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The web is the world of classified information. Individuals as information collectors operate within databases and their lists in order to access information and gain understanding and meaning of the world. The research explores the effect of the list on the online information collector by looking at its political and ideological dimensions. Later on focuses on online lists of search results and and why I believe they enforce a flat online experience.
INTRODUCTION: THE LIST
Internet users are online information collectors. Looking for information inside the web, they operate in fixed structures, databases and their lists. Lists nowadays function as, or are part of, search interfaces to online information and the online information collector is constantly confronted with them. I am interested in the list as a construction of culture that affects the act of (information) collecting through the enforcement of order. This order could be numerical, chronological, alphabetical, even random. Still I see order as an ideological construct, an outcome of ideologies of effectiveness and productivity within a certain economical system based on knowledge, which demands order in the vast ammounts of information that surround us. To me the use of the list brings somehow something wrong in the way it makes us see and construct our selves and the world because it enforces a very particulary navigation within information. There is a political dimension in the list. While the online environment offers many possibilities to create dynamic and interesting information spaces, the lists through which databases are accessed , so the way our search results are presented to us , doesn't seem to invest in these potentials. The popular search interfaces used online and their lists of results are extremely predetermined, they destroy the sense of play and of the hunting of information, they even destroy the sense of (online) space. The results of a search could be displayed in a much more playful way that would emphasize collecting of information online not as picking items from a list but more as exploring a world of possibilities. List of results in different providers could also be different and diverse, but they don’t. So different providers, from a corporate web indexer to a free acess and open online archive lets say, share a very similar design of their lists which reveals similar desicions that have been made on their structures that provide information. In my personal practice I have been dealing with lists either in libraries I have been working in or as an artist working in the online environment. Cataloguing in libraries is based in a list of ten categories, together with the use of controlled vocabulary terms. Working with online databases and recontextualising classified objects towards the design of a subjective online space consists as a reaction to the template choice of the cataloguer. Through my practice I exercise an extreme example of an online user that deals with how information online is organised and responds in extreme ways. In this context I realize that I am confronted with the apparatus of the list almost in every aspect of the online experience. Either working within online platforms of user generated content such as Sketchup’s Warehouse Library, or social networks and user profiles, the list appears as a form that is constantly present. Moreover, during my working experience as an information literacy instructor I have been instructing kids on the Dewey Decimal Classification and how to use the library’s online catalogue to satisfy their research question. I realised that subjectivities and identities are not only shaped by information in terms of content but also in terms of structure, through which information is accessed. I want to explore what is the effect of the list on the online information collector. With this term I mean the general user of the internet who is constantly seeking for information online, constructing offline and online collections. It seems useful to approach the politics and ideologies behind lists and global classification systems, and the aesthetics of the list that reflect them to explore such an issue. Alltough lists and classification systems are widespread everywhere in the whole of our lives, at least in library science, the political dimensions of classification are somehow overlooked, while its aesthetics are totally ignored. They are both taken for granted . Exploring the list effect on the user of the internet is important to extract insights that would be taken into account in the design of different search interfaces, and their possibilities of providing a different online experience as a response to the established one. To do so, I will first introduce the list as an information technology. Then I will look at how it relates to global classification systems and how the list as their material form constitutes a technology that shapes subjectivity. Later on I will explore the explosion of the list as a form in the web, and will explain how I think it affects online experience.
