[Author’s note: This may sound irrelevant to some (What, no libraries? Who cares!), but bear in mind what is implied by “no libraries”: medieval primitivism and/or social chaos – good luck amusing yourself honestly under those conditions! Plus, as old hippies may recall, this motto once referred to smoking good old weed, Cannabis called Sativa: a Sanskrit honorific reserved for rice and a few more beneficial plants, if I’m not mistaken.]
Neither an art nor a science, library science is wreathed in classical obsolescence. Outmoded routines are commonplace in libraries—not because they're particularly valid but because funding for better systems outstrips the pittance they have been reluctantly authorized.
It is a chore to scan and digitize books after they've been printed on paper. It would be better if they were distributed in a cheaper, digitized format to begin with, then published on paper as luxury gifts on demand.
We could have invented a comfortable set of digital reading glasses (Google Glass?)—reading glasses similar to sunglasses, that display pages of easy-to-read text as if beautifully inscribed on the finest vellum: font optional, controllably lit, keyword searchable, indexed and magnified on demand.
Those digital sunglasses could display a virtual keyboard and screen, and a pair of virtual typing hands wire-guided from ring-fingered or gloved-hand input leads. A belt-mounted CPU controller with docks for portable memory and other hardware connections; an EEG helmet, the fingers, the glasses and their CPU connected with optical cable or wirelessly.
Finally! No more uneasy reading sessions holding a book overhead or sitting up uncomfortably in bed. Images from these sunglasses could be projected onto a darkened ceiling or a bedroom wall; they could turn transparent and perhaps magnify the outside world, or register different frequencies of invisible light, or project EEG readings in three dimensions from between helmet and the skull. The possibilities are endless.
We have none of it. Instead, you may admire our genius at aiming long-range weapons through murky combat and the gloom of night. In Vietnam in 1969, the average infantry squad was equipped with infrared night vision goggles. In 2011, most firemen still hadn’t been issued them to find survivors in a fire. What a set of warped priorities!
Libraries would work better on a subsidized and cooperative basis (as do other public utilities and many functions not yet recognized as such―for example, healthcare.) Instead, they are expected to generate entrepreneurial profits—as if they were peddling soda pop, private automobiles, strip mining, fracking, runaway genetic engineering or some other compulsive corporate profit.
Most librarians are altruistic servants rather than gladiatorial power brokers; they would rather provide excellent service than accumulate wealth and power. Given the vampire nature of weapon bureaucracies, information managers get at best afterthought consideration. The first to bare their necks to the economizing ax, they are the last to benefit from budget windfalls.
We can note this vulnerability in the Library of Congress. Supposed to house one of the largest book collections in the world, it is really a Swiss cheese of lost and stolen books. As each term of Congress expired, defeated incumbents and their family took their favorite books home with them: a consolation prize for legislating the rat race. Worse yet, global book devotees paid huge sums to bribe clerical staff and make off with irreplaceable titles.
Let’s turn from the Masters of Greed to their apprentices. College students were assigned reading lists for their courses. The most ambitious ones hoarded key university texts set aside in library reserve, so that their grade-point competitors couldn’t consult them. Nowadays, computerized book-tracking foils their petty schemes. But not so long ago, those crooked over-achievers carved up the competition, got better grades and graduated to become life-and-death decision-makers. In this way, a glut of snickering reactionaries managed to take over our courts, legislatures, universities, corporate and media boards.
A political takeover by reactionary sociopaths has resulted from this unsupervised academic tolerance. Then these ne'er-do-wells recruited morality-crippled subordinates as protégés and replacements. Plus their bad example, advice and career “guidance” corrupted ethical fence sitters: majorities within those professional communities. Honest people were fired out of hand. This accumulation of bad habits has sapped orthodox leadership.
Masters of Business Administration consider information gathering a secondary, service function. When crunch time comes, corporate libraries and research facilities are the first to undergo funding cuts.
Librarians aren’t competitive to begin with, plus they tend to be encyclopedic Learners. Their “service” mind-set simplifies weapon management’s takeover of their resources.
Their studies are restricted to one “major” topic (another crippling constraint of weapons education) only when their employers demand this sacrifice. While libraries attract less competitive (though no less competent) professionals, weapon managers sponsor the best-paid research for military applications. Weapon technology has become the intellectual Super Bowl, if you will, whereas creative intellect, the stuff of throwaway hobbies. “Trivial pursuit” indeed, in a world designed for a majority of reality TV-fed, ignorant zombies.
