[iDC] Everything is Misc - extracts and intro

dave cormier coarsesalt at gmail.com
Sat Jul 7 12:13:11 EDT 2007

Hey all...

First I'd just like to commend Trebor once again on the fantastic job he
does ensuring that this mailing list is the most interesting thing in my

Second, that's a very clear description of the post-structuralist (call it
what you will) position on knowledge. Please see the following comments in
the context of my general agreement with the position outlined in those few
page. Also, please excuse my ignorance of the fact that these points may be
addressed elsewhere... If only I had the time to read it all :)

"but in the first case you used Shakespeare's name as metadata to find the
contents of a book and in the second you used some of the contents of the
book as metadata to find the author and title. In
the miscellaneous order, the only distinction between metadata and data is
that metadata is what you already know and data is what you're trying to
find out."

I'm finding more and more that I'm using data to find metadata... to learn
the appropriate contextual language so that I can ask the right question. In
that sense... I'm not sure that the distinction between data and metadata
even applies... It's no problem to find a given piece of 'knowledge' if
we're looking at quotes from books, or dates of events, or even how to tie
knots. The problem becomes how to find out information about disputed
knowledge. Try, for instance, to find out how to plant grape vines. Or how
to barbecue ribs. Or try and find out who the influential philosophers in
the 20th century are. Or try and make an lolcat. (
http://www.pageflakes.com/cormier/11091021 )

Having not read the rest of the book its tough to know if this wasn't
covered elsewhere... but there seems to be an implication, almost a feeling,
that while knowledge is not a 'form' or a 'monolith' it does all reside in
the same pile... or at least, the same set of skills will get you access to
any given set of knowledge. My experience is that things are a little more
like sets of rhizomes... with loose connections (more language adopted from
David) between the given types of rhizomes, each with their own local rules
and contexts.

There is a sense, particularly when were talking about metadata, in which it
is tempting to think of knowledge (or bits thereof) as identifiable objects,
that can be pointed at (even digitally) and then used, commercial items to
be purchased. My sense is that they are only contextually observable, only
in a given community (or network mr. siemens) of thought... and cannot, in
many cases, be identified at all. And certainly not without a certain
understanding of that given context.

GIVE UP CONTROL. Build a tree and you surface information that might
otherwise be hidden, just as Lamarck exposed information left hidden in
Linnaeus' miscellaneous category of worms. But, a big pile of
miscellaneous information contains relationships beyond reckoning. No
one person or group is going to be able to organize it in all the useful
ways, hanging all the leaves on all the branches where they might be

Seems very similar to the arboreal/rhizomatic distinction from 'a thousand
plateaus'. My concern again about thinking of the 'pile' as a single object.
I might be being over picky on this, but it still seems to imply to me that
there is a single 'set' of knowledge bits to choose from and that they are
all connected inside the same pile. I'm not sure how the metaphor teases out
the power structures implicit in this kind of monopile.

Users are now in
charge of the organization of the information they browse. Of course,
the owners of that information may still want to offer a prebuilt
categorization, but that is no longer the only - or best - one
available. Put simply, the owners of information no longer own the
organization of that information.

This is my real concern. I worry a great deal about this... considering how
many people are moving online, and how little they understand about how
things are built. Creating any habitat... any space in which the 'pile of
miscellany' is situated involves thousands of hidden decisions that focus
where people go. Realistically, we've hidden the design from view... where
in the shopping mall, I can tell that the products closer to me, on the sale
rack, are being forwarded... online i can be guided without seeing a thing.

I worry, most of all, how this emancipation can be controlled by those who
have far more money, and therefore far more cycles, to build ghosts into
these free wheeling machines. To take amazon as a simple example, if the
advertising guides the choices people make, and those choices create a 'path
of knowledge' for the group that follows, in a sense, these socially
constructed bits of knowledge are MORE susceptible to advertising. It is
really a very simple thing to adjust any system to subtly slide people's
focus, on say itunes, to the music supported by a company that is paying you
millions of dollars. 0.1% on the machine that allows that 'mix and match and
find' system to work is enough to make a big difference.

cheers all,

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