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III. A Whole New World
ooking back on the commentaries in this Special Issue of the Akron Law Review, I am struck by a remarkable omission: several of the commentators fail to consider or even explicitly register the fact that Last Writes? itself was and is a self-published online document with (even in Version 1.0) hypertext, multimedia, and other structural features far surpassing the capabilities of the then-existing legal literature. It is as if a number of scholars in the fifteenth century had picked up a codex and failed to comment on the fact that it was not a scribally-produced manuscript, but a commercially-printed book. The explanation for this lack of reaction may have something to do with how some of the skeptics probably experienced and ultimately analyzed the document - not as an online product, but as a printout.195 Given that in this instance, the medium was intended to be much of the message, this tactic may have pre-emptively (and from the skeptics' perspective, perhaps conveniently) neutralized a good part of the article's argument. Somewhat more broadly, it also seems to have encouraged an implicit misperception: that electronic self-publishing is nothing more than a proposal.
[3.1] It is true that Last Writes? offers a broad proposal for an elaborate system of self-published legal scholarship, but electronic self-publishing itself - complete with instant dissemination, multinational and multidisciplinary access, hypertext links to other sites, multimedia, electronic reader comments, and even searchable indices - is already a fact. Last Writes? demonstrates that legal scholars can self-publish on the Web today - now - and create scholarly products not merely as good as, but in many technical and editorial respects better than any appearing in printed law reviews, or even in electronic legal journals.196 The very existence of Last Writes? combined with its obvious success in generating heated debate in legal circles long before it was printed in a traditional format together suggest that many of the skeptics' protests are already too late. The genie of change is out of the bottle.
[3.2] In their tardiness, those scholars skeptical of electronic self-publishing are once again following in the footsteps of the critics of commercial printing. Abbot Trithemius wrote In Praise of Scribes decades after Gutenberg's invention, and years after his death. Even more telling is the fact that he finished his work in October 1492, the same month that Christopher Columbus symbolically and definitively put an end to the Middle Ages and its scribal culture by his discovery of the New World.
While the skeptics lobby for the preservation of the law review, they seem not to appreciate that even more fundamental structures are at stake.
[3.3] In the late 1990s, legal scholars have discovered a whole New World of their own in the form of the Internet. The discovery of this New World demands radically new arrangements, new customs and new ideas. While the skeptics lobby for the preservation of the law review, they seem not to appreciate that even more fundamental structures are at stake. In fifty years, in the midst of an Internet environment, the "article" which has long been the dominant form of expedited academic discourse will likely have given way to something more akin to what we might today call a "multimedia seminar."197 In a hundred years, the "university" (or, for that matter, the "law school") which has for so long sponsored, organized and structured both teaching and advanced (legal) research may not exist in its present physical form.198 To the extent that Last Writes? presumes the survival of these entities, its recommendation for the development of an elaborate electronic self-publishing system is in one sense quite conservative. Far from threatening law's most cherished scholarly and pedagogical traditions, it provides those traditions with a true technological way-station: a forward base affording both opportunity and security while legal scholars, themselves just disembarked on the shifting sands of their New World, scan the jungle looking for a clear path inland.
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