In Praise of Gatekeepers


Now that we live in 21st century “participatory” digital culture, daily life begins (for most of us) with logging in to our digital devices.  I float amongst phone, tablet, laptop, and desktop throughout the day whether at home, on the go, or in the library where I work. We live with a constant stream of incoming information, a blur of personal and professional content flooding the many accounts we juggle (emails, social media, content curation, and apps galore).

A decade ago, I ran into Michael Wesch’s Information R/evolution at the exact time I was personally experiencing my role as a librarian turned upside down due to the toppling of the information hierarchy. During that year or so, I began devouring new media formats and began my exploration of virtual worlds as a mode of communication and education for the future.  As a school librarian, I could imagine the floor of my library shaking under my feet because I knew nothing would ever be the same: ebooks, apps, and user-generated content were about to explode.  And they did. 

For over a decade, I have spent my life exploring and examining the evolution of information literacy. Today, I revisited Wesch’s video because I remembered his closing line stating, “the responsibility is on us. Are we ready?”  I don’t really believe many people were/are ready.  In fact, I am starting to think perhaps the role of gatekeepers was not all bad.  So, I googled “Michael Wesch” and “gatekeepers” which led me to his digital ethnography class and his presentation to the Library of Congress on the topic of researching Youtube. The ability to share our lives across the globe has created a networked culture and a personal responsibility for consumption and production of media.

This exemplifies my point because in the days before the toppled hierarchy, one could have a critical inquiry and set a course toward a satisfactory resolution- either an answer, an expert,or a realization that the question has been contemplated and unresolved for centuries.  Today, without gatekeepers, there is no resolution to our questions as the path never ends.  There is simply a constant hyperlinked unending quest with flashing neon lights compelling us to take a turn.  The default setting of our minds is the state of distraction.

Perhaps we still need gatekeepers (librarians, publishers, experts, journalists, academic peer review, etc), to help us navigate through the sea of disposable media. Wesch is right– it is up to us now.  There is no perceived metaphorical card catalog full of answers.  The idea of a shared body of literature which the “cultured” young mind should embrace is out-of-date because current viral videos, remixed in hopes of creating a spotlighted meme has become more valued than the slow road to research, refined art or edification. When popularity (followers, friends, and a perceived online image) is regarded as the achievement of success, the journey toward wisdom is out-dated. 

The Internet, as seen in Wesch’s video, is created by us all- without gatekeepers. At this point in history, I think we still need them.  Anyone today can upload content, be a photographer, a journalist, or a content curator.  But, only some of us are trained (or gifted) to do it well. Let’s give a tip of the hat to the gatekeepers, the lifeguards in the sea of chaos.

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