Note — Oct 17, 2021

A World Ordered only by Search

Another fascinating essay by L. M. Sacasas. Starting from Monica Chin’s piece File Not Found and then layering in a lot of Ivan Illich, he goes through monkish reading, mental palaces, the emergence of text as independent of the book, how media changes how we order and represent the world, and lots more besides. Sacasas is already building over Illich and Walter Ong who is himself considering Pierre de La Ramée so I won’t try to compress the ideas even further, have a proper sit-down with this one.

One thing I’d add, that I think he’s already edging towards, is that Chin’s students (who don’t really grok the use of folders) are perhaps not having issues with this way of sorting, storing, and accessing information but rather with the new external brain and almost infinite amount of information available. It might not be that they don’t understand folders, but that they find themselves like the Queen of England would if having to move into a one bedroom studio. It’s impossible to fathom how one fits everything in there. Monks constructed mental palaces for one book, how can our identical brains ‘place’ everything we can find?

Last note, L.M. writes “Perhaps you’ve gotten this far and are wondering what exactly the point of all of this might be. To be honest, I delight in this kind of encounter with the past for its own sake. ” I might need to rephrase that as a description of this newsletter. Most articles are here because I delighted in my encounters with them.

Thus technologies of communication shape how we come to understand both the world and the self. They shape our perception, they supply root metaphors and symbols, they alter the way we experience our senses, they generate social hierarchies of value, and they structure how we remember. […]

What do we imagine we are doing when we are reading? How have our digital tools—the ubiquity of the search function, for example—changed the way we relate to the written word? Is there a relationship between our digital databases and the experience of the world as a hot mess? How has the digital environment transformed not only how we encounter the word, but our experience of the world itself? […]

[T]he very idea of an order of things is implausible to those of us whose primary encounter with the world is mediated by massive externalized databases of variously coded information.