Tuesday, April 07, 2009

It's an end to class as we know it, and I feel fine.

Open infrastructures mean an end to class as we know it.

Take photographers. There used to be a stereotype, maybe perpetrated by Antonioni and others, that equated photographer = the guy with the scarves and the bags under his eyes. The David Hemmings character in Blow Up was, if you like, a class archetype. The photographer class had its own brand identity, and various scarcities that helped keep people in this class in a bubble.

The photographers' bubble has recently burst, of course. The positioning of self as “photographer” was probably always a reductionist piece of foolishness, but now more than ever this kind of positioning is stripped bare. Specialized, private know-how is open to anyone with access to a browser. Camera technology is also available to most people, and, though the significance of artistry and experience still hold, amateurs and aspirants can always concentrate, and often catch a wave; anyone can take great pictures, sometimes.

If you make a living doing something, people will still say, “S/hes a [insert career brand here]” But no amount of scarves and attitude and equipment will help someone who wants to be classified as a photographer if that person doesn’t make a living at it – any more than a someone who doesn’t create or build a restaurant can be considered a restauranteur. To call someone who doesn’t make a living at it "a photographer" means he could, by the same token, be called a dishwasher if s/he washes a few dishes.

In more open systems, class barriers break down. An author was once considered truly an author when s/he was published. Now anyone can publish. The author class, now stripped of barriers, is gone. If Bob makes $4,000 a year writing, is he in the writer class? I guess, but he is, put more accurately, a "bunch of things."

Similarly, as political systems become more open, the walls of the “legislator” class fall down, and what is left is just people who contribute to legislation. Some get paid to do it, and we often call them "legislators" when they do, but in fact that is a kind of shorthand that doesn't tell the whole truth. They do other things too. The legislator class, in a world of open access, is disappearing.

We are, depending on how you look at it, getting rid of the wankers, or gaining a population sized load of them.

What the change means is not the end of the professions, but the end of the professional class. This doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with a decline of quality, but it is, arguably, pointing to the end of self-as-career stereotyping and the end of many other types of spurious protectionism.

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