Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Internet is like Detroit

If you only know me from my blog, then I suspect it's not particular obvious to you that I am actually a person of the book.

Books have shaped me such a way that I'm unable to even imagine who I would be without them. On class trips to Toronto (during the eighties), when my classmates would disperse to record or clothing shops during our too-brief "free time", I would make my pilgrimage to Pages where I would stock up on books that our local bookstore, while admirable in its own way, would never carry. I bought graphic novels, Whole Earth Catalogs, zines, and books from RE/search.

Kids these days don't have to go to the Big City in order to experience thrilling and potentially dangerous ideas. They have the Internet. As David Bowie told Avi Lewis (in the nineties) during an interview: "The Internet is New York City."

Or, as Roger McNamee puts it: "The Internet is like Detroit. If you look hard there are really compelling things in there but if you're not careful, you'll get mugged."

The above quote is from his TED Talk, "Six Ways to Save the Internet" and I think it's worth watching if just for the point that he was making with that not nice thing he said about Detroit: the overwhelming popularity of the gated Apple app-iTunes experience exists because most people prefer safe licensed content from corporations than from the Weird Wild West of the Internet.

And I mention all this because I've been thinking a particular future of the library in which the Big Six media companies decide that they would rather not deal with libraries at all. Combine that future with our present when austerity budgets prompt politicians to challenge libraries on the matter of lending popular materials like magazines, video games, and first run movies and it looks like libraries of the future might have to operate at the edges of media, instead of from its centre.

I mention this all because I have realized that - for much of my reading life - I have felt most comfortable about the edges of our culture. I like the left-of-center and the fringes. I love the first-person weirdness of the Internet. And I don't want to be all hipster about it, but it's the local and "authentic" of the Web that moves me - as I know it moves many of us.

So, I just might be okay with this particular future of libraries. 

To beat my metaphor to death: Maybe the library can become the New York City of the small town. Maybe it can be the place that brings forward the most interesting aspects of Detroit to all of us.

That is, if we don't get mugged first.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Neat - of course, dealing with the big six and their restrictions and frequently-changed rules IS getting mugged.