Scholar vs. Merchant

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: Macroinformation.org & Knatz.com / Teaching / Society / Order / DeCentral / Deschooling /

Scholar versus Merchant

The internet I offered starting in 1970 came from the scholarly universe, not from the world of merchandising. I thought of it on analogy with the library card catalogue, or with the dictionary, where words are listed alphabetically: some simple order than anyone can use, where the user’s interest is the only guide, not some agenda from the librarian or the dictionary’s publisher.

There’s room in the world for merchandising too. When I shop at the supermarket I want the pasta always to be in the same area of the same aisle, I want produce to be in one area, fresh meats in another; yet I don’t mind it if there’s a special, temporary, display of some item on sale near the entrance. I don’t mind if someone is handing out free samples of Maxwell House coffee … as long as the market’s basic layout is simple and consistent.

If I ask the librarian for Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the Arden Shakespeare edition, edited by Kenneth Muir, eighth edition, 1953, that’s what I want to see delivered to the desk; I don’t want the latest best sellers shoved at me while I wait, or porn. Or give me stack privileges: I’ll find it myself. Once in the stacks I expect some known system to be followed for shelving the books: Dewey Decimal, Library of Congress … I don’t expect to be tackled in the aisles by pot salesmen or mortgage lenders. While I’m in the stacks I don’t want to hear jackhammers, or somebody’s top ten hit parade.

At the same time, once I find what I’m seeking, or fail to find it, I may very well turn at random into some other isle and just browse. Surprise, serendipity, should also be an option. But the option should be selected by the library user, not by the Maxwell House rep. If in the supermarket the Maxwell House rep chases me down the aisle to force his coffee sample on me, I’ll start looking for another supermarket that doesn’t permit that kind of merchandising.

Here’s an alternate illustration of the same principle, the same contrast in ways of presenting things: I buy a novel. I expect certain conventions to be followed. I expect the author’s name and the title of the novel to appear on the cover, on the spine, and among the first pages. I expect the novel to commence on page one, to be followed by page two, and then by page three. I don’t want to turn from page two, expecting page three, and find a perfume ad, or an announcement from the president, or have a careening ambulance, siren wailing, pop out at me. I understand that on the public street an ambulance may suddenly appear, loudly commanding attention. Though I wish that ambulances and cop cars were not tolerated, I know I live in a world in which they are tolerated. The novel is in part a deliberate escape from that world.

Once upon a time newspapers were not dissimilar to novels. Addison published a page one, and maybe a page two. His article started with the first paragraph and was followed by the second paragraph. These days the magazine are exquisite Towers of Babel, a competition of caterwauling. Some story snakes from page thirteen to page one seventy-seven, but the pages aren’t numbered, and you can’t locate the number if they are.

I can’t help that. It isn’t in my control. But the fact that the internet resembles a magazine more than a dictionary or a novel, ordered simply, is not only not my fault, it is specifically the public’s fault. The public never had a (realistic) choice about radio, TV, newspapers being chopped up and mixed with ads. But the public did have a choice about the internet! Had it supported FLEX the internet’s basic flavor would be scholarly: ordered: simple. If you asked for a list of people who taught physics in your home town, that’s what would come up: and not covered by another window popping up unbidden and screaming about interest rates.

The internet would not be merchant-dominant: each ad trying to knock over the previous ad, the user hammered into a coma. The internet I offered starting in 1970 came from the scholarly universe, not from the world of merchandising. I thought of it on analogy with the library card catalogue, or with the dictionary, where words are listed alphabetically: some simple order than anyone can use, where the user’s interest is the only guide, not some agenda from the librarian or the dictionary’s publisher.

Keywords information, deschool, FLEX, internet

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About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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