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Digital technology, and the Internet in particular, provide an interesting challenge for understanding infrastructure, because we rely on it, yet it is not solid in any physical sense. It is like physical structures, but not itself physical. We go on the Net, as if it were a road or a plane. We build on it too. Yet it is not a thing.
Inspired by Craig Burton’s description of the Net as a hollow sphere — a three-dimensional zero comprised entirely of ends
— David Weinberger and I wrote World of Ends in 2003 (http://worldofends.com). The purpose was to make the Net more understandable, especially to companies (such as phone and cable carriers) that had been misunderstanding it. Lots of people agreed with us, but none of those people ran the kinds of companies we addressed.
But, to be fair, most people still don’t understand the Net. Look up “The Internet is” on Google (with the quotes). After you get past the top entry (Wikipedia’s), here’s what they say:
Do the same on Twitter, and you’ll get results just as confusing. At this moment (your search will vary; this is the Live Web here), the top results are:
- a Series of Tubes
- really big
- for porn
- killing storytelling
- serious business
- for everyone
- about to die
- Christmas all the time
- altering our brains
- changing health care
- laughing at NBC
- changing the way we watch TV
- changing the scientific method
- dead and boring
- not shit
- made of kittens
- alive and well
- almost full
- a brain
(I took out the duplicates. There were many involving cats and porn.)
- a weird, WEIRD place
- full of feel good lectures
- the Best Place to get best notebook computer deals
- Made of Cats
- For porn
- one of the best and worst things at the same time
- so small
- going slow
- not my friend at the moment
- letting me down
- going off at 12
- not working
- still debatable
- like a jungle
- eleven years old
- worsening by the day
- extremely variable
- full of odd but exciting people
- becoming the Googlenet
- a battlefield
- a great network for helping others around the world
- more than a global pornography network
- making you go nuts
- so much faster bc im like the only 1 on it
Part of the problem is that we understand the Net in very different and conflicting ways. For example, when we say the Net consists of “sites,” with “domains” and “locations” that we “architect,” “design,” “build” and “visit,”we are saying the Internet is a place. It’s real estate. But if we say the Net is a “medium” for the “distribution” of “content” to “consumers” who “download” it, we’re saying the Net is a shipping system. These metaphors are very different. They yield different approaches to business and lawmaking, to
name just two areas of conflict.
Bob Frankston, co-inventor (with Dan Bricklin) of spreadsheet software (Visicalc) and one of the fathers of home networking, says the end-state of the Net’s current development is ambient connectivity, which “gives us access to the oceans of copper, fiber and radios that surround us.” Within those are what Frankston calls a “sea of bits” to which all of us contribute. To help clarify the anti-scarce nature of bits, he explains, “Bits aren’t really like kernels of corn. They are more like words. You may run out of red paint but you don’t run out of the color red.”
What do you think is coming for publishing generally speaking and the idea of words on a page? How can information managers in a library environment either help influence public opinion or help content creators?
If I were a librarian now, I would attempt to conceive of the library from an experiential point of view. I would say, “What is the experience that is missing from the agora, from the world out there, from the private home? What is the experience that's missing that we need in order to be human, in order to think, in order to consider?”
My own take on it would be that information availability in some sort of raw form is not a problem anymore, because of the Internet. It is for some people, as you well know; not everyone has Internet access or equal Internet access. Acknowledging all of that and just speaking in a very crude way that ignores [the digital divide] for a moment...if somebody has broadband at home, if they're affluent, it doesn't mean they have all they need. They still, in many cases, lack the time and space really to think in their lives. And, gradually, libraries will take on the role in civilization of providing that space. I don't think the home will provide it anymore.
The thinking space where people can get to know themselves and get their ideas cogently arranged or what have you
So the cliché of the librarian going, “Shhhhhhhhh....”
Oh, are we tired of that!
I'm sure you are, but, in a way, that is going to become something that is so desperately desired that I have a feeling there will be a new life for the library in which it provides the thinking space for civilization.
For instance, my book.... At one point I had the most overdue book contract in New York publishing. It's over 20 years or something. And the reason is I have such a crazy, busy life, and I have so many things going on. I was in London some years…ago and a friend of mine, who's a writer, said, “The only way you're going to write a book is in a library” and sat me down in this wonderful, big library [the British Library].
It has amazing incunabula suspended in this glass cube inside the foyer, and you can see scholars wandering around inside the stacks. I sat down in that place and actually had the quietude to...write a book. So this book wouldn't exist without a library.
We must have 10,000 or 15,000 books in our house. We have one room that's…basically a mountain of books. It's become impassable. So we have no lack of access to material, and yet I didn't have access to my own head until I went to the library. So to me there's clearly something missing in the formula that we're developing for civilization.... I think the library will naturally come to fill that gap. Making the library into some sort of alternate Facebook access point is exactly the wrong way to achieve that.
That the fee is inadequate to provide a proper incentive, that the library does not instead charge $25 a day or $250 a day or impose a vigorous flogging (as described in the no-doubt-renewable “Mutiny on the Bounty”), bespeaks ineffectual enforcement tactics, not the freedom to keep a popular book past its due date...
The injunction “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time” is specious. It should be “Don’t do the crime.”
At home, where he writes, he no longer has internet access. A four-month stint with wi-fi proved "deadly" for his productivity and having no access at all ensures that he is not tempted to "look at Kajagoogoo videos and old ads for Wrigley's Spearmint Gum" on YouTube. "Writing is a deep-sea dive. You need hours just to get into it: down, down, down. If you're called back to the surface every couple of minutes by an email, you can't ever get back down. I have a great friend who became a Twitterer and he says he hasn't written anything for a year."
But, in any case, he is a paper man, not a screen man. "I only read on paper. I don't have an e-reader or an iPhone. I have the best time reading newspapers. I don't believe books are dead. I've seen the figures. Sales of adult fiction are up in the worst economy since the Depression."
...He believes passionately in the power of reading and of writing; one evening a week, he and a group high-school students get together to talk about American journalism, though tonight they will be interviewing me, a "real-life British person" (given that their last special guest was Spike Jonze, the film director with whom Eggers wrote the script for Where the Wild Things Are, I fear I could be something of a disappointment). At the end of the year, these students help Eggers compile a volume called The Best American Nonrequired Reading, a showcase for journalism and short fiction.
I am so grateful for the valuable contributions the Riley House has made to black history in Tallahassee, but I can understand why black Tallahasseans might be reluctant to afford the not inconsiderable outlay to kit themselves up as Federal troops, (uniforms, rifles), for the privilege of receiving an annual, ritual ass-kicking from white, piney-woods CW re-enactors.Blacks made up the majority of Union soldiers who fought in the Civil War Battle of Natural Bridge in southern Leon County. Yet blacks have never participated in the annual re-enactment of that battle. That may change one day, thanks to a partnership announced Tuesday between the Natural Bridge Historic Society and the Riley House Museum of black history. The two groups plan to recruit black re-enactors as well as promote more black spectators at the event...The Battle of Natural Bridge occurred March 6, 1865. The Confederate troops scored a victory that allowed Tallahassee to be the only Confederate capital east of the Mississippi to not fall to the Union... Of the 148 soldiers killed or wounded at Natural Bridge, 100 of them were black.In March, the Natural Bridge Historic Society will stage the 33rd re-enactment of the battle. All previous re-enactments attracted only white re-enactors and mostly white spectators.For several years, the historic society has tried without success to recruit black re-enactors.