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The full quote is actually “the world is the size of a conference room now” as spoken by Robert Scoble, whose recent presentation is up on Stealthmode. I will warn you – the video of his presentation is almost an hour long, but only parts of it need to be seen. The rest can be absorbed through the audio, so you can simply play it in the background while you’re working (as I did this morning). I found the video through a link on Robert’s blog post about reading, which – combined with the video of how he uses Google Reader – addresses one of the things I’ve been wondering about for a while now: information absorption. Maybe that’s not a good phrase. Specifically, I want to know how to select, filter and keep all the (relevant!) information out there in some sort of useful form.
Or maybe the appeal of RSS readers and the like is even simpler than that – maybe we’re all just trying to stay in the loop. As an “information professional” it’s hard to know which loop or loops to stay in; the organization of information is only one aspect of what we (librarians) do. The content of that information is another issue altogether. I know several fellow students in my library program who were drawn to the degree because it was the closest they could get to a sort of Renaissance-Scholar education … meaning, we want to be well-versed in a lot of different areas because we see the overarching connections between all these fields. When you learn a classification scheme, you get the chance to learn a little about everything from political science to theology to literature to astronomy. Granted, we’re only learning enough about these other fields to sort it out into some sort of ordered schema of human knowledge, but that’s a start. Sometimes, though, I do feel like this classification side gets in the way of the content side.
I’ve mentioned my interests in metafiction and metadata. Today I get to spend eight hours learning about a metalanguage. I think I’m in love. I’ve been waiting/looking for a link between my information science pursuits and my linguistic passions; what do I find but the idea of languages describing languages. Yes, I realize that sounds redundant, but it’s not what you might think. A metalanguage is the very thing that brings out meaning from any text – imagine a novel, even a short 200-pager, without any descriptors like “chapter x” or “introduction” – imagine all 200 pages running together without any indication of where the text starts and the forwards end. Better yet, imagine reading a play without any indication of scene breaks, acts, or any information but the dialogue itself. Strip away all the stage directions and you would have an example of content without structure, or – a language without its metalanguage. (Note: I’m the first to admit that I’m new to this stuff, so if anyone has a better example or a correction, please fire away in the comments.)
Imagine, if you will, that this blog post is an eloquent exploration of any of the following topics… because that’s exactly what this blog post would be if I had the time and concentration to write about all the thoughts that have been buzzing through my head over the last few weeks:
– the library obsession with patron confidentiality when patrons are giving away their personal information-seeking info to everyone under the sun… in fact, they apparently want to be tracked and pegged so that information-providers can make more recommendations, match them with more networks, and predict their next Christmast list. Is patron confidentiality old hat?
– wanting very much to have my own personal information-seeking info completely removed from the eyes and hands of all companies everywhere. Especially after seeing this show and having the MC tell us all where we stand in the socioeconomic scheme of things according to the credit cards we used to buy tickets.
– looking at all the “calls for participation” coming from 2007 conferences and wondering which ones to choose, what to present if I do, how many to aim for, and how do people get accepted to all these conferenes anyway?
– realizing this week (in a very “duh” way, not a lightbulb way) that despite my hope of researching emerging languages on the internet, it is actually impossible – that’s right, I said impossible – for any website to be free of English. It’s in the CODE! All the code! English! cellpadding, stylesheet, metaname, font family… that’s all in the code of just about any webpage you see and it’s all in English. I feel dumb for not thinking about it before and I feel like a jerk for being an English speaker. I’d rather have a comfortable distance from the gorilla language taking over everything. Be fluent, yes, but at least think in something else. Ugh. It’s disgusting. English is so corrosive.
– Thinking about classes for next semester and into next year. There’s a fellowship I could apply for that would cover a big chunk of tuition if I’m learning one of the 20 “minor” languages listed in the application. Some of my favorites in the list are Arabic, Korean, Hindi, and Portuguese. Arabic and Portuguese are also considered two of the fastest growing languages online, but I can’t find a true reliable source on that. Korean, on the other hand, is also growing strong in the technology sector. But what I really like about most of these languages is that they would require learning a whole new writing system. If you need to be humbled, pick up a book in a language you can’t read – as in, can’t even make out letters – and experience the feeling of illiteracy again. So many of us take our reading skills for granted. Learning a new language is a great way to get a culture shock when you can’t go anywhere. But I still need to choose one.
– CSS. I’m building web pages at both of my jobs. I tried to simply convert pieces of the old web pages (in really bad HTML) over to cleaned-up pages with a style sheet. To anyone out there considering this route… don’t do that to yourself. It’s too frustrating and time-consuming. I think you’re better off just starting from scratch. Nevertheless, this experience is also like learning a new language. I’m brand new to CSS, picking it up off of web sites and random snippets from O’Reilly books. I like it… but without full creative license, experimenting with it can be a real pain.
– last but not least … we’ve been talking about metadata standards in one of my library classes – MARC, FRBR, Dublin Core, you name it. And the ideal behind so many library initiatives like Library of Congress and OCLC – one-stop cataloging. A book gets cataloged once, perfectly, and then all other libraries can just copy that record. But I don’t really see libraries doing that. Have you looked in OCLC? Seen how many multiple copies there can be for the same item? I think libraries should leave the cataloging of the popular big-publisher-house items to Amazon and focus on all the grey literature out there. Millions and millions of pieces of info that aren’t recorded anywhere. Small non-profit newsletters, independent books, limited-circulation journals from developing countries, reports from NGOs… that’s where our attention should be. All those things that fall through the cracks. People don’t need our help finding Harry Potter. Anybody can find Harry Potter. They need our help finding that one CD produced by that struggling artist who plays the saxophone in a subway. Or the sculptor whose only commissions have been tucked away in the lobbies of high-rise office buildings and only the employees see them. In this age, we have to be a different kind of guardian. Where are the mavericks?
