Read: Christina Wodtke on A Unified Theory for Design

Super, succinct model of the essence of design >

A Unified Theory for Designing Just About Anything” by @cwodtke

In a university context useful not just for business analysts like me involved in service, systems or product design, but also anyone involved in writing, research, teaching (it includes instructional design example).

It really is a model that could be applied to many scenarios that require design or creativity and covers four key elements that form the acronym CAMP:

Context
i.e the discovery business analysts like to do that establishes the goals, stakeholders, requirement and constraints

Architecture
i.e the organising principles and structures of the design

Mechanics
i.e the behaviours and qualities you want to implement

Poetics
i.e. the emotional and experiential response of users

Community, Advocacy and Freedom: CILIP 2015 Conference Report

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Spotted in the floor tiles in St George’s Hall

Last week I attend the CILIP 2015 Conference in St George’s Hall, Liverpool (2-3 July). This was a magnificent venue where references to justice and knowledge were literally built into the walls and the floor.

This was my first CILIP conference and I was keen to take advantage of discounted registration for students to hear about the profession from a range of current practitioners to complement by Masters study at #citylis (City University, London).

The conference programme featured a number of keynote presentations from a variety of speakers, many of whom were not library or information professionals but added their perspectives to ours. This was complemented by breakout sessions that covered:

  • Information management: building success
  • Information literacy and digital inclusion
  • Demonstrating value: what’s your impact?
  • Digital futures and technology

along with a track of Fringe events that included Q&A sessions with keynote speakers and an opportunity join in hack sessions with exhibitors like the Ideas Box.

It’s not nice to be a librarian … it’s AWESOME to be a librarian … we do important things … throughout history we have done powerful things for human kind … librarians have that power – R. David Lankes

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Librarians: changing the world since 2000BC

The conference received a rousing start from R. David Lankes on the position and potential of librarians and was concluded by a presidential address from Jan Parry on the importance of critically reviewing ourselves and our services, before other people do, if we are to make a good impression. These talks extolled the power and professionalism of librarianship, neatly bookending proceedings, and instilled a feeling of optimism.

In between I attended every keynote and spent most of my breakout sessions in the Digital Futures and Technology track. These sessions were held in the unusual setting of the Civil Court, a 19th century courtroom with wooden benches and ink wells and talks delivered from the witness stand. Many people will have sat in this courtroom listening and arguing and now it heard today’s advocates on the subject of “wicked problems”, research data management, user experience, access management and linked open bibliographic data.

My only detour from this track was towards the end of the conference I couldn’t resist the Delivering Value session featuring the British Library and Wigan Library Service as I thought this juxtaposition would offer a truly macroscopic view of librarianship in in the UK. I was rewarded with a frankly inspiring hour that soared from the British Library’s Living Knowledge project envisioning how to stay at the forefront of All the World’s Knowledge and embed it across the UK to how a local library service has placed itself at the centre of Wigan’s community and the promises that make up The Deal, the council’s pact with the people who elect it.

I took notes on each session I attended and links to these are available in the session notes section below. Rather than describe each session again in detail I want to draw together my thoughts and reflect on three themes that I kept hearing again and again across the conference: community, advocacy and freedom.

Community

People were the pulsing, beating heart of a conference that celebrated both the community of librarians represented and the communities they serve. Again started by Lankes he urged us to speak more about librarians when defining libraries:

A mandated and mediated space (virtual and/or physical) owned by the community, stewarded by librarians, and dedicated to knowledge creation.

Time and time again speakers provided examples of how these spaces help create and connect vibrant communities (as in the above examples of the much admired Liverpool Central Library). Libraries may be changing but they aren’t dead and never will be as long as there are people in the world who want to learn and to be informed.

This becomes even more urgently evident during times of crisis as in Ferguson and Baltimore when libraries provided citizens with safe spaces. Another example was provided by Barbara Schack of Bibliotheques Sans Frontieres / Libraries Without Borders who talked about the Ideas Box. This is a media centre than can be transported anywhere in the world within an hour. It contains technology, content and materials that trained facilitators can use in crisis struck communities to enable people to come together, opening the boxes and creating a space where they can be human again escaping the crisis that surrounds them and contributing their information, knowledge and creativity to healing their society and their culture.

