In another article, I’ve discussed the idea of the WIDE WORLD Web — the idea that people with significant connections outside the US have made disproportionately large contributions to innovation and quality on the Web. I suggest in that article that one reason for this is that Wide World people seem to have a particular appreciation for Storytelling. Here, then,I’ll discuss examples of this from articles I’ve written.

The outstanding example of resonance between the Wide World community, storytelling, and the Web is certainly British-Indian novelist Salman Rushdie’s tantalizing word picture in Haroun and the Sea of Stories that I see as an envisioning (prediction?) of  the Web. Rushdie, of course, was raised as a Muslim in India, and his “stories within stories within stories” style in Haroun resonates equally with One Thousand and One Nights and with the Web that we experience, with its “liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity,” to borrow Rushdie’s words.

I’ve gotten new insights into storytelling and the Web in following the active brain of Bulgarian blogger and storytelling fan Maria Popova. She coined the phrase “controlled serendipity” that spread virally last winter after being headlined in a NY Times article by Nick Bilton. As I wrote in my commentary about that article, I think the reason the phrase resonated so strongly with people is because it captures the essence of how we use the Web — To follow stories, and make new stories ourselves. So I see Popova as another example of a heightened appreciation of storytelling from the Wide World community.

Popova combines her interest in storytelling with a strong interest in TED conferences (popularized on the Web as video stories told by prominent people), and I learned to see the TED-Storytelling connection from her. Beyond Popova, TED provides another example of the Wide World community and storytelling — TED Curator Chris Anderson grew up in Pakistan and India — the land of Rushdie — and it certainly seems possible that this experience helped to foster his building TED into a prime Web storytelling spot.

Related articles:

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Several commentors on my recent article about Salman Rushdie’s imaginative foretelling of the Web have suggested that Rushdie’s vision — of a library made up of the Stream of all Stories ever told — was influenced by Jorge Luis Borges’ story The Library of Babel — which describes the universe as a library containing all books. There certainly is a resemblance, in that both Rushdie and Borges imagine a library of all knowledge. But the nature of the libraries pictured by the two writers is quite different. Borges’ library is very much a print library, made up of physical books. Much of the description of the library (as in the quote below) involves the intricate geometry of the shelves and the exact description of the books in the library.

In Borges’ library, as in the traditional print library, the books sit on the shelf, with no suggestion of their being connected to each other, no sense of movement. Rushdie, on the other hand, imagines a library in which the books flow in a stream — twisting and stretching and weaving in and out of each other. As I’ve discussed in the previous article, Rushdie’s vision resonates with recent discussions of the growing sense of the Web’s Stream-like, flowing nature and also with the coming revolution in libraries, as books are digitized, remaking them into Rushdie’s “fluid form.” The excerpts below give a sense of the different visions of the Library of Rushdie and Borges.

From Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of stories:

[The Ocean of the Stream of Stories is] “made up of a thousand thousand thousand and one different currents, each one a different color, weaving in and out of one another like a liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity.” Rushdie imagines this Ocean as “the biggest library in the universe. And because the stories were held here in fluid form, they retained the ability to change, to become new versions of themselves, to join up with other stories and so become yet other stories; so that unlike a library of books, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was much more than a storeroom of yarns. It was not dead but alive.” [See previous article for complete passage and for picture credit.]

From Borges’ The Library of Babel:

“The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air shafts between, surrounded by very low railings. From any of the hexagons one can see, interminably, the upper and lower floors. The distribution of the galleries is invariable. Twenty shelves, five long shelves per side, cover all the sides except two; their height, which is the distance from floor to ceiling, scarcely exceeds that of a normal bookcase. … There are five shelves for each of the hexagon’s walls; each shelf contains thirty-five books of uniform format; each book is of four hundred and ten pages; each page, of forty lines, each line, of some eighty letters which are black in color.” [The picture accompanies the Web version of story, and is not credited; it appears on numerous other sites.]

Related articles:

Eric Rumsey is at @ericrumsey

In a prophetic passage written in 1990, Salman Rushdie paints a vivid word picture of the Ocean of the Streams of Story that I’ve suggested is an uncanny envisioning of the yet-to-be-created Web. Right now, the evolution of the Web seems to be speeding up, and two recent commentaries, one on the Twitter/Facebook world, and one on Google Book Search, suggest that the Web may be fast growing into the sort of place imagined in Rushdie’s Stream metaphor. I’ve described and excerpted Rushdie’s passage and the two commentaries in other articles, so in this article, I’ll bring the three “streams” together, by excerpting a few lines from each.

Salman Rushdie, describing the Ocean of the Stream of Stories:

It was made up of a thousand thousand thousand and one different currents, each one a different color, weaving in and out of one another like a liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity … it was much more than a storeroom of yarns. It was not dead but alive.

Nova Spivack suggests that the new metaphor for the Web will be the Stream:

Something new is emerging … I call it the Stream … The Web has always been a stream of streams. … with the advent of blogs, feeds, and microblogs, the streamlike nature of the Web is becoming more readily visible.

