David Weinberger's "Everything is Miscellaneous" is the kind of book that binds together innumerable miscellaneous
threads and makes something new, coherent, and incontrovertible out of them. Weinberger's thesis is this: historically, we've divided the world into categories, topics, and hierarchies because physical objects need to be in one place or another, they can't be in all the places they might belong. Computers and the Internet turn this on its head: because a computer can "put things" in as many categories as they need to be in, because individuals can classify knowledge, tasks, and objects idiosyncratically, the hierarchy is revealed for what it always was, a convenient expedient masquerading as the True Shape of the Universe.
It's a powerful idea: from org charts to science, from music to retail theory, from government to education, every field of human endeavor is tinged with hierarchy, and every hierarchy is under assault from the Internet. One impact of this change is that it reveals the biases lurking underneath the editorial carvery of our systems. From the Dewey Decimal system's laughable clunkers (mentalist bunkum gets its own category, but Islam has to share a decimal with a couple competing "Eastern" faiths) to the Britannica's paring away at "old" biographies to make way for the new, Weinberger makes a compelling case for a new kind of knowledge that more faithfully represents the messy, glorious hairball of the real world.
This celebration of hairiness is just the tonic for the fights being waged today over whether bloggers are real journalists, whether Wikipedia is a real encyclopedia, even whether chaotic guerrilla armies are real armies or mere "enemy combatants." Weinberger shows that Internet messiness has a special quality that distinguishes it from meatspace mess. On the Internet, messiness can be used to make sense of the world: Flickr tags can be grouped (people lump "rome" and "italy" together, so they must be related) with other characteristics ("lots of people call this picture their favorite") and combined with search terms ("more people search for "italy" than "itayl," so the latter is probably a typo) and the most interesting pictures of Rome, Italy can be automatically surfaced, thanks to all the messy, uncoordinated, unchecked, unintentional meaning that the Internet's users infuse its pages with.
Everything is Miscellaneous is the latest inspiration from Weinberger, whose Small Pieces, Loosely Joined and Cluetrain Manifesto were important contributions to our understanding of the Internet. Weinberger's conversational style, excellent examples, and extensive legwork (the places he visits and people he interviews can best be described as wonderfully miscellaneous) give this the hallmarks of an instant classic. And unlike many business/tech books, whose simple thesis could be stated in a single New Yorker article, but which are nevertheless expanded to book-length for commercial reasons, every chapter in Everything is Miscellaneous brings new insight to the subject. This is a hell of a book.
See also: Cory interviewed by David Weinberger about metadata
Where are our petabyte drives? Brian Hayes takes us through the reasons storage is “stuck” in the low terabytes. The tl;dr is that we got such exceptional capacity growth in the late 90s and early 00s we don’t need much more right now, so the focus since then has been on SSDs, networking, interfaces, etc, […]
Amélie Lamont, a former staffer at website-hosting startup Squarespace, writes that she often found herself disregarded and disrespected by her colleagues. One comment in particular, though, set her reeling — and came to exemplify her experiences there.
In this episode of the Flash Forward podcast we travel to a future where humans have decided to eradicate the most dangerous animal on the planet: mosquitos. How would we do it? Is it even possible? And what are the consequences? Flash Forward: RSS | iTunes | Twitter | Facebook | Web | Patreon We […]
Some truths are universal. For one, your phone will always run out of power when you most need it. For another, the charging cords that come packaged with your Apple device will fray, split, and rip faster than Usain Bolt in a game of tag.Instead, pick up a charging cord that anyone would have a tough […]
Some people say magic tricks are nerdy and best left to your 12-year-old asthmatic cousin. But others see value in perfecting the slight of hand and showmanship associated with a perfectly executed routine. We’re firmly in the latter camp. And now, we’re giving you the ability to put a few parlor tricks up your sleeve with the Penguin […]
Bluetooth speakers may be convenient to use, but many of them just aren’t that powerful. Sure, it may be fine if you’re seated in front of the speaker. But move across the room, and you may strain to hear what’s coming from those tiny drivers.There’s a reason why the G-BOOM Wireless Bluetooth Boombox (now $79.99 in the Boing […]