Erwin James also spoke about how books changed the way he thought about life. Prison enabled his immediate physical needs to be met fully for the first time in his life but again it was reading that enabled him to become human: to find a way to participate in society through culture. He spoke of how a single story brought wonder into his world and gave him the ambition to find “a good way to live”. He began to read, then write, then learn. Prison was for him a community resource that brought him peace, optimism and hope.

Libraries are refuges but they don’t just make communities when times are tough they co-create communities every day in small ways for all citizens. They use knowledge exchange and creation as social acts of conversation. As Lankes says “we bridge ideas into our environments”. We help people learn whether that is for their hobby, for work, for pure joy and wonder, of democracy. Librarians are people who collect resources and provide guidance that help people to learn and these resources increasingly cover digital and material technologies, such as those used in maker spaces, as well as books.

Libraries embody their communities: the people who provide and the people use them. Libraries are inherently political: they are by and of the people. Our job is to make them for everyone and defend them in a tough world.

This is not easy. Librarians, like others, are faced by “wicked problems”. Andrew Cox described these are complex, unfamiliar, stressful situations where the way forward isn’t clear. The problem is linked to other problems, there are numerous intervention points and numerous constrains and it is not clear that the situation is “solvable” by any one group. Cox used the example of Research Data Management (RDM) as an area lacking in information, agreement and relying on too many assumptions. Navigating these complex issues requires flexibility, enterprise, collaboration and courage and we must move forward with positive deviance, constructive dissent, empathy and collective intelligence. Most of all be a community of fate who stand together, but not a fatalist community: crisis narrative does us no favours.

Advocacy

We do not live in a neutral world and so we have advocacy: the practice of influencing decisions and changing society. Doubt is an interesting episode of The Good Wife about advocacy and using evidence not just establish the truth of things but to make that truth sing louder than any alternative.

“The problem is it’s not a good story, it’s just a freak accident, there are no villains.”

“But if it’s true?”

“But it doesn’t sound true. The prosecution’s story sounds like the truth.”

Doubt depicts informed democracy in action as a jury deliberates a seemingly open and shut case. As the episode unfolds small sections of the case are revealed in flashback fragmenting the picture and revealing competing versions of the truth. It also argues presenting the most factual version of events is not enough especially as the truth doesn’t always sound true in the face of competing narratives that offer better stories. At the end of the story the jury don’t have reasonable doubt, they have “reasonable ignorance”.

CILIP 2015 was also a story about advocacy. Many times throughout the conference, sessions urged us not to leave the senior managers and politicians who make decisions about library services in “reasonable ignorance” about the work librarians do and the value this brings to the communities they serve. Cory Doctorow told us obscurity can be dangerous and damaging.

In competitive and constrained times we cannot assume that the value of the services we deliver and love is self-evident to those who make decisions that govern the existence of those services.

Hence, the video Wigan Library Services created that summarised their contribution to their communities and council goals just over 5 minutes. The music and imagery helps transform statistics into a more powerful and eye catching narrative. It was placed in front of their chief executive and has now been seen by the entire senior management team.

We also cannot assume that times will get easier: we will always be in competition with something and there will always be challenges to face. There was some disagreement, however, on what we are competing with. Ken Chad identified choice as a key competitive forces with Google, Amazon and electronic subscription libraries like Epic! (for children) and Safari (for professionals) providing alternative library services target at specific groups.

R. David Lankes held a different view arguing that Amazon, Apple and Google are not in the advertising and consumer goods business, not the information business. His position is that libraries are in competition with the other services competing for the same public resources. Stuart Hamilton offered some suggestions on where this competition may come from. IFLA have been a partner in the development of a new set of UN Sustainable Development Goals and there will shortly be a UK Sustainable Development Plan. Demonstrating how you help the UK meet these goals will increasingly justify the funding and relevance of libraries in the post-2015 information environment. For non-public libraries your organisation’s strategy provides a similar guide to relevance.

