Monday, May 15, 2006

A good week for books in the NYT

The New York Times Sunday magazine ran an interesting article this week on the issues of digitizing texts and the rather grand idea of creating a new electronic equivalent of the Library of Alexandria. Perhaps even more interesting is that while the article's author, Kevin Kelly, cites Wikipedia as one of the great examples of the potential of broad, hyperlinked digital text, Wikipedia's article on the Library of Alexandria is a great example of some its problems. (See the talk page for specifics.)

Writing has always been a political action, even when it isn't. It is ridiculous to argue that an individual can lack a point of view. Any article on any subject in any given Encyclopaedia Britannica may contain errors and misrepresentations, intentionally or not. This is the eternal danger of the historical record and any sort of scholarship in the humanities. However, the open-source nature of Wikipedia has nurtured a new phenomenon, which I will call the electronic filibuster. Now anyone with a strong enough objection to a particular piece of information can immediately edit or remove it, and while Wikipedia maintains an archive of previous versions of an article, trying to recover information from that archive can be as challenging as digging through any uncataloged pile of dusty books, and in this particular case, the article on the Library of Alexandria has evolved into nothing more than a description of the disputes over the library's destruction. While one would hope that the discussion of an article would shape the finished piece, this discussion seems to have led to the exclusion of all other information on the library.

I have a great deal of sensitivity to slander, libel, and malicious misrepresentation, but would we be better off if the Protocols of the Elders of Zion had never been published? As evil as that book may be, would preventing its publication have eliminated anti-semitism?

Personally, I don't believe in burning books, or in running magnets over hard drives.

(Oh yeah, there's also a piece on the "Best Work of American Fiction of the Last 25 Years". Apparently it's Beloved by Toni Morrison, although I'd love to hear other opinions.)

1 comment:

Meg said...

White Noise.

That's all I have to say.