Tuesday, April 10, 2018

WW3: A Memoir. Part 1: The Before

(from June 2017)

The Before

I used to know where information lived.

By the age of 8, I knew for certain that information lived in the stiff heavy leather bound Encyclopedias lined up in shelves around a large rectangular table at Cypress Elementary.

Want information about cotton? There it is, easily found in the “C” volume, one paragraph, a picture, a map of where cotton is grown.

I knew, without being told, that the other Encyclopedias would have pretty much the same information – maybe more, maybe less, hopefully a table or a map too – and that if I wanted more information I should look in the card catalog to see if there were any books on the topic

 I didn’t expect each book to describe cotton differently (example: Cotton – the worst disease to hit the country of Genovia; Cotton -  the forgotten food group; Cotton; something invented by George Washington Carver after he won the Battle of Epcot) because I trusted everything in print had been curated and edited by persons whose great pleasure and responsibility in life is to present good information to others.

This remained the same through my time college in the 1980s and the better part of my graduate work in the 1990s: the library was the primary place where information lived, where Census records, United Nations reports and decades of newspaper microfiche waited patiently to be discovered by information hunters.

Then came the big boom of internet search engines. Information – facts, pictures, stories, maps, livestreaming lives – explodes like confetti, separated from context, free floating, uncurated.
So much information everywhere, so easy to get.
Ask anything.
Be anyone.
Find anything.
Question everything.