Although daunting at first, I found myself engrossed in the readings this week because of how they forced me to view things structurally, from a macrocosmic level. In traditional school (American, public) we often spend the preponderance of our time considering a myriad of small things, in just enough depth. The readings this week encouraged more of a “distant reading” (stole that from Franco Moretti), in which they explained the structure of data organization (metadata: literally data about data).
In the Gilliland reading, subsection: Life cycle of an information object, I thought about Ted Chiang’s “life cycle of software objects,” a novella about the life of a AI animal who becomes a fully grown human mind. In this case, the piece of information is created (OR adapted, reused, used in a different context), then it is organized and described. After being validated, it can be searched for or retrieved. Throughout its existence it is utilized and preserved, before ultimately possibly being disposed (deleted, inactive). In Ted Chiang’s work, an alternate set of universes and dimensions leave the main character in a paternalistic role, nurturing an artificially intelligent software animal. Like the information objects, Jax (the animal) goes through a process. And they’re almost identical. He is created, then organized and described. He is constantly being validated and explained (reused) in various contexts. He is never searched for or retrieved, rather he is analyzed and reformatted. Utilized and preserved, Jax becomes equivalent to a real child. Although scared enough to consider terminating him at the end, Ana (his caretaker) ultimately leaves him doing his homework. She ponders what his future will be like, and what he’ll be able to do.
I think the scariest part about this comparison is the fact that maybe soon, information will become information–it will take on a life beyond it’s own. This idea is explored in Folsom’s ‘Database as Genre’, and validated at the end of the piece. “As the database grows out across national and linguistic boundaries, the ragged and rhizomic structures of Leaves of Grass grow with it. Leaves of grass as a database is a text very different from Leaves of Grass contained within covers and, one senses, luckier, because database may well be epic’s new genre.” But what if the development progresses beyond this idea? What if Leaves of Grass within the database context because nothing but Walt Whitman 1855 Poetry USA. Users then search along normal lines but are presented with a myriad of succinct options–are you looking for poetry or prose? is the author white or of color? what time period are you looking for? Then, instead of searching for texts, users are retrieving metatexts, metadata. We do it now, but what if it becomes so solidified that we adaptively begin to think in MARC or HTML Metatags? The future of the database could be more, shorter results per page of search return. Less information to locate more information. Crazy, scary, but interesting nonetheless.