The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 18:39:56
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 16:32:50
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Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13

Nicholson Baker can blog here anytime
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I absolutely love the voice Nicholson Baker uses in his review of Ken Auletta’s new book, Googled. For instance:

One unnamed “prominent media executive” leaned toward Auletta at the 2007 Google Zeitgeist Conference and whispered a rhetorical question in his ear: What real value, he wanted to know, was Google producing for society?

Wait. What real value? Come now, my prominent executive friend. Have you not glanced at Street View in Google Maps? Have you not relied on the humble aid of the search-box calculator, or checked out Google’s movie showtimes, or marveled at the quick-and-dirtiness of Google Translate? Have you not made interesting recherché 19th-century discoveries in Google Books? Or played with the amazing expando-charts in Google Finance? Have you not designed a strange tall house in Google SketchUp, and did you not make a sudden cry of awed delight the first time you saw the planet begin to turn and loom closer in Google Earth? Are you not signed up for automatic Google News alerts on several topics? I would be very surprised if you are not signed up for a Google alert or two.

“I would be very surprised if you are not signed up for a Google alert or two.” He sneaks it in, and it’s so cutting, but not without a wink. Snark at its best and most palatable. Then, there’s this:

Surely no other software company has built a cluster of products that are anywhere near as cleverly engineered, as quick-loading and as fun to fiddle with, as Google has, all for free. Have you not searched?

“Have you not searched?” I don’t know—maybe it’s the residual tryptophan in my brain mixing with the second cup of coffee and anything would seem delightful at this moment—but I really think that, in terms of language and logic alike, Nicholson Baker hits this one spot-on.

And it’s notable because so many of the spot-on assessments of new media, culture and technology have come, lately, from Nicholson Baker. Nicholson Baker on Wikipedia. Nicholson Baker on the Kindle. He’s neither a booster nor a troll; he seems to approach it all with curiosity—the curiosity of an actual user, no small thing—and amusement. And he’s always surprising. This is Nicholson Baker, the guy who wrote about “the assault on paper.” And he’s “fond of Google”? Why, sure. He’s a thinker, not a pundit; a working brain, not a billboard hawking the same idea, over and over.

Seems to me Nicholson Baker might be a bookfuturist, whether he knows it or not.

See also: The Nicholson Baker Tapes.

(Via @tgoetz.)

3 comments

Tim Carmody says…

Absolutely. Baker’s nothing like Sven Birkerts or Harold Bloom. The crusade in Double Fold was about the inability to appreciate the durability and the value of paper as a technology, not about the inherent inadequacy of microfilming or digitization or non-paper technologies as such.

(I’ll say it, though – microfilm kinda sucks.)

Fletcher says…

No, Double Fold was a polemic that failed to account for any of the reasons why libraries were deaccessioning newspapers. Of course, Baker decided that he could save the newspapers that he loved…until he discovered that they took up too much space, were too expensive to maintain, and weren’t really being used.

And now I sound like a troll. Baker does seem to have some reasonable thoughts on the e-book revolution.

There is a polemic against technophilia in Double Fold, though—Baker calls the reliance on microfilm a mistake motivated by a cold-war enthusiasm for the spy technology of microimaging. So it’s not about inadequacies of technology, but mistakes that can be made in its application. I like to think the Baker was somewhat chastened by his crusade to preserve paper; much of the media criticism he’s done since, on Wikipedia, on Kindle, and now this on Google, has been thoughtful about the ways in which technology supports and furthers creativity and the searching, questing spirit paper served so well for so long. He’s learned something, in short, and changed—and in this, indeed, he is utterly unlike Birkerts & Bloom.

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