All arguments are not created equal and we heard from Full Fact about their work as independent fact checkers sifting out information you can rely on from the misinformation. They check claims made in political arguments so we are not forced to choose between “blind faith and blind cynicism” in public discourse. Their experience showed that expertise matters and it’s possible to make fact checking systematic and impartial. Again their message was that doing their work, even communicating their work was not enough. Their third team is their monitoring team. Communication enables expertise to be vocal but monitoring of trends and issues enables it to have relevance. As information expands, attention decreases.

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Quotations on the wall in Liverpool Central Library

Whilst we must tell our story it must appropriate the language and aspirations of those we are addressing in order to be heard. For libraries to survive amidst this cacophony of competing commercial and public forces our stories don’t just have to be good, they also have to be targeted and relevant. For all the new technologies and trends we need to matter, communication and making a persuasive case are still crucial core skills.

The sum of these arguments is to suggest that librarians need to turn up, be present, go to meetings, and should be more assertive in owning the narrative around what they do and more ready to engage in the selling of that narrative to others.

We have to fill the narrative vacuum around the profession with the vibrancy, vitality and variety of ways communities use libraries. This will enable us to dismiss lazy assumptions, demonstrate value and go beyond measuring access to information towards explaining the impact that access, and its removal, has on our communities in order to ensure the “integrity, preservation and provision” of information as demanded in the Lyon Declaration.

Freedom

If some narratives can be reconciled, then others must be resisted and the erosion of civil liberties is one of them. The conference underlined our profession’s commitment to:

  • learning
  • openness
  • intellectual freedom and safety

but also noted that sometimes these clash and striking the right balance is difficult. In particular tension is encouraging access and openness whilst ensuring privacy and respecting creativity.

hract
Liberty is campaigning to save the Human Rights Act

Cory Doctorow talked about the unintended consequences of Digital Rights Management (DRM). As a security process this has done nothing to prevent piracy but prevents us exposing and fixing vulnerabilities in software. It has crippled creativity and criminalised scrutiny and eroded the negotiating power of artists without doing anything to protect digital rights.

Shami Chakrabarti moved the discussion to the broader context of universal human rights and how the political and ethical debate is lagging behind advances in technology. Even as we want to be free it is important to that freedom not to totally abandon privacy. At the very least there should be public debate on the ethics of surveilling entire populations because of the dangerous acts of a few.

Open data promises to provide people with greater freedom of information, but it also threatens ever-deepening surveillance. The amount of data held in our smartphones is significant, even scary. These devices empower and enable daily but they also have the potential to be compromised and used as “digital pathogens” against us. Using this data ethically and appropriately and participating in debates about who should be able to scrutinise these data and devices relies on literacy. Expanding our literacy to encompass big data is a challenge for librarians not just citizens and Virginia Power talked about the increasing demand for digital preservation, information governance and statistical and analytical skills along with some handy resources to provide support if “this data world is scaring you witless”.

In many respects the arguments about freedom were not about being able to do or say anything but being able to fairly and openly scrutinise the systems in which we exist and that govern us: whether these be political systems or software. Freedom will never be absolute but will be constrained and qualified but our freedom is certainly curtailed when we are not able to subject the actions of others to scrutiny or we are excluded from debates.

A functioning democracy needs to be an informed democracy: we need open, reliable and relevant evidence, persuasive advocates and literacy if we are to sustain our ability and our right to make sense of our society, invent and innovate, change the world, be human and be free.

This means, more than ever, we need librarians.

Session Notes

Pause for Breath

It has been a while since I blogged.  The great folks at #citylis have been keeping us busy recently.  Four assignments and a dissertation proposal were the end products for Term 2.  I’ve compiled a resource guide for early career Business Analysts that I’m hoping to bring to the web over the summer; written about the CIDOC CRM, a conceptual reference model for cultural heritage information; completed an information retrieval evaluation of popular online, web and social search engines (plus a bonus comparison evaluation of new human powered search engine WonderLib); created my first ever data visualisation on Women in Parliament since 1918 (a hot topic when female representation reach a new high point of 30% in the recent election); and submitted the proposal for my dissertation research on information behaviour in athletes.

