Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder

Posted by nliakos on October 30, 2012

by David Weinberger (Times Books/Henry Holt & Co., 2007)


I really should try harder to read books like this when they come out, instead of five years later, because the technology changes so quickly. This one still seems relevant, though, even though my whole online life has happened since its writing! Weinberger postulates three orders of order. The first order of order is physical stuff: things, animals, people (like when you clean up your room and put things where they belong). The second order of order is the metadata level (like a library card catalog–remember those? or a list of stuff; at this level, you can give your stuff more than one label, enabling you to find it more than one way. For example, a library book has a title card and one or more author and subject cards. The third order of order is the digital order, where stuff can be labeled (tagged) in infinite ways, digital stores reconfigure themselves for each shopper, and the likes of Wikipedia and Expedia collect and share information for us.

Our tendency to analyze things into pieces (“splitting”) and then group them (“lumping”) comes from Aristotle (“Aristotle lays out a task for all those who want to know their universe: Go forth and lump and split.” p 71), but we are no longer bound to the old ways of doing this, which were limited by the physical limitations of things, which cannot be in more than one place. Now, each piece of information is like a leaf that can exist simultaneously on many different trees. The result is an inherent messiness, which humans are hard-wired to organize into something that makes sense to us. Weinberger writes that everything is not miscellaneous “because we work damn hard at straightening it up.” (p. 228). But the knowledge itself “wants to be miscellaneous” (p. 7).

An aside: Weinberger has apparently had to coin the verb miscellanize, together with its corresponding participial adjective, miscellanized, in order to convey his message. I wondered how to pronounce it; where to place the stress? It isn’t in the dictionary (including online dictionaries; even Google is stumped by it and wonders if I didn’t mean to search for miscellanies). I offer my best guess here: MISC ell a nize(d). Mr. Weinberger, can you confim?


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