Read an Excerpt
In 1900, there were approximately 75 million people in the United States.
Seven thousand or so books were published that year. Now there are about
275 million people in the United States, and more than fifty thousand new
books are published every year. Almost every home in America has a
television set; most have videocassette players; and about a third have
computers. That means the vast majority of Americans have access in their
homes to cultural events that once could occur only in a hall or theater.
The audience for everything has grown in size, and the number of
experiences to watch has grown even more rapidly. These two factors mean
that the nature of the audience must change. When that occurs, our
current standards of excellence must be rethought and redefined. New
standards our grandparents could not have imagined need to be developed.
Without a method to properly evaluate excellence, our huge and growing
population cannot learn or develop effectively, because learning occurs
only when conversations, ideals, and goals have a shared and
For example, people often evaluate the conversations in chat rooms on the
Internet from the perspective of whether they are informative and accurate
or even if they are good debate. The fact is, chat rooms are just like
talk on the front stoop or over the backyard fence and should be seen as
such. But because they are in a technological medium, the evaluation of
what is carried is measured from a more sophisticated perspective.
The good news is that these new, nonhierarchical tools of the Internet and
theinteractive tools available in public places can provide a framework
for creating new evaluative tools. But for that framework to succeed, our
society, government, and corporations must support it. More important,
perhaps, the audience itself must understand the power it has to shape,
develop, and share in our society's creations.