When does data become literature?

In objecting to Kevin Kelly's dream of a modern day Alexandrian library freed from physical restraint, a technology-fueled learned utopia, a place for all "knowledge, past and present," Nicholas Carr asks a simple question: when do "snippets" become literature?

As he has done repeatedly, Carr also makes plain the gulf between a number of very smart people these days - between those with faith that technology, more than just changing us, can somehow makes us better, and those, like Carr, ever the skeptic, that do not.

What Kelly is really suggesting is that the process of literary synthesis - which might also be called the process of reading - can be mechanized and automated, made radically more efficient through the application of computer technology. It can be accelerated to net speed, as the mindlessness of the crowd replaces the mindfulness of the individual reader, as the cut-and-pasting of snippets replaces the slow accumulation of paragraphs, as search-fueled link-hopping replaces contemplation.

Replying in the comments section, Kelly disagrees that he's utopian and presents technology progressivism as enlarging choice, not grasping for human perfection.

Given our tendency to choose the bigger feature set I'm not persuaded that choice in this context is a virtue because, when it comes to data, we're gluttons. We may choose data, but literature in my view is a far different thing. It chooses us.


Technorati: Kevin Kelly, Nicholas Carr, great literature, design, emergent