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information, design, architecture; information design + architecture

Reading machines

Lee Gomes’ Portal column “Why We’re Powerless To Resist Grazing On Endless Web Data” has gone and crystalised some thoughts I had following Matt Webb’s comment here, that “RSS turns us into machines for reading”.

Thoughts that that was wrong. RSS makes more explicit, and more conventionally mechanical, Deleuze and Guattari’s insight that “[a] book itself is a little machine”; that it’s an inert mechanical assemblage that we plug in to, and through us is plugged in to other books, or spaces, or recollections, or artworks. This is, of course, the exact opposite of clarifying how it is that we might show this lines except through their traditional forms of discursive scholarship.

The citation is a shitty hyperlink, the index a shitty full-content search, and pagination a physically-contingent and essentially imprecise form of conveying the where of the explanation of a thought. The machines that are other people’s thoughts are now being opened up, and what I and others have been calling “desire paths” are what Matt Jones in a recent interview has said people a calling “information wakes” (although I’m unclear where; would love to know!).

Peter Merholz is right that extending programs that capture this data beyond the computer is inevitable, but Nike+ isn’t beyond the computer; it just extends the extant cable from the computer to the pocket. Is it possible to bridge the physical and digital information areas? The emphasis is that discussion is on building a personal data-set, and from all manner of miscellaneous procedures. It’s tools will be handy, but desire paths are specific and intentional. Libraries are a object-centered social spaces, but their social objects aren’t books; they’re the links between books.

Getting closer to that practical advice, Nate…

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Filed under: Information use, , ,

2 Responses

  1. natehill says:

    CC, just wanted to add something to this- one of the most powerful choices I have as a technology user/reader (whether technology means book or rss feed) is the option to just plain say NO. It seems obvious, but for information obsessives it may be important to point it out. If I don’t want to subscribe to a feed, I don’t. Its nice to have preferences that make various functions convenient if you want that, but I don’t have to use Matt Webb’s Snap or a feed aggregator or anything if I don’t want. I’ll add that I can say that through experience. The way that I deal with the problem Lee Gomes talks about in that WSJ article is by simply not doing it. I actually only read what gets pushed to me via human beings, from emails, by chance, and through conversation. Think about it- by simply not subscribing via rss, by depending on your memory or a friend’s recommendation, you bridge the digital and the physical. I love following knowledgeable people on twitter and pulling articles and blogs off of there for consumption- does that make me a reading machine or a social reader, or both? What if I depend on other peoples interests and personalities to define my own interests and vision, rather than being intraverted and relying consistently on reading that which I’ve already subscribed to? Maybe the answer to bridging the digital and physical isn’t always building more technology, sometimes its a matter of selectively not using technology?

  2. C. C. Pugh says:

    I don’t mean “machine” in a negative way at all. It’s pulled from Deleuze & Guattari, and there isn’t anything anti-social about it; instead, I’ve been thinking about it as a way to express a kind of “reading” that covers media consumption in all it’s mediums, and there’s a strong social line running through those behaviours. I’m halfway between liking using “machine” in this context because it ties in to extant theory that sheds light on how we consume media, and abandoning it because it sometimes sounds like I’m banging the “blogs = book Skrulls” drum. I’m not!

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