Friday, May 12, 2006

Questioning Traditional Ways of Thinking Is Bad. Therefore...

Here's a great post from the newly blogrolled Steven Johnson, whose book (Everything Bad Is Good for You) I have recently finished and have passed on to the ♥G♥. He comments on this op-ed by University of Florida journalism professor William McKeen, in which Prof. McKeen bemoans the loss of serendipity in the age of the Internet. Au Contraire, Pierre...

McKeen excerpt: Think about the library. Do people browse* anymore? We have become such a directed people. We can target what we want, thanks to the Internet. Put a couple of key words into a search engine and you find - with an irritating hit or miss here and there - exactly what you're looking for. It's efficient, but dull. You miss the time-consuming but enriching act of looking through shelves, of pulling down a book because the title interests you, or the binding. Inside, the book might be a loser, a waste of the effort and calories it took to remove it from its place and then return. Or it might be a dark chest of wonders, a life-changing first step into another world, something to lead your life down a path you didn't know was there.

*Hey - What do you call that thing you look at the Internet with again?

Johnson excerpts: I find these arguments completely infuriating. Do these people actually use the web? I find vastly more weird, unplanned stuff online than I ever did browsing the stacks as a grad student. Browsing the stacks is one of the most overrated and abused examples in the canon of things-we-used-to-do-that-were-so-much-better... ...Thanks to the connective nature of hypertext, and the blogosphere's exploratory hunger for finding new stuff, the web is the greatest serendipity engine in the history of culture... ...So the question is: is there anything in the online experience that compares to the random discoveries of alphabetical or Dewey Decimal exploration. I would say -- nuts or not -- definitively yes. I read regularly about 20 different blogs or other filters, and each day through them I'm exposed to literally hundreds of articles and clips and conversations and songs and parodies that I had no idea about when I woke up that morning.

Boo-Yah! To boil it down, I think that the sort of person who wants to get a single piece of information from the library would go straight to that shelf, get only that book, and go straight to the check-out desk (or Xerox machine). That person would do the same sort of thing on the Internet. OTOH, the sort of person who would walk the stacks and get all sorts of eclectic ecstasy from the 000s to the 999s (Note: I used to rotate my audiobook checkouts by Dewey ranges -- i.e., check out one audiobook on journalism from the 000s, then one on philosophy from the 100s, then religion from the 200s, etc., and when I got to the 900s I'd start all over again) would be able to find at least a comprable amount of eclectic ecstasy electronically via the Web.


Blogger Get A Life! said...

I agree with your comments wholeheartedly. By browsing blogs such as yours, I learn so much more about 'what's out there' of note that I can (literally) stay busy for days, and I think that is a positive.

But I must ask: do browsers and samplers just like to shop? The old saw of men like to walk in a store, purchase and leave only seems to apply to things they are uninterested in: clothes, underwear, shoes.

Many men (and women)would love to spend an afternoon at a hardware or electronic shop just aimlessly wandering the aisles to absorb the possibilities. I believe IKEA is laughing all the way to the bank on this very notion.

Sure, some people are very focused and find wandering frivolous. But count me in the camp that explores some of the obviously 'not what I'm looking for' hits from a search engine to great delight.

How dull life would be if every hit were precise.

9:45 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home