There is a remarkable paragraph in David Weinberger’s new book “Everything is Miscellaneous,” actually, it is the last one:
“A topic is not a domain with edges. It is how passion focuses itself. We are building an ever-growing pile of smart leaves that we can organize as we need to at any one moment. Some ways of organizing it – of finding meaning in it – will be grassroots; some will be official. Some will apply to small groups; some will engender large groups; some will subvert established groups. Some will be funny; some will be tragic. But it will be the users who decide what the leaves mean. The world won’t ever stay miscellaneous because we are together making it ours.”
I like Weinberger’s intellectual optimism. My grandmother always told me that anything but optimism was irresponsible. In fact, she impressed upon me that in times of crisis it is the lack of optimism that inadvertently paves the way for tragedy. And we are in times of crisis. We have entered the age of nano-communication. Our information society is facing a wave of fragmented meaning, in other words, a crisis of spirituality. Only optimism weaves together the loose, miscellaneous ends of information and provides “the big picture” for the aggregated micro-cosmi of Flickr et al.
In this context, it is useful to remember the original meaning of the Greek word “cosmos” itself: “all there is.” What this implies is that each micro must have a macro or it wouldn’t exist (semantically speaking). If a micro-cosmos is “all there is,” it requires that there is more than “all there is.” It is precisely this knowledge of the macro that serves as an indispensable tenet of governance in the information economy, infusing the “micro”-sphere with moral – be it micro-societies, micro-blogging, or in the case of Weinberger, micro-taxonomies or folksonomies.
Weinberger’s book does exactly that: It lays out the macro of micro, a conciliatory narrative for irreconcilable individual truth(ism)s, a shelter for homeless thoughts. And yet, it is ironic that the best approach to truly making sense of the shifting paradigms of information still seems to be a linear book and not Wikipedia (or Twitter, for that matter). Producing and organizing information may be increasingly crowdsourced to a diverse, distributed committee of contributors; creating and finding meaning in it remains a lonely task.
(Shameless plug: More on this in my forthcoming book “The Macro of Micro”)