Reading and Writing in a Virtual JungleOctober 7, 2009 at 8:01 pm | Posted in uncategorized | 1 Comment
(authored by Jeff Doell)
Some time ago I came across a video meant extol the virtues of electronic communication, compared to the rigidly linear and soon to be antiquated traditional print media of yesteryear. I tried to find the video on the internet so I could link to it. I entered every search term I could think of and finding half a dozen sites discussing web thinking, none of which I deemed worthy of a link, gradually concluding that the internet was not a web of meaningful connections, rather a tangle mixing the interesting and important with the meaningless and trivial.
Searching for a needle in a haystack with the likes of Google, and its web –crawling –google –bots and complex algorithms, constantly in flux to outwit clever spammers. (see How Google Works) No knock on Google, but getting their attention and saying something insightful are two totally different things. The ability to create a set of instructions that will break down and classify text without understanding it is quite a trick, but the difficulties of applying such a strict protocol when dealing with complex ideas and subtler themes has become apparent as the company has ventured into the domain of traditional librarians with Google Books Library Project. Harvard librarian Robert Darton has written that Google’s efforts “to digitize collections and sell the product in ways that fail to guarantee wide access … would turn the Internet into an instrument for privatizing knowledge that belongs in the public sphere,” while others complain the millions of electronic volumes are poorly organized: “Google has misdated hundreds of books and scattered many multivolume works so arbitrarily that they’re hard to piece together even with the computer’s help.” (see Google Books and the Judge, The New Yorker Book Bench, Sept. 18, 2009)
Such a democratic forum might not be the appropriate method to access high quality research and literature carefully produced by professionals who cannot be expected to labor without just compensation. (see The Cult of the Amateur by Andrew Keen. But surely the internet is useful, begging just what kind of content is best suited for internet access? Reading through the posts on our course website, my own comments and this post included, I get to feeling how I imagine would a teacher grading student essays, which seems strangely at odds with fast pace typical of electronic communication, usually scanned and actively navigated as opposed to dutifully followed like traditional prose. While considering the merits of brevity in internet postings, I penned the following:
To speak in terms of instantly
Rumination will only
conceal its essence
The kind of austerity you’d
expect from a math teacher
Raising dystopic concerns
of Orwellian newspeak
Doesn’t a little explanation
Our complex web of connectivity deals best with short pithy statements that are well tagged and available for hyperlink. It is less important for the creators of internet content to carefully connect ideas because connections are made by the navigating user. Despite Foucault’s observation that books are like nodes in a vast network, they are also entities unto themselves and arranged in an intentional fashion deserving of a certain preservation that the major thoroughfares of electronic communication cannot provide. Democracy, coincidence, dilatants, and untapped talent may be able to compete with those who have made a career of letters, but electronic communication must proceed in a way that insures the opportunity for communication at length.