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As usual I was calmly watched over through the many hours sat at my desk whether in focus or frustration by my trusty study buddy Soros the wise, inscrutable philosopher cat.  It didn’t make it any easy to do the work knowing he was dying.  A few weeks ago we took him to the vet and he was diagnosed with a large, tumour in his intestines leaking lymphatic fluid into his lungs.  It was highly unlikely he would survive any attempt to remove it and it soon became apparent after a couple of attempts at draining the fluid from his chest that it was leaking faster than we could treat it.  So we settled for a few more weeks of palliative care.  It’s never easy to make a life and death decision about another creature, especially when they are so stoic and refuse to give in easily to the fact they can no longer breathe.  He got to enjoy some last few days of spring sunshine in love and comfort and I got to enjoy his patient calm by my side until I met my deadlines.  Then he deteriorated quickly and we had to let him go before his suffering became too great.

Thanks to all those who provided support and kind words.  Fortunately the weather gods smiled so I was able to recover by sitting quietly out in the garden in the peaceful warmth of spring sunshine for most of the weekend feeling exhausted and sad but enjoying the clouds and the bright new leaves against a gloriously blue sky.

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Now, it’s time to contemplate and prepare for Term 3.  This means waiting for marks from the submitted assignments and hoping to pass the teaching component of the course and getting the dissertation proposal approved.  Then it will be working on the dissertation itself along with looking for a job or a project to move onto in October.  In the meantime there are some overflowing email inboxes to read, news feeds to catch up on, Evernote clippings to organise and file, list of blog ideas to get around to writing and a large pile of books to read on my desk that never seems to go down below a certain level.

My other two cats have been auditioning to fill the study buddy void in my life but so far they’ve been a little too needy, loud and in your face than the sanguine, quietly purring companion I’m used to.

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#citylis have also been busy building their presence on social media.  There is now a #citylis news blog to follow full of updates about the library and information science programmes at City.  There’s also a dedicated citylis Twitter account to follow in addition the familiar #citylis hashtag for tweets from faculty, current students, alumni and our guests and contributors.  If you are interested in studying library or information science you may also like to know the next City Postgraduate Open Evening is on Wednesday 10th June from 5.30pm and there is still time to apply for research studentships.  You can also read the thoughts of course director Lyn Robinson on recent debates in LIS curricula and keeping #citylis at the cutting edge of library and information science education. Finally, City will be hosting the latest in the Mashed Library series of unconferences.  #citymash will take place on Saturday 13th June (10:00 – 17:00) and is a “day of workshops and conversation for people interested in doing fun stuff involving libraries and technology.”  It is free but requires registration and anyone with an interest in libraries and tech is welcome to join in. It is a busy but stimulating time for all of us on planet #citylis!

MARC’d This Week

ICYMI: Things I’ve found worth mentioning, amplifying, reading and collecting from the last few days.

Last Tuesday I followed JISC Digital Festival 2015 remotely thanks to Twitter and the live streaming of keynotes and selected sessions.  It’s not a complete experience but a good way to at least partially enjoy a conference when you have a cold, a twisted ankle and a student budget.  I particularly enjoyed the keynote by Professor Carole Goble on e-Science and research publication (brief notes | slides | recording).

Having discovered the Encyclopaedia of Life last week, this week I was introduced to the Biodiversity Heritage Library, which provides the literature component of the EOL, thanks to a talk in the Big Data and the Dark Arts session.

Interesting article ‘Bits and Pieces of Information: Bibliographic Modeling of Transmedia’ by Ana Vukadin in Cataloging & Classification Quarterly (DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01639374.2013.879976) looks at how FRBR or FRBRoo (an attempt to harmonise FRBR with CIDOC CRM) can be used to catalogue narratives that span multiple media platforms.

