The Web Isn't a Democracy, It's a Meritocracy

By Nathaniel Mott , written on March 28, 2012

From The News Desk

I wouldn't have this job if it weren't for the Web. Not only would PandoDaily fail to exist, but a kid like me living out in the middle of nowhere would never have had a shot at getting in touch with the right people to make something like this happen. Where before I would have had to pick up and move to another city, now I can work from home and count some of the best writers in this industry as my coworkers (and boss).

I'm not the only one. We recently covered a singer that sent an audio track to Deadmau5 via Twitter and now has a real shot at a musical career. Before he would have had to go to some recording studio, rent or buy expensive equipment, and then hope that someone at Deadmau5's label would hand over the demo. But now he was able to record something from home and send it in from miles away.

Now is the time to be a creator. If you think that you can write, or sing, or play an instrument, or bend Photoshop to your will, you're living in the fucking Golden Age. Through a combination of affordable hardware and the power of our computers, the barriers that stood between an artist and success have largely been removed. That scares Old Media shitless, and it ought to. It's also led to cries of, "All art will now be mediocre! There is no true talent left! People have to wade through a sea of shit to get to the good stuff!"

To which I say: How is that any different?

People have always had to wade through a sea of shit to get to something that they enjoy, unless you're telling me that every cassette tape produced during the 80's was actually the coolest thing ever.

While the Web is a sea of voices, calling it a democracy is only half the story. In reality, the Web is a meritocracy, and that's the way that it should be.

In a democracy, the many nominate and select the few by popular vote. In a meritocracy, the power is given to those with the most talent, intelligence, or worth. Nobody elected Jeffrey Zeldman as the de-facto godfather of modern Web design; he became that person through his passion and the skill that he applies to everything that he does. Twitter didn't run a smear campaign against Facebook or Myspace to become one of the leading social networks, it focused on building a solid product around a revolutionary idea. The rest comes after.

We can't stand mediocrity. Everything needs to be better. We all want to be the first person to discover the next big thing, we all favor the good over the bad, and we all have the largest platform for sharing our opinions in the history of mankind. Sure, the ease-of-access has led to a fair number of "shitty" bands putting music out, but is that really going to drown anyone in mediocrity? Of course not. We're going to listen for five seconds, puke, write a scathing Tweet, and then move on to the next, hopefully cooler thing.

If Sarah didn't believe that I could do this job, I wouldn't have landed the position. She could have ignored my email, or read my writing and decided that I was just another hipster kid that couldn't tell a colon from a semi-colon. It doesn't matter that I have the power to write a few hundred words and click, "Publish." If the words aren't right, the Web doesn't give a shit.

The concept of a meritocracy has long been equated with social Darwinism: Survival of the fittest expanded from the biological sphere to the sociological one. Much as the weakest, the ones that fall behind, the ones that don't have some mutation key to the species are left behind, ideas will only survive if they are worth looking after. Impractical--for obvious, moral reasons--in the "real world", this behavior is acceptable on the Web as it allows us to acknowledge and record our shortcomings without drowning in them. A sick person can't be tossed aside; an impractical or broken idea can be.

Before you scream that the Web encourages mediocrity, consider this: For every bit of crap that's put out for the whole world to see, there's a genuinely talented person that only got their chance because they're living in this creative Golden Age. The Web is what we make of it. If you want to cry foul because a few thousand people have published awful videos to YouTube, or you don't appreciate a writer, go ahead.

I'm going to be on the other side, trying to find the next best thing. That is what is worth my time and attention; everything else is a waste.

[Image courtesy of Hugh McLeod]