What Happens When Books Connect?
Kevin Kelly’s long NY Times article in 2006 (Scan this Book!) on Google Book Search has some elegant words on the transformative effect of digital books in general, beyond GBS. His words are echoed in several recent commentaries that I’ve written about — I’ll precede excerpts from Kelly with connecting ideas from these recent articles:
Kelly’s comments parallel the static print libary of Borges and the flowing, connected library of Rushdie:
(Kelly) The common vision of the library’s future (even the e-book future) assumes that books will remain isolated items, independent from one another, just as they are on shelves in your public library. But this vision misses the chief revolution birthed by scanning books: in the universal library, no book will be an island.
Mike Cane sees metadata as the real gold of digital books (cross-linked … extracted … indexed … analyzed …) — Corresponding with Kelly’s real magic:
(Kelly) Turning inked letters into electronic dots that can be read on a screen is simply the first essential step in creating this new library. The real magic will come in the second act, as each word in each book is cross-linked, clustered, cited, extracted, indexed, analyzed, annotated, remixed, reassembled and woven deeper into the culture than ever before. In the new world of books, every bit informs another; every page reads all the other pages.
Clive Thompson says the community of digital book readers will transform books by building a web of linked commentaries. Kelly says much the same:
Once a book has been integrated into the new expanded library by means of this linking, its text will no longer be separate from the text in other books. … Books, including fiction, will become a web of names and a community of ideas.
Peter Brantley imagines a world in which digital books become connected as long winding rivers that flow together. Here’s Kelly sounding similar: …
Search engines are transforming our culture because they harness the power of relationships, which is all links really are. … This tangle of relationships is precisely what gives the Web its immense force. The static world of book knowledge is about to be transformed by the same elevation of relationships, as each page in a book discovers other pages and other books. Once text is digital, books seep out of their bindings and weave themselves together.
Rushdie describes the countless currents in the Stream of Stories “weaving in and out of one another like a liquid tapestry” — Likewise Kelly:
When books are digitized, reading becomes a community activity. … In a curious way, the universal library becomes one very, very, very large single text: the world’s only book. … So what happens when all the books in the world become a single liquid fabric of interconnected words and ideas? …
What Happens When Books Connect? – This is the title for one of the second section of Kelly’s article from which most of the quotes above are taken, and it is really an overriding theme for all of the them — The digitized books of the future will talk easily to each other, which will transform books in the same way the Web has already transformed other aspects of culture.
The title of this article — Books: The Liquid Version — is the title of the third section of Kelly’s article.
Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey