Everything is Miscellaneous

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This is a book about authority, order, information and knowledge – the evolution of the latter and the limitations imposed by the former. This hyper-intelligent journey through the history of classification (ex; library card catalogues) and the current climate (ex; tagging) makes an engaging case for the virtues of seemingly counterintuitive “messiness.” The anecdotes are lively, and the range of subjects is satisfying and entertaining: Dewey’s Decimals, our silverware drawers, Hamlet, the Federal Highway Administration, Wikipedia, intertwingularity, our family photo albums, and Darwin. Reading this reminded me how wonderful it is to be witnessing the development of new ways of collaborating and why we should all stay tuned in to see where all of this is headed. Whether you’re a skeptic or a steadfast believer in the great promise and possibility of the digital, these are ideas worth visiting. The “Social Knowing” chapter alone should be mandatory reading for all teachers.

– Steven Leckart

Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder
David Weinberger
2007, 288 pages
$17
Available from Amazon


Sample excerpts:

Imagine two people editing and reediting a Wikipedia article, articulating their differences on the article’s discussion page. They edge toward an article acceptable to both of them through a public negotiation of knowledge and come to a resolution. Yet the page they’ve negotiated may not represent either person’s point of view precisely. The knowing happened not in either one’s brain but in their conversation. The knowledge exists between the contributors. It is knowledge that has no knower. Social knowing changes who does the knowing and how, more than it changes the what of knowledge…As people communicate online, that conversation becomes part of a lively, significant, public digital knowledge - rather than chatting for one moment with a small group of friends and colleagues, every person potentially has access to a global audience. Taken together, that conversation also creates a mode of knowing we’ve never had before. Like subjectivity, it is rooted in individual standpoints and passions, which endows the bits with authenticity. But at the same time, these diverse viewpoints help us get past the biases of individuals, just as Wikipedia’s negotiations move articles toward NPOV [neutral point of view]. There has always been a plentitude of personal points of view in our world. Now, though, those POVs are talking with one another, and we can not only listen, we can participate. For 2,500 years, we’ve been told that knowing is our species’ destiny and its calling. Now we can see for ourselves that knowledge isn’t in our heads: It is between us. It emerges from public and social thought and it stays there, because social knowing, like the global conversations that give rise to it, is never finished.

The Greeks assumed that the cosmos is perfectly ordered and arranged; the word cosmos itself means both “all that is” and “beauty.” Pythagoras therefore figured that the distance between the planets must reflect the order and harmony of the universe. But harmony is based on mathematics: Divide a string into the ratios 2:1, 3:2, 4:3, or 5:4, pluck it, and you hear something beautiful. So, Pythagoras reasoned, the heavenly spheres must fall into those ratios. Since they move, they must also make sound as they whir, a sound that must therefore be harmonious and beautiful. We’re not aware of the second because we’ve been hearing it since birth. It’s become background “noise.” Thus did the Greeks deduce that we must all live within an unheard beauty.

Now that everything in the connected world can serve as metadata, knowledge is empowered beyond fathoming. We not only find what we need based on whatever slight traces we have in our hand, we can see connections that would have escaped notice in the first two orders. The power of the miscellaneous comes directly from the fact that in the third order, everything is connected and therefore everything is metadata.


Everything is Miscellaneous