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Book Review: Everything Is Miscellaneous by David Weinberger

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Oh, what a blessing to be living in the so-called Information Age. Or is it a curse? I guess it depends on how much celebrity gossip you can stomach. Nonetheless, there are few who would argue that the proliferation of computers and the Internet hasn’t at the very least made human existence moderately more convenient, even if it is in the most trivial sense. Of course, whenever a new technology becomes mainstream, there is a certain need to investigate its inner workings in an effort to improve it to further its usefulness. And such is the current climate of the digital era. And such is the cause of David Weinberger’s book Everything Is Miscellaneous.

Because of the digital revolution, data is currently multiplying at an astounding rate. Fortunately, the digital revolution has also provided us with many ways to make sense of the growing data and more so, ways to define such data so that it is useful in an increasing variety of ways. The complexity of knowledge matters less and less based on how we are able to access and interpret that knowledge within the digital medium, or what Weinberger refers to as the third order of order. Thus, the impact of the potentialities of the third order of order – on the marketplace, on technology, on society in general – is immense and incalculable.

Everything Is Miscellaneous explains that the desire to categorize is human nature. In the physical realm, it is often necessary to meticulously itemize nearly each and every thing – chronologically, alphabetically – down to the minutest detail. Even then this organization sometimes lacks effectiveness. But, according to Weinberger, the third order of order has made most of this meticulous categorization unnecessary. Even though some data has no discernible meaning until it is contextualized and categorized, Weinberger argues that we can give more meaning to this data by allowing it to exist in many different categories at once.

Going back as far as ancient Greece and employing such predictable Internet notables as iTunes and Amazon, Weinberger uses many examples of the historical entropic nature of data organization and categorization in the physical realm and compares and contrasts these to similar examples in the new third order of order. To that end, this article is a perfect example of the potentialities of the third order of order. Though it is a book review, it will also be listed under such diverse topics as business, and culture (I was hoping for a ‘miscellaneous’ category, but none exists). The possibilities of categorizing combinations can seem endless, not to mention sometimes superfluous or even pointless. But the object of such methods is to make products, information, and data more readily available to more users, which will make transactions easier, thusly combining two elements of utmost importance in digital life – access and efficiency.

Much of this is fairly obvious when you think about it, but that isn’t to say that the nature of organization in the digital world doesn’t beg for an in-depth investigation. And, further, much of what Weinberger writes doesn’t become obvious until after you read it, which is the subtle genius of Everything Is Miscellaneous.

Certainly, there is a well-documented downside to the sudden proliferation of available information. Orwellian security issues are almost constantly expounded upon at great length and not just by those with a conspiratorial bent. There are legitimate privacy concerns in cyberspace. And though Weinberger does make a few asides addressing these concerns, an in-depth exploration is omitted, perhaps because of the wealth of existing material concerning these matters.

It’s not always clear what constitutes a third order of order, though. And further, Weinberger doesn’t wager to guess what the cumulative effect of the possibilities that the third order of order has unleashed will be in the long run or how and to what extent or even if it will directly influence an individual’s life in any meaningful way going forward. But it’s possible that we may never know the exact answers to these questions as the digital realm will continue to grow and change, responding to the desires and needs of the users, further validating Weinberger’s theses in the process.

Everything Is Miscellaneous is not just for readers with more than a passing interest in what one might call data organization theories. It is mostly accessible to the layperson, but never insults the reader’s intelligence, even though it contains some dry passages. On the whole, Everything Is Miscellaneous never fails to be engaging and the content is relevant to just about anybody who has ever found their life directly influenced by the increasing pervasiveness of the Internet and its sundry capabilities.

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