David Weinberger, one of the smartest of our many smart neighbors, has a new book about books and planets, Staples and Amazon, 20 questions and the periodic table, Carl Linnaeus and Melvil Dewey, data and metadata — about everything, in other words: Everything is Miscellaneous.
It’s hard to summarize his theory of everything in one sentence, but this is pretty close: “To get as good at browsing as we are at finding — and to take full advantage of the digital opportunity — we have to get rid of the idea that there’s a best way of organizing the world.”
Weinberger is the first to admit this is a mighty tall order. We were organizing the world (and, implicitly, privileging our particular organizing principles) long before Linnaeus and Dewey. As Weinberger explains, we’re basically hard-wired to organize all the atoms and planets we see: “We invest so much time in making sure our world isn’t miscellaneous in part because disorder is inefficient — ‘Anybody see the gas bill?’ — but also because it feels bad.” And Weinberger isn’t suggesting that we’re going to stop naming, sorting, or ordering things. In fact as “things” gallop exponentially into our lives we’ll end up doing it more. The trick is that we — not librarians, or book sellers, or photo editors, or other metadata misers — will be doing the sorting.
We at Open Source use — and celebrate — the new tagging tools on a daily basis. We’d have no photos on our site without Flickr and no way to easily share links without del.icio.us. We gaze at the Global Voices tag cloud and dream of the day when we’ll have one of our own.
But at the risk of seeming like a nostalgic prig, I wonder if anyone else out there is also fiending for the quaint numeric certainty of Dewey and his decimals. We know what we’re gaining when a photograph is tagged “beach,” “Phuket,” “galangal,” “Christmas,” and “singhabeer.” There’s a whole lot of potentially useful information in those tags, for one thing, and you can simultaneously file it under as many categories as you want. But is anything lost when it’s not called “P & P in Phuket, Christmas 2008?” When a photo has multiple names and infinite existences, and doesn’t let us pretend that, in this very 21st-century world, we can still exert 18th-century control?
- Extra Credit Reading
David Weinberger (co-author), 95 Theses, The Cluetrain Manifesto, created April 1999:
“#6. The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.
#7. Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy.”
Beth Kanter, David Weinberger at NTC on Transparency, Beth’s Blog, April 6, 2007: “I asked David ‘Why is transparency important for nonprofits?’ Transparency helps with learning is the gist of the sound byte.”
Sony Cloward, Joho the Buttkicker: David Weinberger, NTEN, April 5, 2007: “Funny, insightful, academic, and down to earth, David led us through the evolution – and impact of that evolution – of content, ideas and organization from the physical (e.g. libraries, Encyclopedia Britannica, newspapers) to the digital (Amazon, Wikipedia, blogs).”
David Weinberger, Zero Tolerance for Humans, The Huffington Post, April 21, 2007: “We are dragging the process down, legitimizing the tactic, debasing understanding, and driving nuance out of the system. Frankly, taking McCain down a peg just isn’t worth it.”
Paul Gillin’s Blog, David Weinberger’s comments provoke thought and debate, Paul Gillin’s Blog, April 24, 2007: “I agree with David that this is the way the world is going. In an atmosphere in which information is freely available to everyone, the expert can no longer claim to be the final word on anything. He or she must admit to fallibility and derive influence from the ability to assimilate many facts”
The Happy Tutor, French Code of Blogger Conduct – Oui Oui!, Wealth Bondage, April 22, 2007: “One code that David implicitly observes is to be painfully literal… French code of conduct? David, did you ever read Derrida? Those French people are shifty.”