Editors have always lived inundated by information, but now everyone is. It makes me admire the simplicity of the Lakota, who recorded hundreds of years of history on a single buffalo hide, one picture for each year to cue the memory of a person who had learned the stories over the course of a lifetime. Their world was a struggle with the ever-changing forces of nature, so individual observation and intuition were more valuable than a systematic knowledge of the past.
Our world is a battle against forces we never really understand. We try to live healthily, to be good people, and to acquire wealth. We hope, in the process, that we can make enough meaning to endure, which is why we write. We are desperate to be remembered. By name.
As our society continues to evaluate the realities of the digital age, we move imperceptibly into it, so that one day soon we will look back and not recall what life was like before e-mail. This week’s feature is about the future of libraries—the very near future for county residents who will have some say about what their next one will look like.
But it’s also about the past and what libraries have meant to us. In our country, the public library has been a symbol of democracy. A town built a library from hard-earned tax money as a temple to the American Dream. The library was a sign of status, but also a commitment on the part of a community to move beyond scratching a living out of the dirt.
Maybe it’s because I work at a company that sells information that I understand our digital molting process in economic terms. American capitalism moves ecologically from a state of perfect competition towards monopoly. Technological ruptures break monopolies apart, destroying business models that have perfected the development and delivery of products by inhibiting the ability to replace them. Perfect competition grows new companies through the cracks, fostering innovation, but failing to establish vertical markets with healthy profit margins. As companies consolidate through attrition and acquisition, the monopolies grow back.
The question of the day: If information is the product and it’s free, how long does a revolution take?