Sunday, January 21, 2007

Swimming in the sea of irrelevance

There's an excellent article in the Times Online today about Google's continuing efforts to digitise everything it can lay it's hands on, including the content of libraries. It contains a warning.
"Google is a profit machine. Nothing wrong with that, as long as we don’t delude ourselves into thinking it is an entirely neutral source of information."
Well fair enough, and non-neutrality is definitely something to bear in mind when searching Google, but surely libraries, being much more selective than Google, can hardly claim to be neutral either? I don't think neutrality is the issue here. What libraries do that Google makes no attempt to do is to be selective and to select on grounds of quality.

All this reminds me of that classic, which I think I've referred to here before, Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death, in which he says [my italics]
"What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy."
Another thing that libraries do is to give 'swimming lessons', and surely those are needed now more than ever.

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