Convenient catch-all grumpy old man post

First, there’s “privatization.”

Here’s the quote (from an article that’s appeared in NYT and IHT):

“Google could be privatizing the library system by offering a large, but private interface to millions of books,” Kahle said.

Brewster Kahle’s certainly not the only one to misuse the language this way–just the latest.

I’m not in love with Google by any means. I think OCA is a great idea (although I wonder where the “alliance” has gone, given Yahoo’s almost-total silence and Microsoft’s diverging effort).

But “privatizing the library system” or, which I’ve also read, “privatizing the public domain”–I’m sorry, but horespucky.

If Google negotiated exclusive contracts, maybe.

Otherwise, that language is like saying that, if I check a book out from my library that happens to be in the public domain, scan it, and return it to the library, I’ve “privatized” the book.

Google is borrowing books from libraries (in large quantities thanks to special arrangements), scanning those books, and returning them to the libraries with the promise that the books won’t be damaged. Its deals are nonexclusive. Google’s scan does not in any way modify the terms under which the book itself can be used.

Google Book Search absolutely expands findability for books and in no way restricts anyone else from building and maintaining book-search systems. Google Book Search for public domain absolutely expands access to the text within books, and in no way restricts anyone else from providing similar access. (For that matter, Google’s silly first-page “conditions” are suggestions for use of their PDFs, not legal restrictions.)

How can expansion be viewed as contraction? How can improved access be regarded as privatization?

Want to attack Google? Fine. But is it necessary to debase the English language to do so? Or does it just make a great soundbite?


Then there are the Wesch videos. Oh, you know them: The absolute must-see videos that will transform your thinking about… whatever.If you love them, that’s fine. More power to you.
On the other hand, if you find some of them nearly incomprehensible and generally think they’re mostly form without much content…well, you’re not alone.

Hey, maybe I’m just not a visual learner, particularly with this particular kind of visual.


Not that I’m ever going to “get on the cluetrain,” but I sometimes find it amusing to read “world-changing” books and those renowned as representing the true future a few years after they’re published. (Yes, I know, the general absurdity of Being Digital hasn’t hurt Negroponte’s rep as The Man–in general, being boldly wrong seems to work as long as you’re wrong at least three years out. Now cheap computers are more important to the children of third-world countries than sanitation, medicine and actual teachers. Maybe so.)So I finally checked out the cluetrain manifesto: the end of business as usual a couple of weeks ago, fully intending to read the whole thing so I could critique it.

I gave up halfway through, since I wasn’t going to scribble notes in the margins of a library book and my notecards were filling up too rapidly. Noting the apparently self-loathing Apple marketer decrying (a) marketing (b) companies that keep their futures secret, noting the more recent history of one of the authors, noting that…well, I’m sorry, but most business in 2007 is pretty much like most business in 2000 (when the book came out): As usual. Most marketing in 2007 is marketing, again pretty much business as usual. If you think you’re having a conversation with your bank or your supermarket or your fast-food joint or at least 80% of those from whom you buy things…well, you’re welcome to your beliefs.

Of course, I never have been much for manifestos.


And just for the giggles, here’s a blast from the past, courtesy of Cites & Insights 2:7, May 2002. In addition to one of Negroponte’s famous quotes (1996: “we will probably not print many [words] on paper tomorrow,” I picked up one of Wired Magazine‘s “bets on the future” from 2002:

Here’s one $1,000 bet: “By 2010, more than 50 percent of books sold worldwide will be printed on demand at the point of sale in the form of library-quality paperbacks.” That’s Jason Epstein’s bet (with NYPL getting the proceeds); he sees PoD as “the future of the book business.” Opposing: Vint Cerf, who bets that “by 2010, 50 percent of books will be delivered electronically.”

I wonder who gets the $2,000 in the remote possibility that, two years and just over two months from now, the vast majority of the books sold worldwide are (a) physical objects that are (b) printed in large quantities using traditional methods? A remote possibility that I’d guess has about a 99% chance of being the case.


Now that this obviously Luddite individual has put together this blog post, time to go do some other work that happens to involve wikis and other web software. I don’t live on the web, but I sure do take advantage of the good tools and media available there…when they suit my purposes.

6 Responses to “Convenient catch-all grumpy old man post”

  1. Jeff Says:

    Good thing those books have access to the database. How will they find each other? :)

    It’s good to be a grumpy-old man sometimes. It keeps people in check.

  2. John Dupuis Says:

    There always seems to be some really great buzz book that all the cool kids are reading. Sometimes they are worth it but mostly they’re full of hype and overstatement. I read Everything is Miscellaneous a little while ago and found it interesting (and definitely worthwhile) but maddening. Not only do you have to wear blinders to read it, but I think blinders helped writing it too. I’m about 50 pages into Wikinomics right now and it’s more of the same. For every interesting, valid, penetrating insight there has to be at least 10 wildly unsupported (and unsupportable) claims of “the future is going to be exactly this way because I think so.” I’m not sure if I’ll get around to finishing it. One thing I find about all these books is that they’re incredibly repetitive, like they’re assuming that nobody is reading more than one chapter so they have to constantly restate the main ideas over and over.

    The Wesch videos are cut from the same cloth.

  3. Steve Lawson Says:

    Why do you hate America 2.0?

  4. John Dupuis Says:

    The world needs more Canada.

  5. Leslie Johnston Says:

    Nicely put, Walt. I wish we could all stop taking sides. I talk about it a bi in a blog post: http://digitaleccentric.blogspot.com/2007/10/new-york-times-article-on-oca.html

  6. walt Says:

    Steve: Is America 2.0 what we’re dealing with in the current administration? I’ll just let that one go…

    Leslie: Thanks. (And I’ve added your blog to my Bloglines list…)

    John: Or maybe these books are written on the assumption of universal ADD–or by people whose own attention spans are short?


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