Suspend Your Disbelief

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The Rise of "Universal Authorship"

Ever had the feeling that everyone is writing a book these days? Maybe it’s true. In SEED magazine, NYU psychology professor Denis G. Pelli and MacArthur “Genius” Charles Bigelow discuss the rise of “universal authorship”:

We found that the number of published authors per year increased nearly tenfold every century for six centuries. By 2000, there were 1 million book authors per year. One million authors is a lot, but they are only a tiny fraction, 0.01 percent, of the nearly 7 billion people on Earth. Since 1400, book authorship has grown nearly tenfold in each century. Currently, authorship, including books and new media, is growing nearly tenfold each year. That’s 100 times faster. Authors, once a select minority, will soon be a majority.

Now, their definition of “published author” may need some revision–the study includes not only blogs (horror!) but Twitter and Facebook posts as well, as long as the content was read by at least 100 people. However, they point out the power that such mini-publications can wield:

Public discussion creates a social conscience. […] The judgment of the vice-chancellor of Buckingham University was widely questioned after he claimed that “curvy” female students are a “perk” of his job. For better or worse, as more people make public comments, we all share more thoughts and are more subject to public opinion.

And Pelli and Bigelow’s conclusions about the rise of authorship are worth considering:

Reading—a defining characteristic of civilization as far back as ancient Greece when all Athenian citizens were expected to know how to read—is now taken for granted in industrialized democracies. Publishing by the few Athenian authors brought us drama, philosophy, science, mathematics, literature, and history. As readers, we consume. As authors, we create. Our society is changing from consumers to creators.

What do you think? Is publishing–that is, having your say publicly and in writing–now a right?

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