The Prejudice of Amplitude Part One


I wanted to talk to you about size.

The subject comes up because, at this writing, the Facebook arm of the Inner Circle Writers’ Group has reached 2,500 members. The group adds members every day, in ones and twos, and has grown consistently since it was launched back in July last year. A few members are wary of this - they don’t want the thing to get so large that it becomes unwieldy and starts to contain material and conversations that are ‘off-topic’; several of them also feel that a smaller group is one in which they can ‘hold their own’, get some personal attention, and which feels like a group of friends rather than some kind of giant arena or marketplace.

I understand those concerns completely. I also know that, as an independent publisher, this group has helped to sustain my commercial enterprise by providing both writers and readers for an ongoing set of anthologies and other publications. I have, however, calculated that in order for me to achieve commercial viability the group would need to be about five and a half times larger than it is now - say, around 12,500 members or slightly more. If all other ratios remained more or less constant, this would mean that I could continue to do what I do into the future - that is, provide platforms and opportunities for writers not only to get published but to launch careers as professional authors. According to my arithmetic (keeping in mind that I officially gave up ‘mathematics’ as a subject in 1976) 12,500 members would generate enough money for me by buying the books I publish to be able to pay my publishing bills from the earnings from those booksales alone, which would be an ideal situation in many ways - for me, and for you if you are a budding writer.

But there are some important non-mathematical provisos. A group of 12,500 members would need to have the same level of interest and activity that we have now, if not more - which is, by the way, very high for a group of this kind, coming in at between 70% and 80% each month. In other words, out of 2,500 members, between 1,750 and 2,000 are ongoing, active participants in the group’s life to some extent - a proportion many other groups would envy. If, for the sake of argument, our membership grew to 12,500, then at least 8,750 of them would need to be active in much the same way, which would mean a lot of conversations going on. Could I keep up with them all? Could anyone? The idea would be that we have the same atmosphere in the group as we do now, just more people.

It’s probably possible. But it brings up deeper concerns and issues to do with size and numbers.

C. S. Lewis described something called ‘chronological snobbery’ which has been defined as the idea that the thinking, art, or science of an earlier time is inherently inferior to that of the present, just because it occurred earlier in time, based on the prejudice that people of earlier time periods were 'less intelligent'. It’s a powerful thread of thinking in modern culture - even the word ‘modern’ often contains the connotation that to be modern is to be wiser, cleverer, more ‘up to speed’ than earlier generations. Lewis and others dismantled this idea in their apologetic works and their fiction. But there’s another idea which is equally pervasive and perhaps even more deceptive, for which I will coin the term ‘prejudice of amplitude’. This is the notion that if something contains more numbers or is of a larger size, it is somehow inherently more important or more deserving of respect than if it were smaller.