17 March 2010

plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

Three or four times today here at the VRA conference, the thought has gone through my head that our modern world is just a faster version of yesterday's world. Or we're going back.

At the Transitions lunch in the spectacular (even on a cloudy day) revolving Sun Dial restaurant at the top of the Westin, someone was talking about how the art faculty members were all building their own collections of digital images as the university collections were being eliminated. In the old days, a professor probably collected the slides they needed and they were just kept on the shelves of their office. Then folks got the brilliant idea of building a collection and there was economy of scale. Now the collection is being dismantled, partly because of ARTstor and other image databases but also because of economics. Now we're seeing individual collections again.

Peter Brantley of the BookServer project at the Internet Archive gave the opening plenary speech. He talked about how information gathering is focused on discovery rather than content. But research has always been discovering the information you need. Social networking does bring it to you but you're really just doing the same kind of thing, just faster. I think he was trying to argue that the networking actually did change the information. Brantley talked about the redundancy of some of the paths and did pass on a wonderful quote he'd heard from someone about trying to keep up and worrying about missing something. Someone had said "if it's really important, the news will find me."

The redundancy of effort came up again in the blogs and wikis panel later in the afternoon. Not everyone will find the same path and information will fly around and you'll maybe find out what you need to know. But it's still just trying to find what you need to know. And I really can't buy Brantley's contention that content isn't the most important thing. Even when he said that sharing is more important than content, it's not worth sharing if it's not meaningful. Or, maybe, the receiver of the content will make something valuable of it even if it isn't inherently valuable. (This is probably all bunk ... as he changed his Facebook status to something else that didn't matter.)

Brantley started out by talking about everyone as publishers and communicators. I couldn't help but think of Benjamin and his writing on authorship (not that I really understand it). Maybe I should have just kept thinking about the modern architecture that we'd seen on the morning walking tour rather than trying to process what they'd said at the sessions. When I saw Dustin Wees, I said I really should do up some SAHARA cataloging, like the First Presbyterian Church in Bath.

No comments: