The open society, the unrestricted access to knowledge, the unplanned and uninhibited association of men for its furtherance — these are what make a vast, complex, ever growing, ever changing, ever more specialized and expert technological world nevertheless a world of human community.
-J. Robert Oppenheimer, 1953
One of my takeaways from the Google Books metadata “mess” is that full-text searching is not a substitute for accurate metadata. If it was, Google would not be spending any time or energy creating or providing metadata for Google Book Search.
You can’t right a historic wrong, but you can stop participating in the perpetuation of bias by focusing attention only only those who have succeeded in traditional ways in business, academia, government, journalism etc. Don’t wait for the day when women and minorities succeed like white men in positions that were formerly the exclusive province of white men.
It’s crazy how much the predictions made about microfilm in the 1970s resemble the buzz about e-readers and e-books today…but I don’t know of any portable microfilm readers that ever really hit the consumer market with a splash the way the Kindle/Nook/etc. have. I guess they just weren’t “cuddly” enough.
“Instead of circulating microfiche like books, tomorrow’s libraries will duplicate them for you to take away and read on your own portable microfilm reader!”
-Joseph Becker in The First Book of Information Science. United States Atomic Energy Commission Office of Information Services, 1973. p. 80
“A portable microfilm reader is certain to promote increased use of all forms of microfilm in schools and in the home. Designers believe it should be lightweight, about the size of a book, possess a good internal light source, have sharp focusing, and above all be a little ‘cuddly’ so that people will feel as comfortable reading microfilm as they do curled up in a chair reading a book.”
– Becker (1973) p. 76.
One more time. Summer 1982. The weather in Pittsburgh is unbearably hot. Two weeks of high temperatures and high humidity. Nights not much better than the days. Nights too hot for sleeping, days sapping what’s left of the strength the sleepless nights don’t replenish. You get sopping wet climbing in or out of a car. Especially if your car’s little and not air-conditioned, like my mother’s Chevette. Nobody remembers the last time they felt a cool breeze, nobody remembers pulling on clothes and not sweating through them in five minutes. “Unbearable” is my mother’s word. She uses it often but never lightly. In her language it means the heat is something you can’t escape. The sticky heat’s a burden you wake up to every morning and carry till you’re too exhausted to toss and turn anymore in your wet sheets. Unbearable doesn’t mean a weight that gets things over with, that crushes you one and for all, but a burden that exerts relentless pressure. Whether you’re lifting a bag of groceries from a shopping cart into the furnace your car becomes after sitting closed for twenty minutes in the Giant Eagle parking lot, or celebrating the birth of a new baby in the family, the heat is there. A burden touching, flawing everything. Unbearable is not that which can’t be borne, but what must be endured forever.
Of course the July dog days can’t last forever. Sooner or later they’ll end. Abruptly. Swept away by one of those violent lightning-and-thunder storms peculiar to Pittsburgh summers. The kind signaled by a sudden disappearance of air, air sucked away so quickly you feel you’re falling. Then nothing. A vast emptiness rubbing your skin. The air’s gone. You’re in a vacuum, a calm, still, vacated space waiting for the storm to rush in. You know the weather must turn, but part of the discomfort of being in the grip of a heat wave or any grave trouble is the fear that maybe it won’t end. Maybe things will stay as miserable as they are.
Middlemarch, by George Eliot, has been on my reading list for an embarrassingly long time. Maybe even since high school? I have a tendency to pass over the classics on my list in favor of guilty pleasures. I’ve been having a hard time making progress on Middlemarch just because the style bogs me down and I, um…fall asleep. Twice I’ve been on my way to return the book to the library, but I’ve found myself reading it to pass the time on the bus. And then I come across a quote that slays me somehow, and I can’t bring myself to return the book after all. I don’t know if I”ll ever finish it, but here are a few excerpts that I’ve especially liked:
“Suppose we turn from outside estimates of a man, to wonder, with keener interest, what is the report of his own consciousness about his doings or capacity; with what hindrances he is carrying out his daily labours; what fading of hopes, or what deeper fixity of self-delusion the years are marking off within him; and with what spirit he wrestles against universal pressure, which will one day be too heavy for him, and bring his heart to its final pause” (79).
“He had two selves apparently, and they must learn to accommodate each other and bear reciprocal impediments. Strange, that some of us, with quick alternate vision, see beyond our infatuations, and even while we rave on the heights, behold the wide plains where our persistent self pauses and awaits us”(144).
“Some discouragement, some faintness of heart at the new real future which replaces the imaginary, is not unusual, and we do not expect people to be deeply moved by what is not unusual. That element of tragedy which lies in the very fact of frequency, has not yet wrought itself into the coarse emotion of mankind; and perhaps our frames could hardly bear much of it. If we had a keen vision and feeling of all of ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity”(185).
Eliot, George. Middlemarch. New York: Random House, 1994.