Authority and authorship obviously derive from the same root. Therefore, since the written word is no longer mainly something impressed on paper and very far indeed from being carved in stone, questions about authoring are in hazard. Nothing furnishes better proof of the tectonic shift in documentation credibility than the growth of Wikipedia. Not only is the authorship of the most widely consulted information source distributed beyond anyone’s ability to track it, but the very qualities that would have made this instant institution totally suspect under the print paradigm render it somehow entirely trustworthy.
In case you believe Wikipedia is an anomaly, consider the emergence of the e-book or what Google is doing with the unprotected backlist. The internet like many a new medium, at first promised unfettered possibilities protected by anonymity and generously distributed. However, the new order inevitably threatens the old even as it offers disturbing new opportunities for the re-assertiveness of the old under new auspices. Newspapers invest in blogs and the commercial world scrambles to get into social networking.
Still, there is a kind of stunning leveling happening. It’s all the more shocking because we hardly notice it anymore. I read today in the New York Times Book Review about a popular author of a new memoir who apparently quotes her sister and Plato in a way that affirms she gives both of them equal credence. And why not? Could the sister not edit whatever Wikipedia says about Plato whenever it suits her?