Monday, February 7, 2011

Alphabetical Disorder

Ok, I'll admit it. I'm compulsive. If I like a multi-volume book or a book series, I have to have all of them, in order, from the same edition so they'll match. I want every issue of a magazine, or I save none. And I want my email converted to a database or Wiki where all the useful information is preserved, in a logical structure, with all typos and spelling mistakes corrected. That's reasonable, right?

Think you may be compulsive?  Take this simple test:

  1. Tihs drives me crazy. (T/F) 

If you answered "TRUE," you may be compulsive.  If you copied this entire post, fixed the typo, and are now reading the corrected copy, seek help.

It used to be that INFORMATION was kept in BOOKS, which had been carefully edited and proofread, so they were reasonably correct and suitably packed with content. Of course, there were always plenty of trashy books, but you could recognize them by their lurid covers. (The really trashy books had plain covers. That was the tip off.)

Newspapers and magazines were considered ephemera ... reasonable ways of communicating short-lived information, but never with the weight, literal or figurative, of books. Then libraries started archiving newspapers and magazines, on microfiche or otherwise, so that even that transient information was preserved.

Now, information comes fast and furious, and from all sides. Everyone can publish via email, blogs, Facebook statuses (stati?), tweets, text messages and dozens of other means. New ones are being devised as I write. And all of it, every "c u l8r" and "squeat" message, every butt-dialed voice mail or accidental video of someone's feet, is considered content, potentially worthy of archiving.

If you watched the recent PBS series Downton Abbey, you saw that among the profusion of household staff, there were valets and maids for each member of the family, ready to help with everything from reviewing the day's schedule to selecting clothes. Think Jeeves in the well-known P. G. Wodehouse books (of which I don't yet have a matching set). These personal servants were ready with whatever was needed, at the moment it was needed. That was 100 years ago. Surely one goal of technology is to create the ultimate electronic valet ... something that can sift through all the thousands of messages and information sources and offer just what we need when we need it, with a clean simple presentation.  Yet instead, we have chaos.

The Internet, merely by simplifying the creation of spontaneous, poorly written messages, is a compulsive's nightmare.

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