Ryan's Reviews > Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder

Everything Is Miscellaneous by David Weinberger
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Aug 13, 2012

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bookshelves: non-fiction
Read from August 08 to 13, 2012 — I own a copy

I bought this book on a lark at a local book shop. It was on their clearance rack, but the title seemed intriguing. For $3.00 I figured it was worth picking up.

The crux of "Everything is Miscellaneous" is that when organization of things, data, information goes digital the traditional ways of ordering of those things, data, and information become increasingly unnecessary. He comes largely from the perspective of libraries and the storage of books. We are by now used to the ideas of alphabetical order and separating books into different sections/genres/topics. This sort of ordering has long been done because there had to be a way of making sense of all the books so that they would be easy to locate when desired. The problem Weinberger points out is that alphabetical order is a somewhat arbitrary way of ordering things and is not some sort of divinely inspired method of sense making. Similarly, categorizing books for shelving is face with the challenge that a single physical copy of book cannot occupy the several sections in which it might be appropriately shelved. And the categories for shelving are in and of themselves often historically contingent. However, with the advent of Web 2.0 and tagging users are able to assign multiple meaning, categories, lists, etc. about books, data, and information without changing the physical properties of those books, data, and information. This is because, as Weinberger repeats several times, bits don't care where they are. As such the arbitrary ordering and categorization methods of the past can be thrown out the window. Everything is now miscellaneous and users have the power to reorder and disassemble orders as they choose.

Overall, I'd say Weinberger makes a pretty good argument about the ways that computers and Web 2.0 have disrupted traditional categorization and ordering. I do have a few qualms. First, when the author uses a hypothetical individual in a hypothetical situation, it is always a woman. Now I know for a long time this character would have always been masculine, but that practice has largely left contemporary writing. Why not just alternate between both male and female characters for the hypothetical? To me it seemed like Weinberger was trying to make up for all the texts that only used male hypothetical characters. It felt overly self-conscious and was rather annoying.

Also, I think he overstates his point. First, by about 6 or 7 chapters in I was starting to wonder if he was going to say anything new (Not really).

Finally, he seems to skirt around the fact that in spite of the increasing digitalization of the everyday we still interact quite frequently with a material world. As such the things we interact with can only occupy one space at once and each space can only be occupied by one thing. While he is correct that the ordering and categorization schemes we use to make sense of the world are unnatural, they are still pertinent. I could look up flour online and see that it is tagged by "baking" and "shaming", but ultimately when I go to pick it up from the grocery to buy it, I'm going to the baked goods aisle. I still have to interact with traditional ways or ordering because I am interacting with the material world. Everything can be miscellaneous, this is true. When we move away from our digital devices it often times is not.
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08/09/2012 page 105
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