Originality: a thing of the past?

Originality_RemixIt seems that the further technology progresses, the more ambiguous originality seems to be. The source of it has become somewhat unlocatable, which prompts one to ask, has the publishing industry transformed its printing business into a copy machine?

When we consider publishing in the forms of cave paintings or smoke signals, for instance, the source of originality is easily locatable; in the very hand of a previous civilisation that occupied the area of that wall, or the spark that started the fire that thus produced the smoke required to send a message. These forms of publication were also single copies, unable to be reproduced for the masses, so that the only things being published were originals.

However, in today’s marketplace of publishing platforms, the concept of originality seems redundant.

We have reached a time in which publishing platforms have extended into the digital realm and self-publishing is made possible for anyone via social networking or blogging. Newspapers have made it onto the digital platform also, and because of digital conversion such as this, the publishing industry and publishers themselves face new challenges.

Pan Macmillan Australia only accepts manuscripts via email, making the interaction between publishers and authors a possibly non-existent one. On their website, their submission guidelines state that unless manuscripts are “of the highest level of originality and market appeal”, the author will not be contacted. Their notion of ‘originality’ has thus become a questionable one, established by a group of invisible publishers that you may not come in contact with at all. Originality used to be the ability to communicate a message via interpretive linguistic means; whether it is using writing or pictographs, however, now, it is a set of invisible guidelines, it is a criteria and most importantly, it is a means of achieving market value.

Today, originality comes with a price. Steve Busfield’s article on newspaper website paywalls explains the scary reality that newspaper industries are facing. They are being forced to convert their publications to an Internet format in order to compete and keep their brand afloat. However, faced with plummeting profits, newspapers are being compelled to erect paywalls on their websites, confronting their readers with the frustrating reality that they will now have to pay to access some original news content from publications such as The New York Times.

In addition to this, many news websites such as Ninemsn or The Guardian publish news articles on their websites without the presence of the author’s name; something which would be unthinkable in a print publication. By losing the author’s signature on a piece of publication, we are losing the legitimacy of the writing and the question of originality becomes a doubtful one.

Perhaps Socrates was right in stating that writing is a technology; one that is unnatural and set to destroy fundamental processes of human thought and the ability to think from knowledge, not replications of knowledge. Speech is human and genuine, free and certified to be coming straight from the author’s mouth, not a piece of an infinitely redigested combination of the letters of the alphabet.

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