Lanham’s Wikis

I know that Ward Cunningham deserves credit for developing the Wiki software. According to the Wikipedia article about WikiWikiWeb, he began development in 1994 and published the first version in 1995. I wonder if he had read Lanham’s The Electronic Word, published in 1993. In Chapter 5, Lanham envisions what a typical freshman composition course would look like if we really took advantage of the electronic word:

“Our new electronic nontext-nonbook will be ‘published’ in a different way, too. It will be a dynamic, open-ended information system, critiqued and updated on a daily basis by its users, both local and distant, both teacher and student. It will be ‘published’ on telephone lines–if the regulatory environment permits it–or through a fiber optic ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) of some sort. Systemic textbooks will grow, take on local coloration and emphasis, mutate into new forms of collective cultural enterpreise, as they become part of that gigantic structure of 30,000-odd electronic bulletin boards already out there. Not only the idea of single authorship will be knocked for a loop, but royalty payments, copyright law, and academic merit badges for publication as well…These systems will carry, too, a remarkable charge of self-teaching power that will force renegotiation of the teacher-student contract–a renegotation already reported by those teaching in networked computer classrooms.” (p. 126).

Certainly sounds like a Wiki to me!


I could quote more. In fact, I’m having trouble getting through the book because I keep stopping to copy out quotes. You can paraphrase his argument, but you can’t get at the heart of his prose style. He goes on to describe how self-teaching is already being built into programs, using the example of his UCLA colleague Robert Winter’s development of interactive software programs related to classical music. Winter’s bio at UCLA says they are “today widely regarded as the first commercial interactive publication.” Lanham says these programs “bring with them the complete pedagogical environment needed to understand them” (p. 126).

It must be VERY interesting to be Richard Lanham as he watches his predictions unfold. Several places in the book he discusses how music software is allowing anyone to create music but also highlights the idea of it music itself becoming much more collaborative. Of course, I thought of GarageBand and went to Wikipedia to find its introduction date: 2004. Over a decade after Lanham wrote his book. And, I found this little tidbit: “Notably, Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor released a few songs off their 2005 album With Teeth as GarageBand files, allowing people to freely remix them.”

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