THE COLLECTOR AND THE INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY
Humans have been always bound with the act of collecting. James Gleick (2011) who wrote the book Information : a theory, a history, a flood, a study on humans understanding on information, quotes Marshall McLuhan: ”the food-gatherer reappears incongruously as information-gatherer” (p.9). This is an important observation that highlights that the act of collecting is present in human society from the level of collecting food for survival in the prehistoric period but exists still in our societies in another mode. It also emphasizes information as a vital element of our survival. The act of collecting food transformed throughout societies into collecting goods, tools, artifacts. Its contemporary mode is this of collecting online information, activity significant for living, in a world where knowledge and information are interconnected with power. If humans are naturally collectors, the technology of the list seems a meaningful and very useful tool. On the one hand supports memory, provides easy and time wise effective access to information. As library scientist Maria Kazazi(1994) explains , in her book Classification principles, of the main goals of classification is anyway to support memory and to require the minimun effort by the user.(p.24) . The list seems then as the material form of classification and as a structure that supports its purposes. But on the other hand we should look at it as all technologies and media. It shapes us and constructs us in a certain way. The list is an information technology and one of the first constructs that emerge following the technology of writing. In fact, some of the first writtings of humanity where lists. As Jack Goody(1997) writes, in his Domesticatiof of a savage mind, the first writtings seem to be the clay tablets of Summerians that were lists for administration.(p). The image shows an administrative list in table from 2370 B.C. in southern Mesopotamia. (credit: Max Planck Institute). (image) Throughout the book Gleick emphasizes also on how information technologies transform the way human perceive information. He sees the alphabet as the major information technology that dominates our culture. But the alphabet, the way we know it is a really new construction. Alltought writing is an ancient technology, it was not for everyone for a really long time in history. It was only the second half of the seventeenth century when the alphabet became an “arbitrary” system, according to Michel Foucault(1966). As he writes in the Order of things, the technology of the alphabet “reconstitute[d] the very order of the universe by the way in which words are linked together and arranged in space”.(p.42) By becoming a system used by all and one that everyone must use, the decisions made on the alphabet design, affected and reconstructed the order of things, in a very list format. If the very function of the list is to stand as a structure that holds information in fixed positions in space, the technology of the alphabet becomes a model of understanding and expressing which falls under the problematics of listing because it becomes a classification system. Further, Gleick brings interesting insights on the list and the alphabet by saying that “..alphabetical lists were mechanical, effective, and automatic”, while he compares them to what he calls “topical lists”, that different cultures created before the alphabet and were local classifications which he characterized “creative” and “imperfect” (p.63). The author draws on Al. Romanovich Luria ‘s research on illiterate people in remote Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, that do not recognize the categories of the written cultures, and understand for example categorisation through geometrical shapes. The major finding of his research was that oral culture people did not “accept our logical correlations” (p.40). It seems then that the different operations of alphabetical or topical list reflect wider issues of logic. And allthough all people are (information) collectors, following global, mechanical standards is obviously a different approach than creating own, topical lists.
PROBLEMATICS OF CLASSIFICATION SYSTEMS: FROM THE LIBRARIAN TO THE DATA INDEXER
I see classification as the act of arranging things in space. According to Kazazi, classification is a key to knowledge (p.17). It is a system of classes and their relationships. However, she also believes that classification is abstract. It gives a general view of the world (p.20). On the one hand, it is impossible to imagine the world without lists and classification. There are great reasons for creating lists and there is a great functionality within them which makes life easier. There are also philosophical origins in the construction of the list. Umberto Eco (2009) in his Infinity of the list essay, (p.) claims that people do lists in order to comprehend the unknown and to defeat death .We list in order to create meaning of ourselves and the world around us, which can be both seen as Eco’s “unknown”. By listing things are broken down in pieces, arrange them in a certain manner that brings meaning and logic to the chaotic word of possibilities that surround us. “We like lists because we don't want to die” he writes in an extreme statement(p.). Defeating death brings us back to the idea of survival and collecting that was stated previously. Moreover, if one considers that even for ancient cultures to defeat death was to achieve immortality through memory, also highlights the value of memory, which is being supported through information technologies. On the other hand, the list, as bound with the concept of classification , carries the later's problematics and challenges. Kazazi explains also some crucial problems of classification: First of all, knowledge gets outdated. Additionally, classification systems reflect older values. Furthermore, we do not classify the objects themselves, but the concepts (p.27). And not even the concepts themselves can be listed, but their material existence, their name, the word. Another issue of classification is the idea of classes of similarity and not of difference