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Some Perspective on Alexandria v2.0

PlatoThe goals of Google and Amazon sometimes seem to be the re-creation of the Library of Alexandria: all of the world's knowledge, available in one place. (They're not the only ones - not too long ago, Napster created what was effectively the music version of the Celestial Jukebox, conceived by Paul Goldstein way back in 1994 to describe a world where people would have access to any media at the touch of a button.)

For anybody that has lost their phone - and knows the consequential pain of not remembering important phone numbers - it's easier to see the potential downside of Google's efforts. Plato once bemoaned the advent of writing, suspecting that people would rather have the appearance of wisdom that written characters gave them rather than the truth of actually knowing something. Data from a search engine isn't understanding, nor is this cut-and-paste remix culture a sustainable substitute for real synthesis.

As pioneers in this vague new world of blogging and search, I feel we have two obligations to society. First, we must think through the implications how we choose to use technologies, especially in the way that children make choices about their education. Second, we also should remember hubris, so we must be willing to listen, to swallow our pride when appropriate, and take a principled stand when necessary.

Alexandria burned, and with it much of human civilization was lost forever. I believe Brewster Kahle is doing a great thing with the Internet Archive. But I can't help but think of the loss we might sustain if by having all of these cool knowledge tools, we fail to challenge young people to learn.


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