Saturday, March 26, 2011

An Abundance of Talent

One lesson the Internet has taught is that talent is far more abundant among the rank and file of the human race than we might have thought. Back in the print era a limited number of novels were published every year, and one might have imagined there were not so very many more talented writers in existence than eventually found their way into print.

Oh, some might still be struggling unknowns, some might be marginal talents, and some through sad circumstance might miss the boat altogether despite their talents; but back in 1850 or 1950 it was not so hard to imagine that the talent that found its way into print was a substantial portion of the sum total of publication-quality talent that was out there.

The Internet has dynamited this illusion, by way of copious counter-examples. Embarrassingly copious counter-examples. Look around out there online, and you will find self-published and self-produced novels, short stories, essays, music, artwork, and videos whose quality easily equals or exceeds most of what is professionally produced and published. Professionally published works which made it past the gatekeepers turn out to be but the tip of the iceberg. The Great American Novel squirreled away in a desk drawer unpublished turns out to be for real, and it can be exampled online thousands of times over.

This is not to deny that the overwhelming majority of creative efforts online are abysmal dreck; but as the proverb puts it, "93% of everything is crap." Sift through what's available, discard the mountains of garbage, and you're still left with an Everest of self-produced, self-posted "amateur" novels and stories and songs which are as good as anything else that's seen the light of day.

I find this troubling. It implies that for every Dickens or Steinbeck or O. Henry or Brahms or Klee or Jagger or Lennon who's come to public attention, there are hundreds if not thousands of others of comparable talent who lived and died as complete unknowns, simply because they didn't know the right person, or weren't in the right place at the right time, or didn't get the right breaks. Unknowns died, and their writing or music or artwork died with them. Every passing year of the print era, the era of gatekeepers, was like a mini-sack of the Library of Alexandria.

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