Learners are drawn by their natural curiosity into the welcoming intellectual anarchy of libraries. In these beehives of thought, the pollen of potential insight is transformed into the honey of kinetic wealth. This seedbed of new ideas suffers from blatant neglect, shortsighted exploitation and disregard for true value, in spite of the desperate optimism of frontline librarians. If weapon science is the prince of modern resources, library science is the pauper.
Institutional degeneracy has a lot to do with the law of diminishing returns. In most cases, first efforts produce the greatest end-result; further results on the margins require much more effort.
Libraries get by with a lot less funding than they would receive in a peace civilization and are nowhere near fulfilling their full potential. On the other hand, over-funded weapon technologies have catapulted themselves beyond the twilight zone of diminishing returns, into insatiable limbo. Obsessively, compulsively, repetitively and endlessly, we polish our killing systems at the expense of our learning systems and optimize the threat formula at the cost of the armchair formula.
Learner Networks could confirm or deny every hypothesis more readily. Learners will amplify their topics of passion and share them with like-minded enthusiasts. In a large number of small-scale production facilities and labs, inventors will design working experiments, prototypes and models of the newest inventions, seconded by Learner engineers whose topic of passion is their manufacture. 3D printing, my dear Learners.
There will only be one chance to summon this incredible wealth. Current institutions are locked in their own incompetence. Short of bloody revolution, they benefit from the stability of official monopoly, no matter how squalid their output (be it corrupt ethics or inexcusable outcomes). Newcomer Learner Networks will have to confirm their superiority right away. Otherwise, they’ll perish at the hands of wastrel “conservatives.”
Solutions to our worst problems won’t emerge in sufficient number until talented contributors rally to Learner Networks. First priority: the Network itself, how to handle this avalanche of new data.
Beginning their studies at the earliest possible age, most Learners will earn a doctoral degree or several equivalents by puberty. This said, there will be no timed “race” to achieve personal goals. Late bloomers (like me) will be granted all the time they need; faster Learners, more concentrated Learning. It will take a majority of them a third the time it takes for today’s candidates to graduate into our tiny info elites.
“Doctoral degree” is a crude yardstick of cultural achievement. Seniority and faculty tenure will not influence this system; peer privilege and senior approval will become honorary ornaments. Arbitrary performance criteria won’t dictate financial security nor will they restrict access to the Network. Everyone will merit accelerated Learning and flight from their misery, regardless of provenance, productivity and credentials.
Every city will broadcast a complete video collection of local drama, music and art; guided video tours of local museums, conventions and stores. Detailed instruction should cover every regional craft, hobby and industry. Complete university curricula (from elementary topics to post-grad coursework) would be available in realtime, locally, on-call for private review at any hour. Other cities’ equivalents should take only moments longer to access. All this would be free, free, free! Indirect profits drawn from these activities will prove to be exponentially greater than the direct profits derived from current “education” institutions.
Nowadays, it is illegal to audit, record and broadcast most classes and performances! Total content control emanates from a few toney skyscrapers, rather than from every living room and study cubicle. A handful of centralized TV networks, movie studios and elite universities dictate the total content of pop culture. No wonder its output is so mindless and irrelevant!
This monologue blares on without letup. Too little contrapuntal crosstalk refines our public reality. A few media moguls “control” almost everything broadcast and in print. They act like surveyors blinded by aiming their theodolite at the mercantile sun for too long. Their error-strewn maps, published in millions of baffling copies, only serve to lead us astray.
“What would you do with yourself if you became extraordinarily rich? Researchers studied a sampling of the newly rich and concluded: you’d probably change jobs to learn something you’d always wanted to learn, and turn yourself into a genuine expert in your new field.” From Mike Mailway (pseudonym for LM Boyd), Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 04/6/92.
What most people would accomplish if rare good fortune smiled on them, society should mass-produce for public consumption. Mass Learning, not the no-win alternatives of empty “entertainment” and torturous education. Economies of scale, my children. In addition, every dollar spent on this lavish project will generate many more in new discoveries.
If we make our way along this road for a little while longer, PeaceWorld will cross the horizon and extend us its welcome.