Peter Brantley, writing on Google Book Search, says:

We stride into a world where books are narratives in long winding rivers; drops of thought misting from the sundering thrust of great waterfalls; and seas from which all rivers and rain coalesce, and which carry our sails to continents not yet imagined.

What an interesting story the Web itself is! — The Stream imagined by Rushdie 19 years ago looks like it might finally be flowing together with Spivack’s Stream and Brantley’s long winding river.

Related article:

Eric Rumsey is at @ericrumsey

When I first read the passage below in Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the sea of stories three years ago, it struck me as a remarkable word picture of my experience of the Web. So of course I went right to Google to see if anyone else had made this connection — My searching, surprisingly, has found little since then, so I’ve thought about writing it up, but it didn’t get done. In the last week, I’ve gotten nudges (discussed below) that tell me this is the time. Here’s Rushdie:

Haroun looked into the water and saw that it was made up of a thousand thousand thousand and one different currents, each one a different color, weaving in and out of one another like a liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity; and [the Water Genie] explained that these were the Streams of Story, that each colored strand represented and contained a single tale. Different parts of the Ocean contained different sorts of stories, and as all the stories that had ever been told and many that were still in the process of being invented could be found here, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was in fact the biggest library in the universe. And because the stories were held here in fluid form, they retained the ability to change, to become new versions of themselves, to join up with other stories and so become yet other stories; so that unlike a library of books, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was much more than a storeroom of yarns. It was not dead but alive.

Pow! Isn’t this a strikingly clear metaphorical description of the Web Stream that we all swim in every day? My first idea of a title for this article was “Did Salman Rushdie predict the Web?” I decided that was a bit too presumptuous  — But not by much — The passage does indeed verge on prediction. It was written in 1990 — Interestingly, the same year that Tim Berners-Lee “invented” the World Wide Web. It’s tempting to imagine the left-brained engineer (Berners-Lee) and the right-brained artist-seer (Rushdie) both envisioning the future Web in their own ways — Berners-Lee in outlining his Web ideas at CERN, and Rushdie in writing Haroun.

How has this passage and its Webishness gone unnoticed for so many years? Haroun is a story on many levels — Rushdie wrote it for his young son, and it’s often put in the category of “childrens’ literature.” I suspect this is the main reason it hasn’t been read often enough by grown-up Web users for someone to have seen Rushdie’s Stream of the Web metaphor. (Note that Haroun is on a prominent list of the 100 Greatest Novels of All Time)

How about the library connections in the passage? As a librarian, it certainly occurs to me that it could be viewed as being especially about libraries, maybe even seen as a threat to the traditional print library (“storeroom of yarns”). But I think, to the contrary, that Rushdie’s passage does the library world a great service, ushering us into the “liquid tapestry” of the digital Ocean, in which the Stream of “the library” will be able to “weave in and out” with the “thousand thousand and one different currents” outside of the traditional library world. Recent discussions of Google Book Search and orphan books show that the world is eagerly anticipating the stories in libraries being put into “fluid form.” And, in fact, library leader Peter Brantley, in commentary on GBS written in January 2009, talking about the coming age of digital books, uses language reminiscent of Rushdie: “We stride into a world where books are narratives in long winding rivers … and seas from which all rivers and rain coalesce.”

Speaking of the library world — As mentioned, there has been a notable lack of anyone else seeing a connection between the Rushdie passage and the Web. But the closest I’ve seen is in a paper co-authored by an engineer (JH Lienhard) and two librarians (JE Myers, TC Wilson), that was written in 1992, Surfing the Sea of Stories: Riding the Information Revolution (Mechanical Engineering 1992 Oct; 114(10): 60-65). This does an excellent job of connecting the Rushdie passage to the coming digital revolution, as it was seen in 1992, and contains the perceptively-done graphic in this article (above). But of course the full-blown Web was not born until 1995, so this view is limited. (The paper is summarized in the transcript of a radio program about it.)

Nudges for writing about this in the last week: First, In his blog article, Is The Stream What Comes After the Web?, Nova Spivack suggests that the metaphor of The Stream may soon replace The Web. The article doesn’t mention Rushdie, but it has elicited much discussion on Twitter, and someone would surely make the connection soon. Spivack does mention Twitter, saying that it and other microblogging systems are “the best example of the Stream,” which is related to the other nudge I’ve gotten, a blog article by Joff Redfern, Twitter is becoming the Ocean of the Stream of Stories. This is short , consisting mainly of the Rushdie quote above, but with its title it would likely be connected to Spivack’s Stream and Rushdie’s Streams of Stories sooner or later. Taken together, I think the articles by Spivack and Redfern indicate that Twitter is bringing to peoples’ minds the “stream-like” nature of the Web — The way big streams (e.g. swine flu 2 weeks ago) weave in and out with the day-to-day small streams of peoples’ lives on the Twitter ocean, with the stories constantly rewriting themselves.

Related articles:

Eric Rumsey is at @ericrumsey