Short blurb: What do you know about technologies like the Semantic Web, Big Data, and MOOCs - phenomena libraries are increasingly becoming involved with? Is it ʺall goodʺ? Why are we sometimes fearful about new technologies and the power they present to us, seen for example in pop-culture icons such as HAL, the Daleks, and the Borg? If you are one who wants to look at technology and its effects with a critical eye, this time of meandering philosophical reflection and questioning might be for you.
The desire to create automatons is a familiar theme in human history, and during the age of the Enlightenment mechanical automatons became not only an “emblem of the cosmos”, but a symbol of man’s confidence that he would unlock nature’s greatest mysteries and fully harness her power. And yet only a century later, automatons had begun to represent human repression and servitude, a theme later picked up by writers of science fiction. Man’s confidence undeterred, the endgame of the modern scientific and technological mindset, or MSTM, seems to be increasingly coming into view with the rise of “information technology” in general and “Big data” in particular. Along with those who wield them, these can be seen as functioning together as a “mechanical muse” of sorts – surprisingly alluring – and, like a physical automaton can serve as a symbol – a microcosm – of what the MSTM sees (at the very least in practice) as the cosmic machine, our “final frontier”. And yet, individuals who unreflectively participate in these things – giving themselves over to them and seeking the powers afforded by the technology apart from technology’s rightful purposes – in fact yield to the same pragmatism and reductionism those wielding them are captive to. Thus, they ultimately nullify themselves philosophically, politically, and economically – their value increasingly being only the data concerning their persons, and its perceived usefulness. Likewise libraries, the time-honored place of, and symbol for, the intellectual flowering of the individual, will, insofar as they spurn the classical liberal arts (with the idea that things are intrinsically good, and in the case of humans, special as well) in favor of the alluring embrace of MSTM-driven “information technology” and Big data - unwittingly contribute to their irrelevance and demise as they find themselves increasingly less needed, valued, wanted. Likewise for the liberal arts as a whole, and in fact history itself, if the acid of a “science” untethered from what is, in fact, good (intrinsically), continues to gain strength.