy of underground Sherlockians huddled around a surviving copy of the Doubleday complete, reading those original words by fire-light. But even apocalypses are rarely that simple. We'd probably have a sheltered corner of a huge landfill where some collector had dumped his library at the very least. There are always those who prefer the apocalypse, as it limits the range of things they have to think about. If the whole world just becomes five Sherlock Holmes books, hey, we can be complete again! We can see it all!

The trick, I think, to any social change, to any paradigm shift, is simple awareness. Maybe we can't ever know it all. But when we at least know there's something out there we don't know, recognize that it exists, and maybe have some idea as to the reasons for the gap, and ways to correct it if we so desire.  And what was Sherlock Holmes always about?

Being aware of what was actually going on in the world around you.

Our hero has become more pertinent than ever.

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