"Brent's Law" on the Effects of Media

In my article on the ownership of knowledge I wrote:

A key aspect of this form of text is that it can easily be recombined with other texts. Skilled writers who use word processors are well aware of how often they cannibalize their own older texts for quotations, well-turned paragraphs, ideas cut out of drafts and saved for future works in which they might be more appropriate. But this effect does not become truly significant until the writer's own text begins to interact with other sources of text available on-line. . . . As other sources of text become available in machine-readable format--texts received through electronic conferences and on-line publications, texts downloaded from databases, et cetera--the awareness of intertextuality that LeFevre speaks of becomes increasingly objectified, its implications increasingly unmistakable.

As I prepare this article I am conscious of two kinds of sources. Some of the sources came to me in hard copy; the labour of typing quotations in by hand, of leafing through separate texts to identify key passages, for me emphasises their separateness, the claim of the original author over the knowledge. Other sources came to me electronically; these I can cut and paste into my document much more freely, integrating not just another's words but ultimately his very keystrokes into my own construct. . . . The sliding together of texts in the electronic writing space, texts no longer available as discrete units but as continuous fields of ideas and information, is so much easier--not just physically easier but psychologically more natural--that it is significantly more effort to keep the ownership of the ideas separate. Intertextuality, once a philosophical concept, becomes a way of life.

This is an example of what I have come to call "Brent's Law of Transformative Technologies." The true power of a new medium lies not in what it makes possible. It lies in what it makes easy.

What's Special about Hypertext on the WWWeb? A brief argument that HT is qualitatively different on the Web--more background and an example of Brent's Law
The Theory of Transformative Technology Background on this theory, useful for those not already steeped in McLuhan, Ong, Bolter, et al.
A link to my "Ownership of Knowledge" article in which I apply the theory of transformative technology to intellectual property.

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