(dedication:) To the librarians.
My excitement about this book, coupled with the fact that it was published five years ago, tells you something about how far behind the times I am. To many of you, this is old news. But my literacy level has sunk so low, relative to twenty-first century informational sea level as defined by the current population of the planet, that I am positively buoyant when I make an amazing discovery that is (a) common knowledge to half the world (What, you hadn't heard?) and so passe that it hardly merits acknowledgement to the other half (yawn).
Anonymous authors. No editors. No special privileges for experts. Signs plastering articles detailing the ways they fall short. All the disagreements about each article posted in public. Easy access to all the previous drafts - including highlighting of the specific changes. No one who can certify that an article is done and ready. It would seem that Wikipedia does everything in its power to avoid being an authority, yet that seems only to increase its authority - a paradox that indicates an important change in the nature of authority itself. (p. 142)
That kind of sums up one of the main premises of Weinberger's argument that universal miscellany is both new and good. And this seemingly slippery slope level of openness that is characteristic of Wikipedia, is a central factor in its power and its limitations. It's a little like Prof. Christina Kirk's self-deprecating comment on her directorial triumph in staging Bertolt Brecht's "The Caucasian Chalk Circle" at Otterbein: "How do you make Brechtian theater in a Brechtian age?" The pace of change has made the traditional, fixed, static, and authoritative encyclopedia so obsolete that a radically mutable, malleable, and less reliable wikipedia is unremarkable however new and different.
If you want to know what Joshua Schachter is interested in, visit...his Delicious page.....If you click on the "view as cloud" link, the list rearranges itself into an alphabetized paragraph, with the font size of each tag indicating in relative terms how many times the tag has been used.... Like a playlist or a mix tape, the truth is often hidden between what's explicit. We can go right or wrong in our sizing up of the person behind the cloud, but we are very likely to go because tag clouds visually express a person's interests, compiled from data the person communicated unintentionally. (p. 162)
Beyond McLuhan but standing on his shoulders, in line with Laotzu but highly technological, semiotically like but aesthetically unlike Nelson Goodman, with just a touch of George Lakoff's metaphorical mindset, the point is that message and data, not to mention metamessages and metadata, are everywhere, even (or especially) in the spaces between the items of compiled lists of favorites. Data mining could be the gold rush of the future, as more people produce and process more information in more media all the time, it just gives the "intelligence" community more stuff to track, profile, and sell to the highest bidder.
Enquire doesn't just keep a list of the parts of a particular machine or the people working on a particular project. Rather, it tracks the context of relationships among the people, parts, and information so that users can know not only that something is, say, a handle, but that it is part of the cranking assembly, that it includes a partucular ball-bearing assembly, that it turns clockwise, that it's made out of iron, and that it was produced by the Acme Crank company. To achieve this, Berners-Lee designed Enquire to include relationships such as "made by," "includes," "uses," "describes," "background," and "similar to." (p. 190)
The guy who devised this layered tracking system had a passion for taxonomy, obviously, for meaning that can be named in an orderly space, a la Wittgenstein, as well as a healthy respect for the changing, shifting unpredictability of the real, non-semantic, non-algorithmic world of stuff.
The world and our third-order understanding of the world are miscellaneous in different ways. The world offers an indefinite number of joints without any preference about which ones we attend to: The rocks will continue to circle the sun whether or not the International Astronomical Union decides to stop calling some of them planets. The miscellaneous digital world we're building for ourselves, on the other hand, consists of what we have chosen as leaves - Hamlet, a particular edition of Hamlet, or a quotation from Hamlet - and the connections we've made explicitly or implicitly. (pp. 228-29)
Mao recognized this in his essay "On Practice" where he argued forcefully for working on theory in continual adjustment to the theoretical flaws revealed by application and misapplication to practical problems, not unlike John Dewey's model of education.