[iDC] Response to Weinberger's excerpts

Paul B. Hartzog paulbhartzog at gmail.com
Mon Jul 9 13:08:05 EDT 2007

Greetings all,
Although I have known David outside of IDC, I only just joined the
list (thx to Trebor), so I am having to post my response to David as a
separate thread since I cannot reply to the original post.  What
follows are some thoughts I jotted down while reading.  "DW" = David,
"PBH" = me.

(1) Organizing the things themselves (books, photos...not Dinge an
sich!), (2) physically separating the metadata and organizing them
(e.g., catalog cards), and (3) digitizing both the content and the
metadata. The third order requires us to invent new principles of

Since the first two are atomic, and the third is electronic, I think I
would only have two categories.  I don't see 1 and 2 as separate

This means that the miscellaneous enables _all_
of the information contained in the set to be discovered over time.

Just because it is possible does not mean it is probable or even
likely.  More to the point, what a set IS, by definition, constrains
this possibility.  The set of all even numbers is impossible to
articulate by item, but I can REPRESENT it conceptually.  Nonetheless,
this representation is inherently tautological.  The set of even
numbers IS a set because I define it to be one in the first place.  A
google search does the same.

But this also means the miscellaneous doesn't much resemble our
traditional view of knowledge. Knowledge, we've thought, has four
characteristics, two of them modeled on properties of reality and two on
properties of political regimes....

"We" means Western thought here.  Eastern thought begins with an
ontology that "reality" is an illusion.

Because a third order miscellany is digital, not physical, we no
longer have to agree on a single framework. Things have their _places_,
not a single place. We get to create our own categories, ones that suit
our way of thinking. Experts can be helpful, but in the age of the
miscellaneous they and their institutions are no longer in charge of our

Not all people WANT to take control of sorting, filtering, etc.
ONE reason we have experts is because they get something out of the
power hierarchy,
but the OTHER reason we have experts is because many people have other
This is why we have grocery stores. :-)

Three new strategic principles are emerging, severing the ties between
the way we organize physical objects and ideas.... <snip>

We rely on experts to spare us from having to wade
through the slush pile on our own..... So long as the user has good
tools for finding what she needs - and thisis a task many are working
on - filtering on the way out vastly
increases our shared potential for knowledge.

I have written about this in my article "Social Publishing"
http://many.corante.com/archives/2006/09/02/social_publishing.php .
In response to which, Michel Bauwen's (of p2pfoundation.net) coined
the phrase "Not select, then publish; but publish, then select."  Nice
byte, that.


I disagree with the historical atoms/bits implication here.  Knowledge
has ALWAYS been in many categories.  Putting books on shelves in AN
ORDER simply means that SOME SINGULAR ORDER was visible at that
moment.  This is still the case.  For example, a search query can
arrange the results in various orders, but only one at a time.  What
has changed is that we can rearrange the books in realtime:  order by
author, by subject, by keywords, etc.  The intrinsic relationship has
not changed, which is that a set is always experienced with some kind
of order (the reason this hasn't changed is that it is tied up in
mathematics and human perception.  We are linear beings and cannot
grasp a set all at once).

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.... Now that everything in the
connected world can serve as metadata, knowledge is empowered beyond
fathoming. We not only can find what we need based on whatever slight
traces we have in our hand, we can see connections that would have
escaped notice in the first two orders. The power of the miscellaneous
comes directly from the fact that in the third order, everything is
connected and therefore everything is metadata.

Again, this was always the case.  All that has changed is the speed.


That's why it's so powerful to let users mix it up for themselves. ...
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.

They never did.  But they did, and still do, control a particular
"prebuilt" representation of a collection, yes.

Control has already changed hands. The new rules of the information
jungle are in effect, transforming the landscape in which we work, buy,
learn, vote and play.

History contains numerous examples of hierarchies imposing an order
that is rejected by the populace as circumstances change.  The
difference is that now people have ease of access to alternative (and
fast) ways of re-ordering knowledge.  As Lessig points out (again and
again), there is NO justification for expecting that that freedom of
access will continue.   I have no problems visualizing something like
del.icio.us becoming illegal.  Whether it actually happens or not
depends a lot on the apathy or engagement of a populace.

If these experts of the second order sound a bit hysterical, it is
understandable. The change they're facing from the miscellaneous is deep
and real. Authorities have long filtered and organized information for
us, protecting us from what isn't worth our time and helping us find
what we need to give our beliefs a sturdy foundation. But, with the
miscellaneous, it's all available to us, unfiltered.

This is the most crucial and most incorrect item I have encountered in
this book so far.

Many filters is not the same as no filters.

We will NEVER have access to any unmediated (unfiltered) anything.
Every (re)presentation contains an inherent value-hierarchy.

When faced with "many" views, there are two possible positions: 1)
many views will allow us to get at the objective truth (this is called
feminist epistemology), and 2) many views will NOT allows to get at
the objective truth because there isn't one, only the views themselves
(this is called perspectivalism).

This is a monolithic problem in the philosophy of science, and
consequently in political theory as well.  I encounter almost daily,
those who assume that a world of MANY political orders is the same as
a world with NO political order, i.e. chaos.

This creates a conundrum for businesses as they enter the third order.
If they don't allow their users to structure information for themselves,
they'll lose their patrons. If they do allow patrons to structure
information for themselves, the organizations will lose much of their
authority, power, and control.

This control problem is shared by governments, Science, etc., just as
it was faced by the Catholic church after the invention of the
printing press.  The printing press also challenged the Middle East
and in China, but their responses were quite different from the West.
Technology does not determine the social response/outcome.  Businesses
will only "lose their patrons" if their are alternatives.  When all
the alternatives have the same practices, then patrons have no real

Knowledge—its content and its organization—is becoming a social act.

The construction of knowledge has always been (and always will be) a
social act.

When I lectured for the University of Utah Honors class "Ways of
Knowing,"  I made a point that
the key problem is thatthe process has for centuries been 1) slow, 2)
hidden, and 3) limited to an elite.  Now it is becoming 1) rapid, 2)
transparent, and 3) massively participatory.

Various writers from Kant to Habermas have noted the absolute
necessity (for social progress) of a transparent public sphere in
which claims can be discussed and debated without fear of reprisal.
This perfect public sphere is, of course, only an ideal which we have
never truly possessed (and likely could not).  I do believe however
that the flattening of hierarchies by the recent ease of access to the
tools for the social construction of knowledge DOES mean we are
improving our public sphere (globally, I might add, which also changes
its character).

Major thx to DW for writing the book, and for coming to IDC to engage.
 I am at present constructing the syllabus for the University of
Michigan "foundations" class for the School of Information and EiM is
now on it.


PaulBHartzog at PaulBHartzog.org
PaulBHartzog at panarchy.com
PHartzog at umich.edu
The Universe is made up of stories, not atoms.
                 --Muriel Rukeyser

See differently, then you will act differently.
                 --Paul B. Hartzog


More information about the iDC mailing list