It is an approach to multi-part works that might also help cataloguing the multi-various Research Objects mentioned in Carole Goble’s keynote though, there is alread a ro ontology.

This week’s exciting conference was User Experience in Libraries (#UXLibs), a library-focused event on delivering great services to users. Whilst it was possible to follow remotely this was a conference intended for attending. The format of a keynote then practical team sessions followed by a Q&A wrap-up each day looked like a really interesting active conference format: rethinking the conference experience, not just the library.

Paper Knowledge: Towards a Media History of Documents / Lisa Gitelman

 

Paper Knowledge: Towards a Media History of Documents / Lisa Gitelman.
ISBN: 9780822356578

An interesting study of the near history of documents (last 150 years) examined through 4 ‘episodes’, printing blanks (early 20th century), typography (1930s), xeroxing (1970s) and portable document format (1990s) plus an afterword on zines along with discussion of some socio-cultural environments such as the emergence of office bureaucracy, the place of the author and the amateur and the long-standing and ongoing debates around scholarly communication as well as revisiting the less self-evident than it seems documentalist question What is a Document?

This was an intriguing media history approach to the topic of documents. I would recommend it not just to those with an interest in media or history but to librarians and information scientists who are interested in seeing the history of documents from the perspective of another discipline. It is a short book but not necessarily a quick and easy read. It requires a clear head and close reading to fully appreciate but there are some thoughtful ideas in here. I really liked the ongoing discussion of fixity and fluidity and document as genre. I also liked how Gitelman critiqued ideas of print and print culture and pointed instead to the Raymond Williams framework of dominant, emergent and residual media and also processes of remediation as part of a diverse scriptural economy rather than one split into distinct eras. The faint suggestion of a metadata pre-history in blank pro forma was intriguing and the chapter on typescript was also a study of earlier contexts and debates on research methods and scholarly publishing that provide connections and counterpoints to current scholarly precoccupations.

At times, however, I found the tightly wrapped combination of history and theory a little too dense and intricate to follow the thread of the narrative or argument clearly. Sometimes it felt like too much effort was required to tease out an idea than the point was eventually worth. I also enjoyed the introduction and earlier chapters more than the later chapters. Perhaps this is because as Gitelman acknowledges it becomes harder to find outstanding exemplars, particular for the PDF chapter. The strength of the first chapters lies in the more detailed analysis of anecdotes, examples and evidence that anchors the theory. In later chapters, with less solid case studies, the theory tends towards generalisations, exemplified only briefly. It lost the macroscopic quality of the earlier episodes that skilfully wrapped big questions in small examples and so I felt the PDF chapter fell slightly short in its task of exploring what distinguishes a digital document.

MARC’d This Week

ICYMI: Things I’ve found worth mentioning, amplifying, reading and collecting from the last few days.

The Guardian takes Poll Data Visualisation to A New Level with its Election 2015 Poll Projection.

Inquiring Minds Podcast Episode 75 with Kevin Kelly – What Technology Wants. I blogged in more detail about how interesting this was.

I came to The Encyclopaedia of Life via Kevin Kelly’s website and a former project of his to catalogue and identify every living species on earth by giving it its own web page. This led to me to The Global Names Architecture (GNA) for connection biological information.

Also via Kevin Kelly, The Quantified Self a blog all about self knowledge through numbers and Wink: remarkable books that belong on paper.

The Museum of Modern Art exhibition page Access to Tools: Publications from the Whole Earth Catalog, 1968-1974

On our #citylis #infodomains theme of Healthcare information I added The Wellness Syndrome / Carl Cederström and André Spicer published by Polity examining the modern ideology of wellness to my want to read list.

Combining the Quantified Self and Healthcare Information I read this intriguing article on building your own pancreas. It uses data from internet of things (IoT) type devices with a hacker mentality to create new, and social systems, for monitoring and medicating diabetes. There is an interesting point made about “data and free speech” but the potential legal grey area of DIY code and healthcare regulation.

