These days, with the ubiquity of mobile devices, it seems like we are living inside a kind of Memex. First envisioned by technology pioneer Vannevar Bush after World War II, a Memex is “a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility.” A digital contentsphere containing all and contributed to by all! Two big aspects of this new and burgeoning library beg for a solution — curation, past and future. As far as the past goes, what is our plan for curation of the Memex’s contents (What portion of the globe’s recorded content gets put online? Why? Who can access it, and under what terms?)? Going forward, as traditional publishers compete with self publishers for mindshare, how do we avoid building a tower of self-published babble comprised of tweets, drafts, and posts, instead of books whose content was selected, refined, designed, and published by professionals? And not to sound too high and mighty about it, but what happens to Truth in the Age of Memex?
Consider the online Memex as a kind of truth machine in action this past week, during the Boston Marathon bombings. The bad guys, the good guys, the crowd, all used the Memex, both deliberately and inadvertently, to publish the too-real drama, rife with evolving and self-correcting truths. Ultimately (we think) the perpetrators were discovered and hunted down thanks in no small part to Memex, and the pundits now start telling us what really happened. Looks like John Milton had it right in his 1644 speech to the British Parliament, Areopagitica: A Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing:
See the ingenuity of truth, who when she gets a free and willing hand, opens herself faster, than the pace of method and discourse can overtake her.
Our traditional publishing industry, if it is to become master of the Memex, needs to shape the future of recorded civilization beyond simply surrendering yesterday’s static texts for scanning and selling. We are challenged to imagine and then codify the pace and method of discourse, and demonstrate its value through curation, past and future.