- Feb 2014
The real heart of the matter of selection, however, goes deeper than a lag in the adoption of mechanisms by libraries, or a lack of development of devices for their use. Our ineptitude in getting at the record is largely caused by the artificiality of systems of indexing. When data of any sort are placed in storage, they are filed alphabetically or numerically, and information is found (when it is) by tracing it down from subclass to subclass. It can be in only one place, unless duplicates are used; one has to have rules as to which path will locate it, and the rules are cumbersome. Having found one item, moreover, one has to emerge from the system and re-enter on a new path. The human mind does not work that way. It operates by association. With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain. It has other characteristics, of course; trails that are not frequently followed are prone to fade, items are not fully permanent, memory is transitory. Yet the speed of action, the intricacy of trails, the detail of mental pictures, is awe-inspiring beyond all else in nature.
With the advent of Google Docs we're finally moving away from the archaic indexing mentioned here. The filesystem metaphor was simple and dominated how everyone manages their data-- which extended into how we developed web content, as well.
The declaration that Hierarchical File Systems are Dead has led to better systems of tagging and search, but we're still far from where we need to be since there is still a heavy focus on the document as a whole instead of also the content within the document.
The linearity of printed books is even more treacherously entrenched in our minds than the classification systems used by libraries to store those books.
One day maybe we'll liberate every piece of content from every layer of its concentric cages: artificial systems of indexing, books, web pages, paragraphs, even sentences and words themselves. Only then will we be able to re-dress those thoughts automatically into those familiar and comforting forms that keep our thoughts caged.