This little video, also from the Quantified Self blog, is about time tracking. Greg Kroleski talks about 6 years spent tracking his time. The methodology (one week every quarter in a spreadsheet) and visualisation (mostly graphs) are not that unusual but as well as the raw data what I found interesting was the ‘taxonomy of time’ he developed to categories his activities and the difficulties of categorising.

Interesting post on Visualising Data on the use of pink and blue, or not, for gendered visualisation. Potentially relevant to a project I’m thinking of working on for my #dataviz assignment.

Interesting post by Sara M. Watson in DIS Magazine on metaphors used to describe big data. they have a current issue all about data which provides a critical look at “the datalogical turn” since 1948:

“Since World War II, information theory has had many offspring, all of which share fundamental traits: that the composition of information must be binary, and thus digital, compressible, reversible, predictable, scalable, and measurable. What has been most urgent as of late is the development of critical theoretical positions that follow the spread of such platforms over society at large. Subjects are not just actors in a network, but also network architects themselves, both supplicator and designer in an increasingly automated sociality.” – Marvin Jordan and Mike Pepi

Rob Kitchin’s article on Continuous Geosurveillance in the “Smart City” is worth a read anyway but even more so for the striking original artwork by Mark Dorf.

#citylisters love the History of Documents so they might be interested in this history of big data by Bernard Marr.

Great visualisation by Allison McCann on women’s sports data. Ok tongue in cheek there, but it demonstrates how second class women’s sport still is.

Meanwhile the Washington Post highlight a debate between the US and The Netherlands over marijuana usage featuring what they describe as a “passive aggressive infographic”. Remember folks information may be beautiful but it’s not always neutral!

For International Women’s Day (8th March) the Economist has an interactive visualisation the best place in the world to be a working women.

Inquiring Minds:Joining Dots

There have been a number of times this year that a #citylis lecture has subsequent exposed connections in a way I’ve found uncanny. A sure sign that the course is opening my mind and encouraging me to pay attention. Coincidences are just connections I wouldn’t have noticed without being receptive to them.

This week’s connections were provided by the Inquiring Minds podcast a weekly show I would encourage you to subscribe to if you are at all interested in intersections of science, society and the world around us.

On a sunny spring afternoon I had about an hour’s walk home in front of me so I listened to Episode 75: Kevin Kelly: What Technology Wants (the ‘fact’ that sunny days and fresh air help you think better is only proven by my own anecdata!).

Connecting Healthcare Information

In the slot before the main feature co-hosts Kishore Hari and Indre Viskontas discussed the, possibly tangled and dark, connections between celebrity, disorders, medication and public awareness campaigns. This touched on many of this issues we discussed in our Information Domains lecture last week on Healthcare information with another session of Pharmaceutical information to come.

“We have to be a little more vigilant about how we as a society are promoting a particular disease” – Indre Viskontas

Inquiring Minds hope to have a follow up on this story. In the meantime other episodes to catch up on that connect with this theme are: Episode 74 featuring Kathleen Hall Jamieson on Fact Checking Science, Episode 36 featuring Harry Collins on Why Googling Doesn’t Make You a Scientific Expert, Episode 17 featuring Michael Pollan on The Science of Eating Well (And Not Falling for Fad Diets) and Episode 7 featuring George Johnson on Why Mostt of What You’ve Heard About Cancer is Wrong.

Also not coincidentally when I walked into my local public library outpost on Saturday the first book my eye was drawn to was Bad Pharma: How Medicine is Broken, And How We Can Fix It by Ben Goldacre.

Self Ordering

Another pre-feature chat concerned the MIT Self-Assembly Lab who have made a chair assemble itself in water.

Their research looks at how things can make themselves.

“Self-Assembly is a process by which disordered parts build an ordered structure through local interaction.” – MIT Self-Assembly Lab

This is more than a little bit mind expanding. They are researching the “building blocks. energy and interactions” for self-making things.

Now, when we studied entropy we looked at how ordered structures consisting of many independent parts tended to disorder. The self-assembly lab look at creating materials that can create order from disorder pieces: shifting from high to low entropy.

