Ok, so I’m in a bit of a emotional whirlwind today, and maybe that has something to do with my reaction to yesterday’s New York Times magazine cover piece on the future of books in the sense that I’m looking for all kinds of validation for leaving my desk job and deciding to try to bring these ideas to wider audiences, and that I’m hoping that when the New York Times starts getting all visionary that maybe I’m (we’re) really on to something knowing full well that the Times has been wrong before and that all of this is a crap shoot, but that this paragraph literally gave me chills (though it may not have on any other “normal” day):
“Turning inked letters into electronic dots that can be read on a screen is simply the first essential step in creating this new library. The real magic will come in the second act, as each word in each book is cross-linked, clustered, cited, extracted, indexed, analyzed, annotated, remized, reassembled and woven deeper into the culture than ever before. In the new world of books, every bit informs another; every page reads all the other pages.”
And then this:
“In addition to a link, which explicitly connects one word or sentence or book to another, readers will also be able to add tags, a recent innovation on the Web but already a popular one. A tag is a public annotation, like a keyword or category name, that is hung on a file, page, picture or song, enabling anyone to search for that file. For instance, on the photo-sharing site Flickr, hundreds of viewers will “tag” a photo submitted by another user with their own simple classifications of what they think the picture is about: “goat,” “Paris,” “goofy,” “beach party.” Because tags are user-generated, when they move to the realm of books, they will be assigned faster, range wider and serve better than out-of-date schemes like the Dewey Decimal System, particularly in frontier or fringe areas like nanotechnology or body modification.
The link and the tag may be two of the most important inventions of the last 50 years. They get their initial wave of power when we first code them into bits of text, but their real transformative energies fire up as ordinary users click on them in the course of everyday Web surfing, unaware that each humdrum click “votes” on a link, elevating its rank of relevance. You may think you are just browsing, casually inspecting this paragraph or that page, but in fact you are anonymously marking up the Web with bread crumbs of attention. These bits of interest are gathered and analyzed by search engines in order to strengthen the relationship between the end points of every link and the connections suggested by each tag. This is a type of intelligence common on the Web, but previously foreign to the world of books.” [Emphasis mine.]
Now, might that be a bit of hyperbole? (There’s that word again.) Um…I dunno. Certainly, it’s not something that people with no context of what’s happening on the Web can even begin to understand. Either way, it’s amazing, amazing writing, I think. And in the new Socratic spirit of this space, it begs a number of questions.
Should we be thinking about how to prepare our kids for a linked, tagged world?
What strategies do we need to develop to read and write in linked, tagged world?
How do we best harness the potential of a world where knowledge is easily connected and, therefore, increasingly overwhelming and, as my wife pointed out, perhaps paralyzing?
I want to write more about this, not only because of the implications for the education system but because I find this discussion, this move to a more linked and tagged world to be extremely interesting. If you read the article, I’d love to hear your thoughts.