Information Has Always Been Dynamic Rather Than Static
from the fascinating dept
AllThingsD points us to a very long, but quite fascinating article by Robert Darnton, Director of the University Library at Harvard, ostensibly about what it means to be a library in the new age, but the article covers a lot more ground than that. In fact, I’d argue that really, only the last paragraph discusses the role of today’s library (in a slightly rushed manner), while the previous 48 paragraphs (5,814 words) are a variety of interesting snippets that act as prologue to that final paragraph. Within those first 48 paragraphs, however, there’s probably enough material to write about four or five entirely separate posts, from the history of newspapers (they aren’t trustworthy, they tended to copy each other and make up stuff, they’re not very useful as a record of history — but are useful as a look at the prism through which people viewed their events), about book publishing (it’s always been a mess) to how you determine what’s important either for news or a book (no one really knows).
But what comes through is the idea that information is a much more dynamic presence than most people consider. Especially today, people seem to think that once something is written, it’s somehow set in stone — and, in fact, that’s why we give automatic copyright to that content. But that’s rarely true in history (since the days when text was literally set in stone), even when it was more difficult to “change” a text compared to these days. For example, Darnton tells the following story of Voltaire:
In order to spice up his text and to increase its diffusion, he collaborated with pirates behind the back of his own publisher, adding passages to the pirated editions.
That doesn’t seem all that different than seeing folks like Trent Reznor today release his own works on BitTorrent and encouraging others to make mashups with his content. What it comes down to is the idea that most packages of information are recipes. They’re a general description of the work, but to make them “spicier” or “sweeter” or (in some cases, we need to admit) “better” people will change and adjust that information. Sometimes it will be by the original creator of that content, but more often it will be by others. And that’s not a bad thing (even if strong copyright believers claim it’s somehow “immoral”). It’s just the nature of information. And while that represents challenges for anyone who’s trying to archive all of that information, on the whole it’s a process that should be celebrated, rather than feared.