One of the questions this poses is do information technologies such as the Semantic Web and machine learning suggest a similar ability to self-order information resources? If so, what is the role and purpose of information professionals?

Kevin Kelly on Cataloguing Cool Tools, Surveillance and Technology as a Force

It is hard to describe the career and work of Kevin Kelly. So I’ll just borrow from Tim Adams who says it well in this 2010 article:

Kevin Kelly is a former editor of the Whole Earth Catalog and co-founder of Wired magazine, where he remains editor-at-large. He has been an irrepressible prophet of our digital future for 40 years.

It’s also hard to cover the eclectic mind swirl and surfing journey the ideas tumbling out of this podcast took me on.

Access to Tools

Let’s start with the Whole Earth Catalog, again pretty coincidentally given that during Reading Week some of us were participating in an optional workshop on cataloguing using RDA and MARC21.

Where Librarians catalogue books and documents the Whole Earth Catalog collected … well bits of information about everything. Often these were tools, tools being an infinitely malleable term. The Catalog was sub-titled “access to tools” and books were just one example in the broad taxonomy of tools they catalogued.

“”Tools” were endless and whatever users and staff deemed them to be. They could be actual tools for everything from jewelry work and enameling to woodworking and blacksmithing. Other tools were books of every type – from views of the future to death and dying to gravity and time to population control; maps; and how-to guides for everything from living in a tipi to building a pipe organ to using a compass.” – Whole Earth Catalog

Rising out of late 1960s counterculture, perhaps Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog should be linked to that emergent history of the web that threads through Paul Otlet’s Universal Bibliography, Vannevar Bush’s Memex, Ted Nelson’s Hypertext to Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web? It has been described as a cross between an early search engine and social medium published in zine form.

“With a seemingly haphazard arrangement of information within its categories, the CATALOG was the desktop-published equivalent an early search engine that invited readers to learn something new on every page – and to connect unrelated ideas and concepts.” – Whole Earth Catalog

Kevin Kelly described working on the whole Earth Catalog as:

“living on the web decades before the internet was born” – Kevin Kelly

For more information on and material from the Whole Earth Catalog and its culture the Museum of Modern Art has an exhibition page called Access to Tools: Publications from the Whole Earth Catalog, 1968-1974. The cuttings from the Catalog that accompany the bibliography at the end should be of interested to #citylis folks!

There is also a recording on YouTube of From Counterculture to Cyberculture: The Legacy of the Whole Earth Catalog held by Stanford University Libraries that discusses much of the content from Fred Turner’s book From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism

Kevin Kelly was an editor of Whole Earth Review (features including Computers are Poison and Peering into the Age of Transparency) before being part of the team that launched Wired. Two connective threads connecting this eclectic mix of ecology, technology and creativity (you may like to read Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems and the Economic World) are the desire to catalogue tools and the idea of technology as a kind of natural force.

Kelly still catalogues tools via Cool Tools. Every weekday this blog publishes and article about tools that work and has collated 1200 of the best of them into a book that is subtitled “A Catalog of Possibilities” … which perhaps sums up a reason for being of many catalogues.

Surveillance, Tracking and Technology as Force

Kelly also talks about the Internet, tracking and surveillance. He thinks that it’s not going to be possible to stop the internet tracking us. He sees technology as an evolutionary force. this doesn’t necessarily mean that it is deterministic but once systems evolve they neither fully control nor are fully controlled by the humans that originally innovated and introduced them into our systems and ecosystems. They are relentless in their adaptability and mutation.

The Internet is a force that tracks. In some ways resistance is futile. It’s going to be increasingly difficult to live off the grid or to use the Internet and benefit from it without accepting its trackable element. Instead of resistance, Kelly argues that we should accept this property of and figure out how to make it more beneficial than malevolent or malicious and how to work to ensure its multifarious and reciprocal. Tracking is not going to go away but it can also still be negotiated and contested.

Kelly raises the spectre of our looming identity crisis as we increasingly ask “What will humans be?” as we create forms of intelligence and self-creating machines that potentially seriously disrupt our place in the world and our ongoing development as a species.