Cory Doctorow’s half-formed thoughts on one future for bookselling in this morning’s BoingBoing are worth a closer look if you’ve just clicked past the posting without reading it. He mentions the Harvard Bookstore’s Espresso book printer, which I visited and patronized myself a few weeks ago: …but it’s what he says about its implementation that caught my eye:
At the Harvard Bookstore, they have someone who spends the day mousing around on Google Book Search, looking for weird and cool titles in the public domain to print and shelve around the store, as suggestions for the sort of thing you might have printed for yourself. This is a purely curatorial role, the classic thing that a great retailer does, and it’s one of the most exciting bookstore sections I’ve browsed in years. And even so, there’s lots of room for improvement: Google Books produces the blandest, most boring covers for its PD books, and there’s plenty of room for stores to add value with their own covers, with customer-supplied covers (the gift possibilities are bottomless), and so on. I can even imagine the profs across the street producing annotated versions — say, a treatise on Alice in Wonderland with reproductions of ten different editions’ illustrations and selling them through the store’s printer and shelf-space, restoring the ancient bookseller/book-publisher role.
Cleaning up the Desktop led me to this image (see larger) a Harry Grant Dart cartoon snagged from Paleofuture (who got it from Life 1911). Note that the multimedia User is pointing with his left hand to “Son Willie” on the menu, and that a real-time image of Son Willie’s doings is projected (other choices are “The Office”, “Golf Matches”, “Aeroplane Races”, “Theatres”, “Tennis” and so on), and that the sign to the left says “International Wireless Home News Service Events As They Transpire Accurately Recorded”
There’s no doubt that a lot of my life revolves around this machine, before which I spend several hours a day. I’ve been riding this pony since 1992 (when I started building a Gopher presence, soon after I started work as a reference librarian at W&L), or maybe since 1989 when I started playing with HyperCard, or perhaps since 1984 when I bought my first microcomputer (a TI-Pro, still in the barn), or maybe 1979 when I started to play with SYMAP (making maps of demographic data from the Hungarian census of 1900), or maybe 1962 when I first started working with punch cards (as research assistant to Bob Textor in cross-cultural studies). At each of those junctures I had some idea of where I was heading, but the destinations kept changing as new possibilities emerged.
I seem to be in another spate of thinking about the ways the Web is/has been evolving, in the proximal contexts of Licklider‘s Libraries of the Future  (which I’m reading at Gardner’s instigation) and the impending visit of friends with three home-schooled kids (for whom my question is: where does The Computer fit in what they’re doing?)… and reflecting on the many ways in which my life has been tangled up with computers. For at least 45 years I’ve seen them as essential tools for things I needed to do, though generally my imagination has outrun my technical capabilities, and I’ve relied upon the multiple kindnesses of others to assist with practicalities and realize my imaginings. There’s a looooong history of books and articles and Web resources that I’ve been influenced by, and an equally convoluted history of apps I’ve experimented with as I’ve worked at making sense of the potentials. Wish I could reconstruct all the steps…
I started library school in January 1991 with the question What will microcomputers do to libraries? but I certainly didn’t foresee that the most profound effect would be to distribute the end-user’s experience in most information transactions –to make the physical library mostly irrelevant to seeking answers, to enmesh the user in networks composed of nodes that might be on different continents, to make multimedia an everyday experience, and to proffer tools that make the user an active contributor to the construction of distributed knowledge. Two of today’s cases in point:
I’m slightly surprised not to have seen much reference to Bruce Sterling’s SXSW Rant this year. I listened to it today and (as usual) found bits of it apposite and provocative. Some good lines even if one doesn’t entirely agree, and/or hadn’t had occasion to think of it that way –a lot to chew on, follow up, explore in more detail. He’s a luvvim/hateim speaker, like Garrison Keillor in that respect (my spouse can’t abide GK, and knows it’s him within ONE syllable, and OFF goes the radio).
Here’s another way to experience Bruce (8:15, and worth it as an Example), and it (as object, and as Example) will make even more SENSE once you’ve listened to the soundbites below:
First: global market world (make it in Shenzhen, ship it to…) Second: governance at all levels Third: commons-based peer production a new thing, growing fast with profound effects on general population Fourth: disorder, parts of the world just falling off that don’t have any of this (fastest-growing part of the planet)