Tuesday, May 09, 2006

"And, of course, in the anarchy after The Big Electromagnetic Pulse the PDFs will be wiped clean off my hard drive but I will still be able to barter my hard copy of Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of the Religious Life for food and bullets."
-Alex Golub in Passion for Paper

My greatest hope is that after The Big Electromagnetic Pulse (or When Society Grinds To A Halt For Lack Of Petrolium) there exists a market where that transaction makes sense from the other side also. That is to say, I hope all my stockpiled bullets and food can still be traded for something valuable.
Additionally, I agree about the advantages that books gain from their embodiment and all the things that come along with that. The problems I've had with nontraditional media forms mostly stem from organizational problems. There's a distinct downside to having so much information at your fingertips sometimes. With a great density of related information it can become very hard to process into meaningful catagories, and very hard to make decisions about where to spend your time, etc. I often find myself "skimming" in these situations, unable to investigate with any real depth. My example of this comes, ironically, from a great collection of paper resources, NYU's own Bobst Library.
Bobst is a great academic library, by all measures, but something about it always bothered me. It was so much more complete than I was used to, that I could never get any real work done there. Whenever I would need information about a subject, I'd need to browse several shelves in different sections, and I'd turn up dozens and dozens of potentially helpful books. The problem was that they were all potentially helpful and I'd spend an hour or two skimming the lot of them, trying to determine what would render the most fruitful information, when probably any one of them, given a deeper reading, would render at the least information about how to narrow my search. Additionally, in a research setting, it is essential to be presented with both the resources and the time to investigate things that are tangentially related in interesting ways. Bobst presented me with too great a density of tangents. For every book I needed to read, there would be a hundred books I wanted to check out. I was pulled in too many directions and it was impossible to get anything done. In short, my search algorithm was not prepared for the breadth of information presented to me.
I often feel the same way about online resources. Though I adore Wikipedia for reasons I'll elaborate on later, it is easy to get lost in it. Often, I'm presented with too many paths that potentially render useful information and I'm left skimming over them shallowly. I appreciate a good library because of the way it allows me to find what I need in a relatively linear fashion, while providing a managable density of tangential links so that I might crawl over the network of information before me without becoming totally overwhelmed.

Anyway, check out Golublog for more writing by Alex Golub, and Savage Minds for more anthropological stuff from him. I've recently started reading both again, as I return from my temporary exile from academia.
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An attempt to overcome a crippling perfectionism; an appendix-in-progress for a perpetually unwritten book. Notes on variety of subjects including but not limited to: cognition, mathematics, sociology, philosophy and art. Now with book reviews!

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