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October 25, 2006

McLuhan, and miscellany

I was re-reading McLuhan & Fiore's "the medium is the massage" recently, and came across a very nice snippet on copyright and authorship.

""Authorship" - in the sense we know it today [...] was practically unknown before the advent of print technology. [...] Many small texts were transmitted into volumes of miscellaneous content [...] and in this transmission, authorship was often lost."

I have a personal attachment to media with a character of "miscellany". Mostly this is available in print today in a consciously anachronistic fashion, such as the publication of Schott's Original Miscellany, or Old Moore's Almanac. When Fierce Sociology produce their "Inventory" publication, although it takes on the ironic guise of an academic journal, on closer inspection of the content it is very much a modern miscellany. Some modern anthologies also have this character, if they can break from a convention of being "fiction or non-fiction" and simply collect anything which contributes to the picture being painted. ("The Coming of the Space Age", edited by Arthur C Clarke, was one of my favourites of these as a youngster.)

In the internet age we've reinvented miscellany through the use of social bookmarking. Now we can have Scott's Miscellany (or Josie's, or Colin's, or Karen's). You can make your own miscellany, appropriate parts of other people's, or just read them. Its easy, simple, and useful.

McLuhan again: "Take any books on any subject and custom-make your own book by simply xeroxing a chapter from this one, a chapter from that one - instant steal!"

If rather than just hyperlinks we also had the capability of transclusion we could even print some of these miscellany, complete with their diverse typefaces, styles and subjects.

Imagine a library where instead of complete volumes by single authors there were instead rows and rows of shelves full of personal miscellany's, "Things Tagged 'Smart Artifacts', by S. Wilson","The Bookmarks Of Stephen Downes, vols. I-MCXII" etc. To translate better the character of its online versions, the miscellany could be printed with perforated pages, to make it easier to pull out sections for making into other books.

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