By Chet Yarbrough
By David Weinberger, Brewster Kahle, Juan Pablo Pax, Brian Cantwell Smith
This is a two-part lecture series. The subject is digitization–how the information age is changing; how it affects the way people think; and how digitization impacts human understanding.
There it is–“I want to know what is on your mind.” David Weinberger believes digitization revolutionizes knowledge. As the world of information becomes more digitized, information spreads world-wide on the internet.
The same report about an incident in Syria can be seen on Youtube, read in the New York Times, viewed on CBS, NBC, ABC, PBS, Al Jazeera, or heard and seen on Syrian resident blogs/pictures/text messages. Additionally, that Syrian incident is contextualized by digitized books written by former ambassadors and pundits of the Middle East.
Weinberger believes knowing what is on the collective mind of humanity liberates truth. Weinberger suggests one person’s report about something is less likely to be true than many people’s reports.
Weinberger may be right about digitization’s potential for revealing truth. On the other hand, what human being is likely to sift through all that information to glean truth? Maybe a few, like the brilliant conceptual physicist, Richard Feynman. But reading and listening to a plethora of media is no substitute for the hard work of personal analytic thought; even in the digitized world.
One might argue that truth will be revealed in the evolution of digitization. A software program invented to accumulate digitized versions of perceived events may glean truth from an infinite information source, the internet. However, it is the individual mind that accepts or rejects individual or collective information.
The internet invades the lives of all people that have access to its virtual world. It affects the way people think. In one sense, it liberates the capacity of one’s mind by offering recall of facts that escape cognitive memory. On the other hand, it offers a forum for distraction, lies, and confusion because of its capacity to manipulate thought. More information offered by digitization may confuse rather than reveal truth.
Distraction, lies, and noise from the internet is magnified by digitization. Opportunities for like-minded sociopaths to join together or, more ominously, act out to attack society are offered a platform to spew adherent’s beliefs. The consequence is a social categorization that reminds one of Dennis Leery’s belief in LSD that led some to tune-in and drop-out in the 1960s.
On the other hand, digitization offers great educational opportunities. The Open Content Alliance (OCA) is a digitized library initiative, started by Google, that has the potential of bringing books to the entire world at minimum cost. Google is planning to digitize every book written in the history of the world.
Brewster Kahle is an Internet Archive Librarian at the forefront of a movement to bring books to the world by providing bound copies of digitized books with mobile library’s. Bookmobiles, filled with digitized books that can be reprinted and bound, have visited Menlo Park and Berkeley, CA, Salt Lake City, Ut, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Baltimore, Md, Washington DC, India, and more recently, Africa.
Interestingly, it is possible to digitize your own books as can be seen in the following “do it yourself” video:
One cannot deny that digitization is impacting human understanding. It may be truth is better revealed in social media. One can choose to ignore social media, the internet, and digitization but it is counter intuitive to believe less information is better than more. Luddites that choose to ignore the modern world of social media will be left behind. Some suggest it is not a question of information overload but a question of filtering. As Richard Feynman noted, knowledge improvement is hard work. There are no short cuts.