Weinberger: very miscellaneous
Isn’t ‘miscellaneous’ one of the most beautiful words in the English language? It resonates as a happy clutter of things more or less useful, for stuff that can’t be pigeonholed. And the good news is that according to David Weinberger (The Berkman centre for Internet & Society, Harvard) our world has become miscellaneous.
Some people, like Andrew Keen (The Cult of the Amateur), see our culture going to shreds because of the Internet. Sure, Weinberger agrees, most of the web is crap. But first of all, he informs the PICNIC public, it’s our crap and second: we don’t look at the whole web, we couldn’t. You can’t see the scene. We see what is filtered for us. And how we find things has changed radically since we live in a hyperlinked world.
As Weinberger argues in his ‘Everything is miscellaneous‘ we’ve internalized our lust for order: we believe the world has an underlying structure, so we must order the world. We used to do that paper-based and that way of working has structured our thinking. In a paper-based world everything can have only one place. A book can’t physically be in two places at the same time. So when we order books, e.g. in a library, we can put a book in just one section. So “Gone with the wind” has it’s place in the ‘civil war’ section. Although it could be well argued that the ‘romance’ corner would be more suited.
The ordering of books in different sections is what Weinberger calls the ‘second order’. In the above example a book in a library is ‘first order’; it’s a book on a shelf. The second order comes in when we use metadata to describe the book, and thus also decide the book’s place in our system. This way of ordering is what some of us remember from primary school. Remember when you entertained your classmates with a ten-minute talk about ‘our dog’? To fill those ten minutes you needed more than just your observations of your pet, so you took a trip to the library to browse a paper catalogue. Searching through the fiches and wondering if there was also specific information on Rottweilers.
Well, those times lay behind us. It’s all digital now. And that means data and metadata come together in the ‘third order’. It’s no longer necessary to go to the right shelve for a book. On Amazon you can find “Gone with the wind” in many categories, as well as searching by author name or words from the title. The metadata is no longer restricted to a few terms describing the book. You can use as many tags as you like. And the book itself becomes metadata. You can type ‘Scarlett’ or “Frankly… I don’t give a damn” in Google and not only will the book title pop up. Most likely Google books will provide you with a digitalized version of the book.
Messiness, concludes Weinberger, is a virtue.