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.
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’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.