Everything is Miscellaneous by David Weinberger, 2007

everything is misc.pngThe digital world thereby allows us to transcend the most fundamental rule of ordering the real world: Instead of everything having its place, it’s better if things can get assigned multiple places simultaneously.  pp. 14

Amazon Link

Weinberger describes how digital technology allows us to organize information in ways that were not possible with traditional physical objects.

Physical objects can only be in one place at a time, but digital objects can be copied and stored in infinite places simultaneously.  Digital technology makes it feasible to tag objects with an unlimited number of labels, and these labels can be applied and used by any and everyone.

The ability to organize content in this matter makes storage and retrieval of objects easier.  For example, a picture of a boy eating ice cream might be tagged “boy”, “eating”, “summer”, “birthday”, “dairy”, “youth”, “early-onset diabetes”, the date the photo was taken, etc.

Simultaneously, tags of a particular photo allow us to expand our notion of what a certain category means, which members belong to a category, and to create or discover connections between categories that may be surprising or useful.  Since tags can be made public, it allows us to learn about the connections others are making that we may have missed ourselves.

Digital technology allows us to be more flexible with the way we see certain concepts and their connections to other concepts.   It helps us transcend the “a book can only go in one spot on a shelf” type of thinking that the limits of physical objects had imposed upon our minds in the pre-digital era.

The book is highly interesting and readable, and touches on an important way that technology can shape or enhance our thinking, and can prevent us from placing unnecessary restrictions on our thinking as a result of our taking cues from our physical environment.  The book is cleverly structured, moving from the way that physical inventory in stores is constricted all the way to how learning can be unleashed by digital-style thinking.  Through the path from the concrete to the abstract, the book never loses steam.

Ideas per Page:1 5/10 (medium)

Related Books: Why Information Grows by Cesar Hidalgo

Recommend to Others: I would recommend this pretty broadly

Reread Personally:  maybe in a few years


5 In physical space, some things are nearer than others.

Physical objects can be in only one spot at any one time

6 [with digital tech] Instead of items being placed in one area of the store, or occasionally in two, they can be classified in every different category in which users might conceivably expect to find them.

13 the solution to the overabundance of information is more information [metadata, tags]

19 …using the entire contents of the book as a label.  That makes no sense when all that information has to be stored as atoms in the physical world but perfect sense when it’s available as bits and bytes in the digital realm.

28 When we have no reason to prefer one company to another, some good percentage of us are likely to call the first one listed, even if it’s listed there only because it knows how to game the alphabetization system.

57 The military music book is shelved with the military books or with the music books, but it can’t go with both.  … That’s not a law of knowledge.  It’s a law of physical geography.

62 Dewey sought to find a single universal system to catalog books, Amazon provides a unique organization for each user.

Dewey arranged books by subject, but Amazon tries to find every way we might want to get from the A of a book we know to the B, C, and Z of books we don’t know we’re interested in…

Dewey liked the precision, predictability, and uniqueness of decimal numbers, Amazon throws books in from of your eyes with abandon.

82 …we have had to use atoms—usually paper—to preserve and transmit information.  When you organize knowledge by arranging slips of paper, you get trees that have one place for each leaf.

83 In the third order of order, knowledge doesn’t have a shape.  There are just too many useful, powerful, and beautiful ways to make sense of our world.

89 These physical limitations on how we have organized information have not only limited our vision, they have also given the people who control the organization of information more power than those who create the information.  Editors are more powerful than reporters, and communication syndicates are more powerful than editors because they get to decide what to bring to the surface and what to ignore.

99 The computer may decide to store any single element of an article—say, the text or a photo of an elephant—in discontinuous sectors of a hard drive in order to fit the most data onto the drive and to optimize the time it takes to retrieve all those bits.

102 – 105 [principles for organizing order in the third order of order]

Filter on the way out, not on the way in.

Put each leaf on as many branches as possible.

Everything is metadata and everything can be a label.

Give up control.

143 [Wikipedia contributors] edge toward an article acceptable to both of them through a public negotiation of knowledge and come to a resolution.  Yet the page they’ve negotiated may not represent either person’s point of view precisely.  The knowing happened not in either one’s brain but in their conversation.  The knowledge exists between contributors.  It is knowledge that has no knower.  Social knowing changes who does the knowing and how, more than it changes the what of knowledge.

158 [the information on maps, and the information included generally] The line between the implicit and the explicit isn’t drawn by the intellect.  It’s drawn by purpose and thus what matters to us.

159 Playlists aren’t just a new unit of grouped music, they are deep expressions of self accomplished entirely through metadata.

160 In fact, if I could tell you everything I know about my children it would be a sure sign that our relationship is superficial.  What I know of my children is too long and deep to be exhausted in words, too twisty, too entangled, and intertwingled to be made completely explicit.

169 If we were required to truly explain the full context for a remark as simple as “Wait a minute,” we’d give up before we got to the division of time into uniform units and the concept of interrupting one intentional process with another that is more urgent.  Each word echoes through the entire canon of language and social contest.  Without those echoes, we wouldn’t know that “Wait a minute” means.  What we can’t and don’t speak provides the meaning of what we do speak.

186 …basic-level objects (chair, car) should have “as many properties as possible predictable from knowing any one property.”  That way, by knowing that something is a member of a category, you would know a lot more about it…

189 …to imagine thinking without mess is to imagine thinking the way computers think, which is to say, it is to imagine not thinking at all.

203 In a conversation’s shared ground there are things we know—or assume we know—but they’re precisely what’s not interesting to talk about.  In conversation we think out loud together, trying to understand.

227 It [information about a product or company in third-party reviews] becomes more authoritative precisely because it’s not on the site of the business that produced it.

1 A measure of the number of new or distinct ideas introduced per page. 10/10 would be conceptually dense, like a textbook. 1/10 would be almost completely fluff.


One thought on “Everything is Miscellaneous by David Weinberger, 2007

  1. Thanks so much, I really enjoyed this review! I love that I get all this info without reading the book. That’s the lazy side of me talking. The inspired side, wishes I was a more avid reader.

    Here’s something that kept coming to me as I read this post: Love is like digital storage. I can be in one place, not connected in anyway physically with those I love, and my love is still with them. I have family and friends in the US, India, Mexico, Italy and Canada. Even when I am not texting, emailing, calling, writing them, or for that matter thinking of them, my love is still with them. They feel it, they know. I feel their love too.

    Your post helps me realize at a deeper level that we place so much emphasis on the physical, when maybe we don’t really need to.

    Thanks! DTM


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