Saturday, February 12, 2011

Reflecting on (Academic) Inqiry within the Network

James Salvo is responding to a concern that the networked library will change the way we engage knowledge and information. Particularly, this is the concern that its infinite capacity and power to connect and index all texts will obsolete the work of scholars and researchers. Furthermore, this suggests that these academics, with access to a complete centralized index, will never actually be done researching, there will always be more work to do. What salvo proposes is a reconsideration of the role of the academic, not to be a collection of information (this is the function of the library) but rather to map a course through this knowledge, becoming well read. Thus, rather than collecting or storing knowledge, it is the academic’s role to navigate this field and develop their own personal trajectory. Salvo concludes with an interesting suggestion, “We cannot allow the network to steal our intellectual wanderings. The infinite library of the network should merely give us a bigger city, not an Itinerary.” (Salvo 40)
While this discussion is relevant to a consideration of academic labor in a contemporary moment, what it offers in the way of a discussion of the value or role of all texts within more expansive information networks is also quite interesting. That is, the increasing centralization of access to information raises a similar problem. I recognize that to suggest that we expand Salvo’s discussion misinterprets his concept of the networked library as a centralized indexed collection because texts and media across global networks is significantly less organized or centralized than in the networked library. None the less, I wonder if it could be argued that the increasing amount of information that is searchable raises similar problems for culture as the networked library does for academics? That is an increasing number of media texts, not necessarily associated with digital forms of distribution are increasingly accessible and searchable online. One could look specifically at underground media culture loosing its cache- think cult film or punk rock. However, more mainstream examples may also merit consideration; the context in which films and television (for example) are experienced is also less restricted. While the solution to analyzing these sifts may not be as simple as what salvo proposes for the academic, the concept of indexing within a not finite space and increasingly total accessibility is a question not just relevant to academic knowledge but to all information.  

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