Friday, June 23, 2006

Shroud June 21, 2006

The tables are turning, as the Internet user becomes the used. You can find out a lot by looking at statistical patterns of search queries - we know that now due to the massive ad machine known as Google, due to the bits and pieces of NSA doings that occasionally float up from the spysmasher underworld and wash upon the shore. The ‘machine’ is learning. Everyday we feed it our queries. The more its used the better search will get.

Meanwhile, I was in Harvard Sq. today for haircut. Coifing my ducktail. Customer at next barber chair is waxing poetic about the number of bookstores in the square. Of course, as I properly ambulated to the barbers’, I window shopped the Grolier, the nation's only all-poetry book store, now under new management [which you might want to put up in big letters, there, new owner], and I stuck my head in the Harvard Bookstore, to eyeball and smell the new books.

Funny because a speech making the rounds by John Updike begins with a discourse on the wonder of the Harvard Sq bookstores. I heard it on a podcast at lunchtime, and it relates to Internet monster side effect. Updike's treatise on the Square is not available via edited transcript, but it is available in entirety the podcast of his speech to the New York National Book expo [see links below]. What he is really there to talk about is Google, and the Universal Library - which I have been calling the Universal Mind, which John Battelle is calling the DataBase of Intentions. In his description of Harvard Sq. book life he is telling. He recalls the Grolier, among others, including used book stores. He recalls as well the book stores of his home town, and those of New York, including Doubledays, and the ‘baronial’ Scribners, both with spiral staircases. [My recollection of Doubledays was it was a grotto to the book, and, that one dark day, Danny Kaye [Walter Mitty!] was there -- famed -- and the staff doted, and I smiled.]

Updike recalls the feel of the books, the covers. As opposed, say, to the Firefox browser and Gutenberg Project Web site. Miss Lonely Hearts, Adventures in the Skin Trade, Season in Hell. New Directions books all. Of most concern to him is how authors make a living, and reach an audience during their live times. The immediate impetus for covering this topic his Kevin Kelly’s NYTimes Magazine article [May 14] on the future of the book [ still sitting on the floor in my living room]. Mash ups are the future, says Kelly, where you mince bits of authors’ together, as you rip CDs. The authors make money by going on lecture tours and becoming celebrities. As culled by Updike of our North Shore.

Now I get a kick out of the fact that I can find Petrarch online and search a term on the merest whim. I also longingly saw a book today, in the Harvard Press bookstore, a tome, red and gold, leather, man, part of a series, of Plutarch. Mother hot pants! John Updike has taken on the Global Google lovefest apparati.

I see some of this in fits. Talk to a kid doing research on the Web, and you worry. They see thngs in fits, and starts, context floats in a vortex. They have chunks they peered deeple into the tunnel to discover. If they'd gone to the library or the bookstore, and found one book, they might have become engaged, and at the same time engaged their subject. I worried about these things when I saw the Card Catalog give way to the terminal. Hail Updike!

His salvo is lisped and brilliant. Updike’s shot across the bow, will be fended by the fenders, but it should give pause to the crew digitizing ‘til the cows come to the home page.

Updike speech Podcast


Updike speech Partial transcript

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