Pettitt: Yes it is, if it’s static, and you can’t manipulate it. You can even manipulate PDF now, can’t you? A static computer file belongs within the Gutenberg Parenthesis because it can’t be interfered with—it is contained; demarcated. That is the last form of the book, I think.
DS: So you’re saying anything can be hacked?
Pettitt: No I’m saying if it’s unhackable, it’s still a book. Books are unhackable. Most digital files can be hacked, and they belong to the new age, just like memories.
DS: The interesting thing about the theory is that, projecting out, we’re not looking at just new ways of communications, but new ways of being, new ways of organizing society, right?
Pettitt: History shows the changes in the one are normally accompanied by changes of the other levels as well. There are those that say it’s the media technology that causes the other changes. I’m not quite there yet, but so far they’ve been synchronized.
DS: And you’re saying essentially that people will be searching for authority? Authoritative hierarchical structures will return because that was a component of pre-Gutenberg society.
Sauerberg: Authorities returning as a problem as something that people are aware of, rather than something people take for granted and place in books.
Pettitt: There was a time when the book was an authority in itself, so that you didn’t need to worry about the other authority.
DS: With the book what do we get? We get the Scientific Revolution, we get the Enlightenment, we got universities and we got democracy. We got the Declaration of Independence, and Freud and everyone else. Before the parenthesis what did we have? We had the Dark Ages. With the destruction of this apparatus, is that what we get?
Pettitt: Quite possibly. We may be surfing to serfdom; to a digital feudalism.
Sauerberg: But perhaps we get diversity, first and foremost.
DS: What’s the public today in this new environment?
Pettitt: The question itself is ultimately inconceivable. The question is parenthetical. Distinguishing between the publisher who produces and the public who receives, that in itself is a categorization, which will decay in the new circumstances because we’re in an era where the boundaries between the journalists and the public are decaying.
DS: What do you think of this idea of one person who has earned authority by doing the work and now has presented—not users and not participants—but let’s face it, readers. They can send out chunks of it later but while they are doing it, they are presented with a coherent idea of what’s happening in, for instance, the U.S. financial system.
Pettitt: The notion of the “right” story is parenthetical. The complete story—the truth and the whole truth and nothing but the truth—I think there are faint glimpses of hope, well, for you. We’re in the business of predicting the future on the basis of the past, not if it’s going to be good or bad, or democratic or otherwise. What’s happened in the first instance is that journalism and the newspapers have lost their status, their high category status, in the Internet world. Blogs and newspapers are starting to resemble each other, and it’s very difficult for people to decide whom they will believe, where will they put their trust. A newspaper is just another voice in the marketplace of exchanging information. That’s where it’s going. So, journalists need to have some kind of character that distinguishes them and the hope I’ve detected is there are people who are exploring this kind of world—a world of gossip. Newspapers are sinking into a sea of gossip and rumor, and what do you do? How do people survive in a world of gossip and rumor? Well the good news is, there are people who’ve been studying rumor and gossip from a scientific perspective for some years, and, it turns out that not all are equal. People have done case studies, fieldwork. People have gone out to a business and interviewed them and recorded people gossiping at lunch and over the water machine.
It turns out that we are not all equal in the world of gossip. In a given area where gossip and rumor are exchanged, there are gatekeepers, in a new sense. I mean we already use “gatekeepers,” of news people, “gate-keeping journalism” as deciding what comes into the news and what doesn’t. The new sense is: What is going to go on and in what form in the next stage in the transmission of the rumor? And in any gossip community there are gatekeepers who set the scene. They decide, is this rumor going in, am I going to pass this on, and in what shape, and it seems that they have an influence. The last sentence is, journalists need to be gatekeepers, not in the old sense, but in this new sense of those who shape the passing on of gossip, and who can have a good effect or a bad effect on it.
DS: Let me read from Michael Schudson, a journalism scholar where I work. He wrote this in 1995. It says: