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Everything is Miscellaneous – A Review:

Information Entropy

By Christopher Dineson

(Context Book Assignment)

I’m still surprised by how rapidly and completely the digital revolution transformed my Generation X’s information lifestyle. Our predecessors and successors – Gen X is flanked by Baby Boomers and Millennials — experienced the high-tech take-over as well, but we were are the only population that had an analog childhood and a digital adulthood. Unlike later Millennials who had no choice, we embraced and expanded the digital world (e.g. the Internet of All Things) in large part because we felt a casual disdain for authority and structured work hours. Furthermore, we didn’t like being micro-managed, preferring a hands-off philosophy in the workplace. Lucky for us, digital technology allowed us to asynchronously and autonomously work by proxy and circumvent management altogether by starting our own companies online. This was all because we no longer were limited to rules of atoms and space, as Weinberger put it. We were now playing by the bits and bytes rules in which information which are significantly different. Indeed today, “More studies reveal that Gen X is playing a critical – and underappreciated – role in leadership as organizations grapple with digital transformation” (2018, CNBC). And why not? We were the original “life hackers.” 

In Everything is Miscellaneous, David Weinberger studies today’s digital alternate universe by comparing it to our physical and primary one. Through his studies, interviews, and research, Weinberger sheds light on how our private and professional lives move online where the rules of the physical world ― in which everything is arranged in a singular and optimal order ― are upended. This is where increasing piles of random paperwork, if left unchecked, become increasingly disordered and even chaotic. By contrast, in the digital world, information entropy yields positive and transformative effects. 

Information Wants to be Miscellaneous

At face value, messy information sounds like a headache, a time-suck, and a possible liability. I’m sure you wouldn’t want your checking account number mixed in with a Facebook post. And no one wants to sit for hours, days, even months, rifling over pictures that are constantly being data-dumped into your hard drive. Weinberger writes about these examples which include unnamed and often unwanted digital pictures mixed in with the keepers would be a nightmare to sort out yet are regularly uploaded on websites such as Flicker.com where the editing-out and file naming will be done for free by other customers. Or another example, your iTunes collection wherein your music information is conveniently sorted in all sorts of ways by you or other users with access to your playlists. Weinberger explains that this is all possible because the bits and bytes that make up your digital pictures and music tracks exist in a veritable mess! Unlike products on the shelves of a store, for example, that can only have one place in one organizational order, digital products can be in many places at once and found by reorganizing a digital store yourself in as many ways as you can imagine. And digital organizations will tailor your search options based on your patterns of behavior which leads to new ideas and greater efficiency. 

Friends are More Important than Authority 

So according to the author, messiness is a digital virtue. Another one is flat hierarchies. Gen X’ers like myself probably relish the fact that authorities are less important than friends when you’re online. In the digital world, customers trust people like themselves and build virtual communities to evaluate products, services, and experiences. I remember buying the thick and expensive U.S. News and Forbes annual college ranking in high school to help me with my BIG academic choices. Everyone I knew in school relied on these books and virtually no one had access to any school alumni or students.

Today, we have RateMyTeachers.com where students evaluate, rate, and review teachers and courses. We can also use information-sharing sites such as Quora (I’m a huge fan) to get unfiltered and not-for-profit, so to speak, advice from actual students who attend or graduated from a school you’re interested in and better still, you can begin online discussions may influence you to check options you’d never thought of. This kind of information is public and rather than being created as a business asset, it’s a social and democratic one which can link you to new frontiers that value your interests. 

Too Much Information? No Such Thing

The common online user has always been the top of the digital hierarchy. I know I’ve always appreciated this inverse relationship with the physical world. Another thing the author points out is that there’s no such thing as “too much” information in the digital world. Whereas in the physical one, you can’t write more than one label for each filed folder. But you can ascribe many names, titles, tags, descriptions and blank spaces to digital documents. Here, the more information you give a document the more hooks people will have to find what they need. Weinberger provides the example of searching through 11 million photographs in the Bill Gates’ Bettmann Archive. Each picture has just one title, and because of this, it can only be found with one search criteria. This is profoundly limiting. The author writes, “the solution to the overabundance of information is more information” (2008, pp. 13). 

Conclusion

I believe that everyone who can access and navigate today’s hyperlinked internet benefits from how its information is organized. I think that Everything is Miscellaneous does a great job at contrasting the profound differences between how and why information is organized in the digital world compared with the physical world. I am certain that he advocates digitizing analogue information within libraries, museums, archives, media collections, and group discussions for a more democratic and humanitarian global citizenry. “The miscellaneous order is not transforming only business. It is changing how we think the world itself is organized and – perhaps more important – who we think has the authority to tell us so” (2008, pp. 23). 

References:

Weinberger, D., (2008). Everything is Miscellaneous. New York: Times Books / Henry Holt and Co.

Generation X Not Millennials is Changing the Nature of Work. (2018, April 2018). Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2018/04/11/generation-x–not-millennials–is-changing-the-nature-of-work.html

Images retrieved from:

https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Passcode/2015/0924/Hackers-at-20

https://www.cynanotary.com/store/p56/Miscellaneous.html

http://www.usnews.com/best-colleges

https://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/blog/techflash/2011/12/where-bill-gates-corbis-stores-its-15.html

https://www.participatelearning.com/blog/nurturing-global-citizenship/