gatekeepers [g+ backpost]

I’m seeing a lot of conversations about production of art and games that uses the term gatekeeping, eg when someone gives an opinion that one way of doing things is less good than another. It’s making me really question the worth of the term.

Gatekeeper seemed like a really good phrase to use in a 20th century context where a person – curator, editor, etc – could literally say ‘no you can’t put this stuff in’, just like a person keeping a gate.

But the 21st century is a lot less like that, and there are instead plenty of other ways for people’s work not to get a fair shake. In practice, unless you are trying to get your paintings into the MoMA, you don’t need to climb into institutions past gates, you need eyeballs in a world of finite attention. And people who have influence over this aren’t standing in front of a gate. There is no gate. There is a agora where everyone has little stalls or stands beside them with wares on the floor. Influencers are scowling as they walk past stalls and waving their hands at them saying ‘terrible idea! The very idea of this is disgusting!’ Or maybe selling maps of the souk that mark certain stalls as all being Powered by the Acropolis, which we can all agree could seem reason enough to buy there first. Or alternatively marching towards a far section of the agora with a flag held high saying ‘follow me to the innovative stuff – Acropolis stuff is very derivative, you know!’

A shopper interacting with any of these things is going to have their hour in the agora influenced, towards some stalls and away from others.

I think the word gatekeeper makes out that there is one kind of Bad influence which is someone using their reputation to shape our flow of attention and focus, and then the other kinds are all good. I’m not sure we can say that, I think that all these kinds of influence inevitably advantage some people at the expense of others, and without data – eg demonstrating what we in the field of work psychology call ‘Adverse Impact‘ – it’s hard to say that the maps are doing that in the Good Way and the flag guy in the Bad way.

It’s all just influencers guiding shoppers and walkers back and forth, shaping the time they have to stroll in the agora.

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