In recent blogs, both Martin Robinson and Darren Chetty have explored the role of the ‘Gatekeeper’. If you’re interested in this concept, then the field of publishing is a useful one to consider, because in publishing the Gatekeeper has been overthrown. When I started writing books in the late 1990’s, the Gatekeeper was firmly in charge. There was no way to break through and get your words into print, except via what is referred to these days as a ‘traditional publisher’. You could if you wanted to spend a fortune with a vanity publisher to create a book, but family and friends aside it was unlikely that anyone would get to read it. In the two decades since, the gates to publishing have been well and truly smashed down. The Gatekeeper is not exactly dead yet, but he appears to be in a fairly terminal decline. The internet has let authors bypass the Gatekeeper, via the rise and rise of ebooks. Online retailers (Amazon in particular) gave authors the chance to publish their own work. As this article points out: “Non-traditionally-published” books now make up nearly 60% of all Kindle ebooks purchased in the US’. That’s a hell of a lot of authors and readers who have neatly side stepped the Gatekeeper. Less than 20 years after the first ebook reader was launched, the field of publishing has been drawn anew.
With the Gatekeeper bypassed, literally anyone can share their thoughts. People who didn’t get to speak out before can do so, and potentially be heard. (It’s very interesting to consider who gets amplified and why some ideas get more airtime than others.) In his blog, Darren talks about the idea of ‘curators’ coming to the fore, and this is partly what has happened with books. Various sets of people curate the buying decisions of readers: the media, the reviewers, those publishers and authors who understand how to navigate the digital world. But most crucially of all, it is the readers who get to make their own choices, and they get to choose from a much wider selection of writers. In education, the players are different (politicians, teachers, bloggers, authors, parents) and the Gatekeeper is still in place – the Government has a reasonably firm grasp on what gets taught. But what education can’t escape is the internet, because the internet has democratised the way people share their ideas. It is inevitable that education will have to change in response.
What has all this got to do with Martin and Darren’s discussion about safe spaces, though, and about how Eurocentric the English curriculum should be? What possible link is there between self publishing, and students demanding that we pull a statue of Rhodes down? Well, it’s interesting to consider how a community behaves, once its Gatekeeper has been swept aside. In publishing, people have been rushing to write their own books, shouting “hey, I want to be heard too!” Anyone who wants to make the effort has the chance to get their voice heard. It seems to me that this is what is happening in higher education at the moment: the world is no longer quite as skewed towards one dominant perspective as it once was. If you believe what you say is right, and you can use the media to get popular opinion behind you, then you have the chance to topple your Gatekeeper as well. At this point, the Gatekeepers start to look nervously around themselves. Since when did we allow ordinary people to say what they did or didn’t want to read or write? Who will tell us now what is ‘good’ or ‘best’ for us to read? This, surely, is the end of days? I guess the view you take on that depends on whether you are a Gatekeeper, carefully picking out what you feel ‘deserves’ to be shared. Or whether you are one of the ‘ordinary people’ who unexpectedly, but not unhappily, finally gets the chance to make your voice heard.