Reading the Everything is Miscellaneous: the power of the new digital disorder by David Weinberger

Weinberger, D. (2008). Everything is miscellaneous: The power of the new digital disorder. New York: Times Books.

How has digitalization and web 2.0 affected the world of organization? This is what Everything is Miscellaneous: the power of the new digital disorder tries to answer.

The need to organize and categorize seems ingrained in us. We organize to bring some order. Categorizing and organizing helps us manage our lives and create meaning. (I remember reading somewhere that if we can use 100% of our brain capacity, we wouldn’t need to organize. 😛).

Organization schema permeates our lives whether working or personal. Author David Weinberger used examples from a stationery store to museums, libraries, books & images to plants, insects and worms to demonstrate that.

Weinberger argues that the digital revolution has transformed organization schemas. He said that organizing physical objects is problematic because a physical object is limited by space and time. It can only be in one place at a time. Metadata or cataloguing was born to partially solve this problem. But categorizing has its own limitations. Most organization is done in context. This is especially so for a shared space like a book store or library. One man’s poison is another man’s meat. One universal overarching organization schema just doesn’t work.

When the world is still firmly in atoms, people live with the inconvenience. The digital world, Weinberger argues, changes all this. It allows us to digitize information and metadata to organize and imbue meaning on the fly or as and when we need it.

It is an interesting read for a librarian whose work is surrounded by the organization of information. There are snippets of history lessons about various organization schemas which I enjoyed reading about. I also agree that organization is basically the relationship between knowledge, essence and meaning (p 219). We organize knowledge either to understand its essence or to make some sense out of it.

Personally, I find Everything is miscellaneous difficult to read because it seems rambling and repetitive. I guess perhaps Weinberger was trying to strengthen his arguments by using examples from different disciplines but it could have been better organized (or did he mess it up on purpose to prove his points? I hope not).

For lauding the digital order of things as the way to go, Weinberger failed to address the following issues that come with the digital world: digital preservation and information retrieval (yes, I’m a librarian after all)

Finally, flawed or not, it is still a book that contributes to the conversation about how the digital revolution is affecting our lives.

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Happy reading!

everything is miscellaneous

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