December 19, 2014

BackTalk: Revenge of the Blog People!

By Michael Gorman

A blog is a species of interactive electronic diary by means of which the unpublishable, untrammeled by editors or the rules of grammar, can communicate their thoughts via the web. (Though it sounds like something you would find stuck in a drain, the ugly neologism blog is a contraction of "web log.") Until recently, I had not spent much time thinking about blogs or Blog People.

McGoogle

I had heard of the activities of the latter and of the absurd idea of giving them press credentials (though, since the credentials were issued for political conventions, they were just absurd icing on absurd cakes). I was not truly aware of them until shortly after I published an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times ("Google and God’s Mind," December 17, 2004). Then, thanks to kind friends with nothing but my welfare in mind, I rapidly learned more about the blog subcultures.

My piece had the temerity to question the usefulness of Google digitizing millions of books and making bits of them available via its notoriously inefficient search engine. The Google phenomenon is a wonderfully modern manifestation of the triumph of hope and boosterism over reality. Hailed as the ultimate example of information retrieval, Google is, in fact, the device that gives you thousands of "hits" (which may or may not be relevant) in no very useful order.

Digitized books

Those characteristics are ignored and excused by those who think that Google is the creation of "God’s mind," because it gives the searcher its heaps of irrelevance in nanoseconds. Speed is of the essence to the Google boosters, just as it is to consumers of fast "food," but, as with fast food, rubbish is rubbish, no matter how speedily it is delivered.

In the eyes of bloggers, my sin lay in suggesting that Google is OK at giving access to random bits of information but would be terrible at giving access to the recorded knowledge that is the substance of scholarly books. I went further and came up with the unoriginal idea that the thing to do with a scholarly book is to read it, preferably not on a screen. It turns out that the Blog People (or their subclass who are interested in computers and the glorification of information) have a fanatical belief in the transforming power of digitization and a consequent horror of, and contempt for, heretics who do not share that belief.

How could I possibly be against access to the world’s knowledge? Of course, like most sane people, I am not against it and, after more than 40 years of working in libraries, am rather for it. I have spent a lot of my long professional life working on aspects of the noble aim of Universal Bibliographic Control – a mechanism by which all the world’s recorded knowledge would be known, and available, to the people of the world. My sin against bloggery is that I do not believe this particular project will give us anything that comes anywhere near access to the world’s knowledge.

Who are the Blog People?

It is obvious that the Blog People read what they want to read rather than what is in front of them and judge me to be wrong on the basis of what they think rather than what I actually wrote. Given the quality of the writing in the blogs I have seen, I doubt that many of the Blog People are in the habit of sustained reading of complex texts. It is entirely possible that their intellectual needs are met by an accumulation of random facts and paragraphs. In that case, their rejection of my view is quite understandable.

At least two of the blog excerpts sent to me (each written under pseudonyms) come from self-proclaimed "conservatives," which I find odd because many of the others come from people who call me a Luddite and are, presumably, technology-obsessed progressives. The Luddite label is because my mild remarks have been portrayed as those of someone worried about the job security of librarians (I am not) rather than one who has a different point of view on the usefulness of this latest expression of Google hubris and vast expenditure of money involved.

I’m no Antidigitalist

If a fraction of the latter were devoted to buying books and providing librarians for the library-starved children of California, the effort would be of far more use to humanity and society. Perhaps that latter thought will reinforce the opinion of the Blog Person who included "Michael Gorman is an idiot" in his reasoned critique, because no opinion that comes from someone who is "antidigital" (in the words of another Blog Person) could possibly be correct. For the record, though I may have associated with Antidigitalists, I am not and have never been a member of the Antidigitalist party and would be willing to testify to that under oath. I doubt even that would save me from being burned at the virtual stake, or, at best, being placed in a virtual pillory to be pelted with blogs. Ugh!


Author Information
Michael Gorman, president-elect of the American Library Association, is Dean of Library Services, Madden Library, California State University, Fresno.

Share