Many tributes to the late film critic Roger Ebert have focused on his personal bravery and his facility with technology: the way he compensated for the loss of his physical voice with a vibrant presence on blogs and Twitter. But Ebert was an early and prescient adopter of technology long before it became such a crucial personal outlet. In an interview in Wired magazine in 1996 — highlighted in a recent post on Mashable — Ebert spoke about a partnership with the online service CompuServe, which had asked him to upload his columns. Ebert sensed, implicitly, that on this new medium, he needed to interact directly with readers. And he confidently and correctly predicted the changes the Internet would bring to film criticism and journalism. “I am a better critic now,” he said, “because I am engaged in an ongoing criticism of my work by people who are not in the least impressed by my reputation. I am just another guy online.”
Ebert understood that the Web was a two-way medium; that interactions would require time, energy, and a thick skin; that criticism was about to become democratized. Ebert didn’t fear those changes. He embraced them, adapted to them, and became, in the process, an even more distinctive and influential voice.