“What difference would it make” is at the core of his philosophy, which was practical, or pragmatic, in its concern for what the consequences of a belief are rather than what its truth is. That is to say, most philosophy is geared toward finding out the existing condition of things. James focused instead on how beliefs shape the world. Rather than ask whether or not God existed, James might try to ascertain what difference belief in God would make to how you live your life or how a society conducts itself. What is the consequence of the belief, rather than the truth of it? It is a deeply American approach, directed toward the malleability rather than the immutability of the world, toward what we make of it, rather than what it is made of. This aspect of Jame’s philosophy is sometimes misinterpreted as a kind of easy solipsism akin to the contemporary New Age motion that we each create our reality (a crass way of overlooking culture, politics, and economics — that is, realities are made, but by groups, movements, ideologies, religions, societies, economics, and more, as well as natural forces, over long stretches of time, not by individuals alone).
Rebecca Solnit, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disasters, 2009
Secondly, you’ve probably heard the term “singularity” or “technological singularity.” This term has been used in math to describe an asymptote-like situation where normal rules no longer apply. It’s been used in physics to describe a phenomenon like an infinitely small, dense black hole or the point we were all squished into right before the Big Bang. Again, situations where the usual rules don’t apply. In 1993, Vernor Vinge wrote a famous essay in which he applied the term to the moment in the future when our technology’s intelligence exceeds our own—a moment for him when life as we know it will be forever changed and normal rules will no longer apply. Ray Kurzweil then muddled things a bit by defining the singularity as the time when the Law of Accelerating Returns has reached such an extreme pace that technological progress is happening at a seemingly-infinite pace, and after which we’ll be living in a whole new world. I found that many of today’s AI thinkers have stopped using the term, and it’s confusing anyway, so I won’t use it much here (even though we’ll be focusing on that idea throughout).
The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence, Tim Urban, Wait but why
Following the scientific community’s lead in striving to describe the physical universe through observations, we adapted the concept of an observation into the bibliographic universe and assert that cataloging is a process of making observations on resources. Human or computational observers following institutional business rules (i.e., the terms, facts, definitions, and action assertions that represent constraints on an enterprise and on the things of interest to the enterprise)5 create resource descriptions — accounts or representations of a person, object, or event being drawn on by a person, group, institution, and so on, in pursuit of its interests.
Given this definition, a person (or a computation) operating from a business rules–generated institutional or personal point of view, and executing specified procedures (or algorithms) to do so, is an integral component of a resource description process (see figure 1). This process involves identifying a resource’s textual, graphical, acoustic, or other features and then classifying, making quality and fitness for purpose judgments, etc., on the resource. Knowing which institutional or individual points of view are being employed is essential when parties possessing multiple views on those resources describe cultural heritage resources. How multiple resource descriptions derived from multiple points of view are to be related to one another becomes a key theoretical issue with significant practical consequences.
Murray, R. J., & Tillett, B. B. (2011). Cataloging theory in search of graph theory and other ivory towers: Object: Cultural heritage resource description networks. Information Technology and Libraries, 30(4), 170-184.
GV: You mentioned “media archeology” and I was wondering if you’re referring to any of Shannon Mattern’s work…
RP: Well, she’s one of the smartest people in the world. What Shannon Mattern does that’s super-interesting is she teaches both urban space and she teaches libraries and archives. And it occurred to me after looking at her syllabi — and I know she’s thought about this a lot, but one model for thinking about archives in libraries — you know, Megan was the creator of the specialized taxonomy for this pace, but in a broader sense, collections are cities. You know, there’s neighborhoods of enclosure and openness. There’s areas of interchange. There’s a kind of morphology of growth which nobody’s really examined yet. But I think it’s a really productive metaphor for thinking about what the specialty archives have been and what they might be. [Mattern’s] work is leading in that position. She teaches a library in her class.
Situated Knowledges, Issue 3: Prelinger Library, Geogina Voss, Rick Prelinger and Megan Prelinger.
We live today with an abundance of “product”—there are more books than readers who want them, as evidenced by the copious piles on remainder racks at our bookstores. It wasn’t always thus, of course. Before the advent of printing, each copy was unique and there were few of them. Printing brought exact copies, but it also brought editions, as printers throughout Europe produced their own versions of texts. One European intellectual of the 1500s, Conrad Gessner, felt a need to gain some control over this tsunami of works; he set out to create a universal bibliography of all works in print, but not all of the various editions of the works. Gessner’s Bibliotheca Universalis was in part a response to what he saw as wasteful duplication among printers, and he hoped that a list of available works would lead them to concentrate on new works rather than reprinting works already on the market (Serrai and Serrai 2005). Here it can be said that Gessner obviously did not understand the economics of the book trade.
In my research I have not uncovered the tipping point that led library thinkers like Seymour Lubetzky and Eva Verona to take up the question of the work versus the edition. Yet somehow between the latter part of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, it appears that the number of different editions in libraries had become burdensome to users. Although it was still essential to distinguish between editions, it also became important to inform the user that a certain group of editions represented the same work. In just a little over one hundred years we had come full swing from presenting users solely with works, then solely with editions, to needing to gather editions back into their work groups.
Karen Coyle, FRBR, Before and After: The Work
Given the ongoing and increasing machinization of immaterial modes of production, an attention to the affective nature and labor of technology in life and work and the ways in which it also impacts human subjectivity and gender seems a fruitful new line of inquiry for feminist thinkers concerned with labor issues. If we take up a call to arms to think about life and work and the subjects we wish to become, how might new technologies enhance, augment, or limit our feminist political desires for subjectivities free from domination? In the context of the academic library, how does the disruption of the digital library allow us to rethink and revalorize the subjectivity of the librarian?
Sloniowski, Lisa. “Affective Labor, Resistance, and the Academic Librarian“, Library Trends, Vol. 64, No. 4, 2016 (“Reconfiguring Race, Gender, and Sexuality,” edited by Emily Drabinski and Patrick Keilty), pp. 645–666.
I want a feminist writing of the body that metaphorically emphasizes vision again, because we need to reclaim that sense to find our way through all the visualizing tricks and powers of modern sciences and technologies that have transformed the objectivity debates. We need to learn in our to name where we are and are not, in dimensions of mental and physical space we hardly know how to name. So, not so perversely, objectivity turns out to be about particular and specific embodiment and definitely not about the false vision promising transcendence of all limits and responsibility. The moral is simple: only partial perspective promises objective vision. All Western cultural narratives about objectivity are allegories of the ideologies governing the relations of what we call mind and body, distance and responsibility. Feminist objectivity is about limited location and situated knowledge, not about transcendence and splitting of subject and object. It allows us to become answerable for what we learn how to see.
Haraway, Donna. “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspectives“, in Feminist Studies, pp. 575–599, 1988.