“Technologists also believe that publishing is transportable — anyone can be a publisher. All you need are some basic skills, access to a blogging platform, and some determination. While for certain forms of expression this can be true — this blog is an example — for a complex organism like an academic press or an academic journal, much more is needed, including people with the talent and experience to get it right. I may think I’m a good cook because I can occasionally prepare a surprisingly tasty meal on a Sunday night by following someone else’s recipe and using the right ingredients, but that by no means translates into my ability to create, finance, run, and manage a restaurant. If you’re a “cooking technologist,” you think all you need is an oven, pans, and ingredients.”
Imagine a situation where homes had no kitchens and utensils were unavailable. We would all be dependent on cafes and restaurants to eat and, it follows, our idea of what it is to prepare food would be exhausted by those working in such a capacity within these establishments. Now introduce kitchens into homes and affordable utensils into shops. Suddenly we can cook meals at home. Obviously the quality of the infrastructure is lower and there’s less expertise. For the sake of the thought-experiment, assume kitchens and utensils appeared suddenly, to an extent profoundly disruptive of established practices of going out for every meal. The meals cooked at home would be of poor quality, probably pragmatically orientated and often imitating (poorly) the meals available in restaurants and cafes.
With time, hobbyists become more adept at imitating such meals and, as cooking becomes an everyday activity, new kinds of meals emerge because the practical intent behind cooking is no longer constrained by the economics of the restaurant. Then the utensils get ever better and cook books become a market in their own right, with expert guidance being commercially (and sometimes freely) available to anyone who wants it. The gap between the professional chefs and enthusiastic amateurs becomes ever narrower. Likewise, the vast majority of the populace becomes capable of cooking in a purely functional way, with a range of outcomes shaped by personal preference.People can even, god forbid, cook for each other. Those who put the effort in are able to cook very well.
None of this means that restaurants go out of business. But it does mean the economics of the restaurant business change profoundly. What was once, in the thought-experiment, a position of hegemony where everyone is reliant on the restaurant for all their meals becomes a position where the restaurant must offer some additional value vis-a-vis the meals people are able to cook at home. If everyone can cook in a way which is good enough for everyday purposes, the restaurant must offer something else. For a while, it might get by on the social convention that you don’t socialise or celebrate with meals at home. It might also get by on people either being unable to cook or choosing not to cook once they have that capacity. But once the infrastructure and the expertise is distributed widely enough, it simply has to innovate or its position will eventually become untenable. The fact the populace is able to cook for themselves doesn’t mean the restaurateur has no future, far from it. However if they spend this time arrogantly dismissing the pretensions of the amateur cooks rather than creatively redefining their role to take account of the fact they no longer have a monopoly on cooking then, frankly, they’re screwed and, more over, they deserve their fate.
Categories: Higher Education