In Small Pieces Loosely Joined David Weinberger presents his views and research of how the Web is dramatically changing knowledge, community, metaphysics and ethics. Weinberger explains how the Web works even though it’s forever broken or incomplete. Published in 2002, pre-Arab Spring, Small Pieces Loosely Joined shows its age. There’s no mention of Facebook and other new, important Web platforms.
Still I would recommend this book to those who haven’t pondered the Web’s impact. He does persuade readers that the Web is at least as important to civilization as the the printing press. While I found his insights on philosophy too cursory and glib, I believe he’s right to discuss metaphysics, ethics, and epistemology. I understand wanting to discuss how using the Web changes “What is knowledge?” (i.e. epistemology) in layman’s terms.
Whenever I read Weinberger’s work I think, “It’s a shame he doesn’t mention Alfred North Whitehead.” Whitehead’s Process and Reality views life not made up of matter (atoms, quarks, etc.), but rather made up of tiny bits of experience called actual entities. In my opinion, Whitehead’s concepts of change, fluency, connection and experience offer the best framework for understanding the Web.
How Do Weinberger’s Key Ideas Align with LIB 287? How Can We Use These Ideas?
A New World
“New worlds create new people,” (p. 21) Weinberg reminds readers. Offline we have a variety of identities (friend, worker, student, etc.) Likewise, we are now well aware that people behave differently on the Web. By developing an active presence online, librarians can reach out to people who prefer online connection. Our absence or inept presence from popular online venues will be noticed.
Online we’re “falling into groups that feel sometimes like parties and sometimes like battles” (p. 21). As Weinberger notes, we have all been involved in or seen online communications turn ugly. Unless a library prohibits interaction in its online outreach, which would be preposterous in a democracy, at times a user will offend others. Maintaining an inviting, civilized space for exchange requires skilled facilitation that’s more polished than a mere “Shh.” Librarians need to expect that someone eventually will post derisive comments about books on the Holocaust or steer an online discussion in an inflammatory direction. Librarians need to upgrade their interpersonal online skills as well as their tech skills.
Weinberger reminds us of how imprecise the Web is. Search engines can give us many results quickly, but often only a couple pages of the thousands promised are relevant. Yet we tolerate this error. Search engines may not pinpoint the best information, but they do separate the a lot of the chaff from the wheat. Users are patient with a service that will “always be a little broken” (p. 79). As librarians we can hold ourselves to an impossible standard. While we start to be more hyperlinked, we must not promise or expect perfection. We need to embrace our fallibility and communicate with users that we’re moving in new directions to improve how we meet their needs. Through open, frequent, transparent communication we can better partner with our users through this evolution. Bear in mind how Apple and Microsoft launch products and communicate. They’ve made their blunders and the best approach is to welcome comments and insights, to listen. Listening is the cornerstone of community.
Weinberger asserts that on the Web “all fame is local” (p. 102). We have our favorite bloggers, tweeters, follow the advice of discussion board posters. I’ve gotten good advise from LinkedIn groups when choosing jobs or seeking ideas for lessons. Libraries should see that have a meaningful Web 2.0 presence both on their site and beyond. On YouTube, librarians can show users how to do research, our blogs can recommend books, articles or services. With Scoop.it we can curate information for any subject,
Two middle school classes, one in Ontario and the other in Manitoba, collaborated on updating Weinberg’s kid’s version of Small Pieces Loosely Joined. The results of this exemplary critical thinking activity may be found on the blog Remote Access.
Similarly, Small Pieces Loosely Joined would make a good read for a public library reading group open to adults and teens. Bring people together to share their thoughts on Weinberger’s ideas while introducing patrons to the concept of the Hyperlinked Library. Such discussion, ideally held in multiple places — physically at the library or a coffeehouse and online as a Webchat, allows librarians to engage in transparent, democratic evolution as knowledge itself evolves.
To Explore, To Ponder
- The Prezi of this context book review.
- The work of Edward Tufte, (mentioned on p. 84).
- “Relevancy is hugely contextual and evanscent” (p. 140).
- “A page without hyperlinks is literally a dead-end” (p. 163).
- The web “helps to heal our alienation from our own experience” (p. 171).
- Authenticity, sounding like a real person, is imperative on the Web (p.181).
Weinberger, D. (2002). Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory of the Web. Basic Books.