[Humanist] 22.641 looking back

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Mar 23 07:21:30 CET 2009

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 641.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>                      (51)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] Re: 22.639 looking back

  [2]   From:    "Michael S. Hart" <hart at pglaf.org>                       (106)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist]  22.639 looking back

        Date: Sun, 22 Mar 2009 09:44:09 -0400
        From: James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] Re: 22.639 looking back
        In-Reply-To: <49C60291.4030308 at mccarty.org.uk>

Much appreciation for Martin Mueller's comment and for Willard's
follow up.  Of course speed matters.  Of course it's a good thing.
And this might be a meaningful response to my recent posts if, at any
time, I complained about the internet or current technologies as a bad
thing.  Unfortunately, I didn't.

If it helps, yes, I'm grateful for speed of access, do believe it
"makes a difference," but would like to know just what that difference
is, socially, phenomenologically, etc.  Furthermore, whenever we posit
a "difference" we have to identify a "difference from" something else,
which for the sake of this discussion can only be found in past eras
prior to the advent of digital technology.  In other words, we can
only know how present technologies make a difference today by
understanding the past.

I find the reactions to my posts here quite curious: I advocate the
importance of a study of the past for the sake of -understanding the
present-, and people assume I am critical of present technology, want
only to study the past, assume at the outset that I do not believe the
present could be substantially different from the past, etc.  This
constitutes a functional illiteracy in my opinion -- toward certain
ideas, which cannot be even clearly read, much less clearly

Yes, I do appreciate current technology  I have worked in web
development in the past.  I am not a Luddite.  But no, I am not
enamored of all technologies, and neither am I ignorant enough to
think we can learn nothing about the present from the past.

Let me restate my question:

The last major revolution in "text" technology, the shift from
manuscript to print culture, has been well documented to have
contributed to significant social and phenomenological changes, such
as the spread of literacy, increased production of printed texts
(presses in 1800 could print 250 sheets an hour; presses in 1848 could
print 12,0000 sheets an hour, and often needed to), the
democratization of learning, etc.

In these terms, I see the internet as an extension or continuation of
the changes begun by the advent of print technology, but not nearly as
substantially different -socially and phenomenologically from the user
end- as the change from manuscript to print culture.  Can anyone
coherently describe social and phenomenological changes in the user
experience of internet texts analogous to changes from print to
manuscript culture?

Yes, increased speed of access to printed material and speed of
searching it is a difference, but to me this is part of the same
trajectory -- we've been increasing speed of access dramatically for
two hundred years now, and the point is that we're still -performing
the same tasks-,  just performing them more quickly.  What's really
-new-?  I don't see a spread of visual literacy either.  If anything,
people are less visually literate now than they were in the Medieval
era, when fewer people could read.  But, I'm open to correction by
anyone who has studied these subjects and can write coherently and
intelligently about them.

Jim R

        Date: Sun, 22 Mar 2009 10:44:34 -0700 (PDT)
        From: "Michael S. Hart" <hart at pglaf.org>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist]  22.639 looking back
        In-Reply-To: <20090322084148.4D0242F327 at woodward.joyent.us>

On Sun, 22 Mar 2009, Humanist Discussion Group wrote:

>                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 639.
>         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
>                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>        Date: Sat, 21 Mar 2009 06:19:46 -0500
>        From: Martin Mueller <martin.mueller at mac.com>
>        >
> About James Rovira's
>> Tag clouds
>> perform the functions of catalogs and indexes, and all the differences
>> you mention, really, are still just differences in speed of access.
>> It's the difference between walking over to a shelf and thumbing
>> through a book vs. clicking on a link and getting almost the right
>> content some of the time -- and this difference is primarily time and
>> availability of content.
> Ranganathan's fourth law of library science usefully states "Save the
> time of the reader." When the time cost of an activity rises or falls
> by orders of magnitude, the calculus of the possible changes. You do
> things you previously couldn't do or you no longer do things you once
> did becase it is quite literally not 'worthwhile.' We are in the world
> of changes in degree turning into changes of kind.
> The transformational changes brought about by digital technology are
> for the most part 'just' a matter of speeding up conceptually very
> simple operations, such as sorting lists, moving stuff from here to
> there, etc. Doug Engelbart's famous essay on Augmenting the Human
> Intellect is very clear on this. It's just a lot of little stuff, but
> it adds up.

While I certainly agree with "save the time of the reader," I cannot
agree with "just" a matter of speeding things up, sorting, etc.

It seems obvious to me that the biggest changes are and will be what
also happened at the dawn of The Gutenberg Press.

The ubiquity of eBooks compared to paper books will change literacy,
much in the same way as Gutenberg books did over hand-written.

This "Literacy Revolution" will cause an "Education Revolution" will
in turn cause another "Scientific Revolution" which will, no doubts,
cause a "Neo-Industrial Revolution" that will change the future with
as much gusto as The Industrial Revolution changed the past.

More and more things with be digitized until virtually everything in
the world will be available on the Internet.

This will not be limited to two-dimensional objects as we have had a
system of what are referred to as "Replicators" or three-dimensional
computer printers for a couple decades now, and current models vary,
but many are affordable and fit on a desktop.

Keep an eye on the "RepRap" people for a replicator than can really,
literalliy, make copies of itself, with just a few off the shelf old
fashioned input materials.

Of couse, in my own career, it seems obvious that the fact that very
literally anyone with a computer can afford to by a terabyte drive--
even outboard versions are under $100--and put on ONE MILLION BOOKS!

2.5 million, if you use file compression, a million letters a book.

Thus, for barely doubling the price of the average new computer, you
can add a handful of such terabyes and collect 10+ million books.


Now THAT, my friends and colleagues, is a REAL CHANGE that will very
likely change the world more than anything else in the long run.

If that is not enough to impress you, try this on for size. . . .

Premise #1

There are about 25 million books in the public domain.

There are already about 10 million available on the Internet.

That's only 40% of what is available.

8.x  million from Google
1.3  million from Internet Archive
  .5  million from World Public Library
  .1  million from Project Gutenberg

not to mention thousands of other sites containing eBooks including
some very prestigious national eBook archives such as Gallica.

We are rapdily approaching the half-way mark on the "S" curve, then
it will slow down somewhat as the books get harder to find, but the
technology will speed up, and the accuracy will improve.

Premise #2

There are 250 languages on Earth with over a million speakers.

Let's suppose the average eBook gets translated, in any manner, to
just 40% of those 250 languages. . .thats' 100 languages per book.


10 million books translated to 100 languages. . .???????

That's a library of ONE BILLION BOOKS!!!

Now THAT should impress even the most jaded. . . .

And it WILL happen, and starting sooner rather than later.

One last thought. . . .

By the time the "S" curve starts to peter out around 2020,
we will be talking about petabyte drives, not terabytes.

The result will be that anyone will be able to. . .


Some will cast doubts and muddy the waters, but it is all
to clear that there weren't 10,000 eBooks 10 years ago.

Now there are 10,000,000.

The growth curve can actually slow down and we still will
have our billion eBooks by 2020. . . .


Michael S. Hart
Project Gutenberg
Inventor of ebooks

Recommended Books:

Dandelion Wine, by Ray Bradbury:  For The Right Brain
Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson:  To Understand The Internet
The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster:  Lesson of Life. . .

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