Playin’ the Free Association game…… or whatever you call that, when one person says a word and the other person immediately answers with the first word they think of. There have been several times (tonight most recently) when I’ve had the Tom Waits’ song “Martha” stuck in my head and almost simultaneously followed it with thoughts of Charles Bukowski and U2. Humor me along a little trip…
Let’s start with “Martha” …for some reason I hear this song and like to imagine that it’s based on some poem called “Days of Wine and Roses” by Bukowski, except that I don’t think he ever wrote such a poem. But I know that other singers have used his lines as lyrics – take, for example, the U2 number “Dirty Day” with the fading lines straight from a Bukowski title.
So of course I turn to everyone’s favorite search engine and do a search on “Days of Wine and Roses” plus “Bukowski”… what should I find but an interview with Matt Dillon talking about his latest role – as Bukowski – and (whoa, get this) comparing his film to the film (drumroll) “Days of Wine and Roses” – !! Mind you, I have not seen or heard of either film up until the discovery of said interview. The “Days” movie turns out to be a movie about alcoholics, thus the sad connection to Bukowski.
But it doesn’t stop there! The title of the movie – “Days of Wine and Roses” – IS based on a poem!!
Not a Bukowski poem… predates him by over fifty years, actually. Lovely anyway.
VITAE SUMMA BREVIS SPEM NOS VETAT INCOHARE LONGAM,
(The brevity of life forbids us to entertain hopes of long duration.)
by Ernest Dowson, 1896
They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate;
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate. –
They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream. – –
“Martha” by Tom Waits
” Those were days of roses,
of poetry and prose and
Martha, all you had was me
and I all I had was you.
There were no tomorrows,
we packed away our sorrows
and saved them for a rainy day.”
Oh, and found this, too, while searching (something about the words “wine” and “roses” seems to draw them together over and over):
‘Drink wine… This is life eternal… This is all that youth will give you… It is the season for wine, roses and drunken friends… Be happy for this moment… This moment is your life.’
From: sixty-nine stanzas by Omar Khayyam
adapted, altered, and otherwise rearranged
for musical accompaniment
by Len Bracken
Technology Evangelist. Yes, that’s right, there is a job opening right now for a Technology Evangelist. I will be so disappointed if this doesn’t show up in a song on the next U2 album.
The details: George Mason University’s Center for History & New Media is hiring a Technology Evangelist for their new “open source bibliographic management and note-taking tool” called Zotero – a nifty Firefox plug-in still in private beta. Everything about this job is just so COOL! Can you imagine having that on your business card? Technology Evangelist? And the job really is all about spreading the word – getting people to try out this Zotero, a “scholar’s tool” for grabbing and annotating citations off the web. Heck, I wish I wish I could try it *now*. And here’s the blurb about the Center itself:
“Since 1994, the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University has used digital media and computer technology to democratize history—to incorporate multiple voices, reach diverse audiences, and encourage popular participation in presenting and preserving the past.”
Ach, I hope there are jobs like this available when I’m done here. Note to self: take more XML classes.
Postscript: I am transfixed by their use of “evangelist” so I looked up the word in the OED. The first four definitions all have to do with the gospels, the last of which is specifically for “an itinerant preacher having no fixed pastoral charge.” In 1993, the word took on an additional definition of “a zealous advocate of a cause or promulgator of a doctrine” after being used to describe the relationships of Rousseau to the French Revolution and of John Cleese to shop assistants everywhere. How exiting and scary – that a company somehwere actually wants “zealous” people again. A new trend or an anomaly? The trouble with zealousness is having that complementary counteracting extreme to deal with, too.
23 August 2006 8:30pm
I’ve been reading the preface to Elaine Svenonious’ The Intellectual Foundation of Information – that last book that I thought would be my introduction textbook, was not. This is. No silliness about “information packages” here. A bare 198 pages, but she packs a punch. In fact, Elaine has already punched me before I’ve even made it to the first chapter:
p. xiii “… metadata that are derived and metadata that are assigned: the former provide the means to find information, and the latter provide the normalization required to organize it.”
This simple statement combined with a lot of thinking lately about folksonomies and the way some folks are wonderfully organized with their tagging, and I realized that the metadata assigned are the very puzzle pieces being thrown out by today’s up and coming information users. The internet-bred population strongly disagrees with / doesn’t relate to the traditional metadata assignments “required to organize” the information and so now we have an internet in utter chaos with open-ended structures like Wikipedia, tagging, open-source software, and our information discovery comes through social networking rather than institutionalized subject terms.
Or, perhaps, another way to see the change is to say that now everyone is taking it upon themselves to assign metadata, but only in so far as they can organize it for their own purposes … personalized, contexual metadata rather than broad, generic concepts. And this is where the social networking element became a necessary partner – without the institutionalized standards, these personalized tags can be all over the map for the same piece of information. But by comparing your tags with others who use similar tags, you have a new filtering method that uses social context rather than subject indexing. It’s all developing this way for a reason – the personalized tagging hand-in-hand with the networking – they require each other in order to even come close to replacing traditional assigned metadata. And deep down inside, I believe they will. Before reading the above quote from Elaine, I only saw tagging as the new information organization method … but thinking of tagging in terms of folksonomies makes more sense … the possibilities (both bad and good)!