Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Is everything miscellaneous?

When I made a picture of my professional books for my Dutch website I realized that all the social media expertise I gained was through experiencing it (online hours) and reading online resources, but not books. I thought it would be good to start reading some books too, as they give a more thorough understanding of a certain topic. I started with the famous book by Weinberger, Everything is miscellaneous. The book has its own website and blog (books are lucky nowadays). I blogged a video with Weinberger before, but I'm happy I read the book.

The miscellaneous in the title is an analogy to the disorder in one drawer of your cupboard. Everyone has a drawer where all things end up that don't have their proper place in your house, that's the miscellaneous drawer. Weinberger argues that online everything is now miscellaneous. His virtue is the thorough explanation of the 3 orders in organizing information.

First order: books on the shelf, one book can only be on one shelf

Second order: meta data about books on cards, allowing you categorize a book in several categories

Third order: Digital data and meta data, endless number of data possible and mixing of data and meta data

The first and second order give some level of control and power to the person or organization doing the organizing. One person or institute decides on which shelf the book will go. The strong example given of the Dewey library system is very illustrative of the cultural biases that are imposed or transferred to others by that process. They Dewey library system developed by a American (Melvil Dewey) has provided Judaism with its own number, but Islam has to share its number with Babism and Baha'i. And Buddhism doesn't have its own number but falls under the category of 'religions of Indic Origin'.

The third order or the miscellaneous (for an example, think of for social bookmarking online) hence endangers some of the well-established institutions who gain their authority on their grip on the knowledge. That in itself explains some of the resistance to web2.0 developments like wikipedia and weblogs. It's a new way of working and organizing information and there are people who lose authority. But there are others that gain! Weinberger has made me more attentive to the people and institutions who may loose in the development of information as the miscellaneous.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, Weinberger doesn't explain in detail what the consequences are for working life, and knowledge management (though maybe that's too much to ask for). He does touch the upon the semantic web and explains that having all information miscellaneous on the internet may lead to fragmentation and to the effect that groups become more and more polarized in their views. I'm thinking there are problably new groups in control of determining the agenda (the social media converts??) and I'm left wondering how this works out. What does the miscellaneous offer in terms of reversal of power for marginal groups? Can we truely accomodate all views into solutions? It is evident that the English wikipedia is larger and more consulted all over the world than the Swahili wikipedia, but will the miscellaneous help to surface different views? Will people be more open to explore it? Personally, these are some of the questions I have after finishing 'Everything is miscellaneous'. Its explanation of the deep shift and giving examples of who may be effected is very useful. I'm thinking with these questions I may reread the last chapters to see whether there are no more answers!

As a professional I think the miscellaneous information has some opportunities to expand your professional learning process and widen your horizon. An example of this is the use of the word web2.0 versus social media. I noticed many people tag resources with social media rather than web2.0 which made me to explore the different notions between the two. As a teacher, I noticed that when I explain the 'current reality tree' student are capable of finding all kind of additional information, so the role of the teacher as source of information changes. That may be another example of how the development of the miscellaneous information on the web may be threatening to a group of professionals that used to derive their authority from being the source of information.


Christian said...

Hi Joitske a nice blog post. I also read the book some while ago and agree that he describes not enough the consequences. Probably he does not know himself. How should he? Although the consequences of the third order can be quite far reaching. I did a post a while ago to explain my own learning experience.
What helped me to understand the consequences is that our whole world is structured around categories. Teaches teach us the categorize, science is looking for categories and in our work things are categorized to give them meaning. But what happens if this is given up? Can we cope with it and everything becomes meaning in multiple ways? :-)

Unknown said...

What a coincidence. Am reading the book right now and as you, I rarely read these kind of books ;-)

Joitske said...

@elmine what a coincidence- I continue with Pink, starts promising!

@christian I wonder whether we should do away with the categories or there will more chances to have a wider range of people influence the way we categorize the world and will that improve it? For instance, team stages are also not 'true' but at times help a team to understand what is happening. As an advisor I do use categorizations a lot~!