Encyclopedestrianization

October 2001, English revision 28.08.04

James Souttar, The Myth of Content and the Encyclopedestrianization of Communication, in: Gunnar Swanson (Ed.), Graphic Design & Reading, New York, 2000

Abstract:

The ideas fueling the Internet are far from being a new paradigm. we’re living in the ‘post-Modern’ era but what seems to be the biggest idea of our time is wholly ‘modern’ (quite ancient).

After the middle of the seventeenth century, thinkers sought to establish a philosophy that would once and for all resolve the questions that had been the subject of such violent contention. They turned their backs on the humanistic tradition– characterized by the belief that the validity of any kind of knowledge depends upon the context in which it is applied. The new knowledge required certainties that were decontextualized.

The myth of content promises to decouple the ‘from’ and ‘to’ components of communication. From any source to any audience.

Text that is drawn from a database can’t form a part of a coherent narrative or argument, only appear as encyclopedia entries. (Some people eulogize the ‘nonhierarchical’ nature of the electronic medium– turning an obvious limitation into an apparent strength.) The idea of atomizing knowledge, the whole idea of the ‘encyclopedia’ – of knowledge divorced from context is one of the early Modernists.

The encyclopedic approach is in direct conflict with the nature of human knowledge and learning. Our knowledge consists of stories–narratives.

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