The Rise of the Amateur

You convinced me. I think I was just cranky on Wednesday evening because I’d been up until 2am finishing a paper the night before, worked all day, gone to three hours of class, and then wrote that blog post. So consider this a giant retraction and flip-flop on the last post.

Christy brought up the great example of Instructables as an example of amateur hobbyists banding together and helping each other. I forgot that media such as the Internet, in addition to making us more aware of “world-class” talents, also gives amateurs a way to find each other, which is far more empowering. “Hey, if they can do that, I can do that too!” When we are only presented with the finished glitzy product as often happens in mass media like TV and magazines, it can be discouraging, and that had been the point I made last time. But social software like Instructables help us see the process, and provide a support structure for people starting for the first time.

The Internet has all sorts of great examples of this once I started thinking about it. NaNoWriMo provides the same role for would-be novelists, giving them structure, encouragement, and guidance on how to achieve their goals. I know several people who have completed novels during NaNoWriMo that would not have done so without that site existing.

I mentioned a few other examples in my post on community, such as Chris Heuer starting up the Social Media Club, which basically started with him deciding to pull together an unconference alternative to Web 2.0, posting about it in a couple places, and now it’s spun into an organization with meetings in several cities around the world. likemind is another example – Piers and Noah wanted to have coffee together six months ago, posted about it on their blogs, and now it’s a monthly get-together in 14 cities, with about 50 people showing up to the last likemind in New York.

Another factors contributing to the rise of the amateur is the democratization of technology. You used to have to invest thousands of dollars in purchasing sound editing software. Now you just buy a Mac and use GarageBand. If you are interested in photography, you don’t need access to a darkroom and tons of film, you just need a decent digital camera and Adobe Photoshop. The wonders of Moore’s law and other virtuous circles of technology are reducing the price of increasingly powerful tools so that they are affordable to somebody goofing around in their spare time.

My own blogging experience should have tipped me off. While I continue to blog mostly for myself, as a way of recording ideas as I think of them, it is truly humbling and inspiring to find that other people are reading what I have to say and take it seriously enough to respond, as evidenced by the several comments on that last post. I’ve gotten emails from around the world from people who read my blog and wanted to offer feedback. Being able to garner feedback early on is a great help to the amateur, because it’s easy to get discouraged (although based on the responses to the last post, that may be a personal hangup of mine which is probably related to Po Bronson’s article).

Now I just need to take Wes‘s advice from the comments and figure out what I truly love doing, that I would continue doing even without positive feedback.

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