The Scientific Indian

A Universal Library

Google is busy building it, scanning books and scaring publishers off their pants. An article at Speigel:

The little Google search window would be the gateway to the content of the 32 million books, 750 million articles, 25 million songs, 500 million images, 500,000 films, 3 million television programs and 100 billion public Web pages that Wired writer Kevin Kelly estimates humanity has published since the days of Sumerian clay tablets. To store all of this gigantic volume of data — estimated at 50 petabytes — would still require a building the size of a small town’s library, Kelly wrote in a 2006 article for the New York Times. But in the future, all of that knowledge will be only a mouse click away — and will fit on a single iPod.

The practical aspect of the system would be that millions of Internet users could achieve what a handful of librarians would never manage — the networking of book information through links and tags on the Internet. This digital library would be a giant collection of relationships, in which anyone could communicate with anyone else, and in which books could be disassembled into their components, linked to one another, reassembled, marked, analyzed, referenced and criticized.

But the system could also turn into an indiscriminate jumble of information. Instead of leading us into enlightenment, the random barrage of data could end in digital decadence, or what Friedrich Nietzsche called the “anarchy of atoms.” In “The Case of Wagner,” Nietzsche criticized the “literary decadence” of his day: “The word becomes sovereign and leaps out of the sentence, the sentence reaches out and obscures the meaning of the page, and the page gains life at the expense of the whole.” The whole, Nietzsche complained, is no longer a whole. His words sound like a foreshadowing of hypertext on the Internet.


  1. #1 bharath
    March 30, 2007

    There is a nice article by Vannevar Bush, who pretty much laid it all out for intranets, internet, and electronic libraries in the 1940s sometime. He worked for the army of US I believe.

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