Recently I experienced the advancing edge of the web-based meltdown of information structure, and it isn’t pretty. While researching a paper, I came across the citation for conference paper published in 1999 by the British Department of Trade & Industry, The Economics of the Knowledge Driven Economy. The citation included a web address, so I went on-line and typed out the address (www…). The computer spit back the message that the web site had been reorganized, and my address was no longer valid. Going to the Department of Trade & Industry’s home page (I am, after all, a trained information profession) and used the site’s search engine. Unfortunately, The Economics of the Knowledge Driven Economy is so important, that, literally, hundreds of subsequent authors have referred it. And that’s exactly what my search of the Department of Trade & Industry’s web site turned up – hundreds of quotes and references to the original document. I gave up long before I could find the Ur-text. My failed search is more than merely inconvenient. In fact, it points to a frightening trend. A document can now be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. There are those who were fortunate enough to see the original text, read it, digest it and comment on it. And there are the rest of us, flooded by the words of the commentators, who end up having to take their word for it. In an odd way, this harkens back to the pre-Guttenberg era, when learned priests read scripture and interpreted them for the illiterate masses. In the midst of unprecedented abundance of information, we are in danger of homogenization of thought. Librarians understand this. We need to be actively engaged in determining the future of information technologies. If we don’t take this up, who will?
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