As we seek new members to join our network, we want to share with you more of the inner workings of Humanities Commons and how we understand our work as part of a collective movement. Today, our community development manager, Zoe Wake Hyde, shares a vision of the future of the web that our team wants. If it resonates with you, we encourage you to consider becoming a Humanities Commons Member.
We live, as they say, in interesting times. The dawn of the internet is within living memory for many, and its different phases of growth and adoption are familiar to most. Whether you’ve gone from Tumblr to TikTok, reminisce fondly about RSS or are all in on AR, the only constant in our experiences of the web has been change.
In the scholarly world, the emergence of online publishing has led to exponential growth in the amount of content available. Traditional publishing systems have reacted by restricting access and trying to maintain scarcity, while the open access movement has gained momentum as a way of leveraging the web’s affordances to break down barriers to access. In turn, the major publishers have pivoted to data as currency, and there is increasing consolidation across the scholarly infrastructure landscape, leading to a concentration of power.
So what drives this change? The reasons are as complex and diverse as human behaviour itself, but two of the major contributing factors are money and power.
Where money is invested and power is leveraged has an enormous impact on our everyday lives on the internet. Unfortunately, much of that impact has been used to position us as consumers and commodities, to be bought and sold to, with our attention becoming the price of participation. That perhaps paints a grim picture, but it’s one we must confront head on.
Like the divine right of kings, so too can the power of the internet overlords be overthrown.
The good news is that money and power can be used to change things for the better. Investment in technologies that catalyze different kinds of interactions in digital spaces, and the right kind of influence on policy and structural mechanisms can make a difference.
So, why does this matter to Humanities Commons?
We see our role in the online ecosystem as creators of an alternative. We resist the idea that human interactions should be commoditized and used as a means to a profitable end. Instead, we seek to facilitate meaningful connections that lead to the creation of new knowledge to be shared openly. We approach designing our tools as an act of service, where our only interest is to benefit users. And we do this work in the domain of knowledge creation and dissemination because we believe in its value to the world.
We also see ourselves as just one piece of a very large puzzle of actors pursuing the same goal, and aim to ally ourselves with others dedicated to creating the same kind of future for online, digital scholarly work. Together, we seek a more just and equitable knowledge ecosystem, where many kinds of knowing are shared and valued.
That’s the web we want.
But to get there, we have to come back to the question of money and power. To change the dominant logic of the web, we have to invest in the people and products that make it happen.
While we may not have venture capital-level funds available, our combined might as institutions, societies, nonprofits and other invested actors shouldn’t be underestimated.
In our next post, we will explore the role academic institutions have to play in this change.