From the days of Sumerian clay tablets till now, humans have "published" at least 32 million books, 750 million articles and essays, 25 million songs, 500 million images, 500,000 movies, 3 million videos, TV shows and short films and 100 billion public Web pages. All this material is currently contained in all the libraries and archives of the world. When fully digitized, the whole lot could be compressed (at current technological rates) onto 50 petabyte hard disks. Today you need a building about the size of a small-town library to house 50 petabytes. With tomorrow's technology, it will all fit onto your iPod. When that happens, the library of all libraries will ride in your purse or wallet — if it doesn't plug directly into your brain with thin white cords. Some people alive today are surely hoping that they die before such things happen, and others, mostly the young, want to know what's taking so long. (Could we get it up and running by next week? They have a history project due.)
As someone who just received The Complete New Yorker for Christmas, a gift that allowed me to purge my hardcopy storage of back issues, I love this idea in theory. But, honestly, having it on my computer is not the same as taking a copy to the park. Flipping through pages still has an appeal to me. Making notes in the margins that I will discover, unexpectedly, years later ensures a future surprise. I know the interface is trying to duplicate these simple pleasures, but I am not sold yet even if I feel like I am swimming against the unyielding current of change.
And I can't help but think of Winston Smith, protagonist from 1984 (available online, of course). What happens when someone begins to control or tamper with this digital library?
And I can't help but wonder about...let's call them... "misconceptions" that are written down? Will all information, all the time and all at the click of a button push forward the negotiating process in the Middle East or other historical mine fields? I guess disputes will generate this message: The neutrality and factual accuracy of this article are disputed.
And a million other questions too!
Kevin Kelly's conclusion: "In the clash between the conventions of the book and the protocols of the screen, the screen will prevail."
To be continued...
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