lets say. The exclusion of difference and the abstraction of grouping things. And the normalization of this grouping. Classification affects the relationship between concepts / objects, which can be hierarchical, syntactic or semantic. I see library cultures as pre database cultures. However, both cultures do not deal with organisation of information in the same way.While in library classifications the structures that hold information are adopted by libraries and cataloguers are using them, together with controlled vocabulary thesauri, the digital / online database classification brings a greater variety of classification systems. The cataloguer gives his position to the general internet user,who operates now on as a data indexer as Manovich observed in his “Database and symbolic form” essay. (p.9). Moreover, since folksonomy, tha practise of tagging by users, emerges, huge ammounts of subjectivity enter the wider cataloguing practise of online information , often times outside controlled vocabularies. The web brings the notion of the topical list much closer to the information organising practise. User can affect with their opinions the online content, and they can create their own collections classified in various personal ways. But what is in the core of my question is why this persisent form of the list as we know it appears dominant as an aesthetic expression of classification? Online information is accessed within structures that are ruled by global classification principles which are standardised. For example, users can create their own topical systems of classifiying their desktop collections, but they have mainly accessed this information through the same kind of lists either from search engines or in online libraries. In other words, users as online data indexers can arrange things in space in many differnet ways than librarians, but one the one hand they collect their information in lists with very fixed spatial arrangement, and on the other hand most of times they reprocude this normalised sparial arrangment because they are familiar with such an organisation form. As the concept of classification is so relevant to the online world, a world which is precisely classified information, it is interesting to see how it problematics are embedded in the database criticism of Mark Poster (1990) in his work The mode of information, and Evgeny Morozov (2012) with Net Delusion. Poster extends Foucault’s ideas of the panopticon and surveillance to the database which enforces participatory surveillance and normalization. He believes that surveillance is exercised in a peer to peer manner, for example through social networks the exercise of control is not bound to a Panopticon model where people are watched through one eye. In the superpanopticon database mode all eyes are open and working for the common surveillance of peers. Morozov sees the database profiling of people as creating an abstract and normalized representation of them. He refers to the movie the Life of the Others to illustrate how police can get only a very abstract and generalized image of individuals through databases. What is common in the library and database world then is the problematics of classification systems. How they become standardised and normalising.
POLITICS OF CLASSIFICATION SYSTEMS: WHO IS THE CLASSIFIER IN THE GENERAL ARCHIVE
There is a critical issue with classification related to power and control: who is exercising classification. This question can be divided in two parts. who is doing the classification as a cataloguer and who created the classification system at the first place. In this chapter I will look at the sigfinicance of the work of Melvil Dewey, Paul Otlet and Otto Neurath, all modernist visonaires of information organisation. In the world of libraries and archives, at least in western culture, two main systems of library classification have been used and adopted by the majority of libraries or similar institutions. The most popular classification system is DDC, Dewey Decimal Classification. It was invented by the american librarian, educator, entrepreneur, Melvin Dewey in 1876. Next would come the UDC, Universal Decimal Classification of belgian information scientist and documentation scientist, and entrepreneur Paul Otlet, published around 1907. The two systems rely on a fixed structure of the first basic categories, which are divided in more subcategories each. Within this structure items should be classified and described through numerical systems which indicate their category and their specific place within it. The images how the basic design of UDC and DDC.
The main library classification systems of the western world have been developed very closed the one to another , at the end of 19 and the beginning of the 20th century. Here Kazazi's observation that classification systems reflect older values becomes easy to recognize. First of all, these systems are very old. Moreover, they, and particularly DDC, rely on Aristotelian views on classification. the idea of categories as classes, the approach of general to narrow and grouping based on similarity. So not only these systems are based in ancient values, they invest on the idea of grouping “similar things” within established entities. Categories are classes, distinct, huge, stable entities. And every (new) concept fits into them as a narrower term, therefore adopting new knowledge means always to go even narrower within existing categories and rarely creating new categories. UDC expresses a different model though: semantic links are present in the design of this system. UDC emphasizes on semantic interconnections of objects, through a different numerical system that uses symbols like + from algebra to indicate two different fields that they item can be assigned in.Its important here to notice that DDC is much more widely used than UDC. UDC and DDC have been designed through personal efforts and views of these individuals that were envisioning organizational systems. Both Otlet and Dewey have been very passionate and visionary in their field. But on what kind of background did they operate? They both have been very early interested in the world of complex information, and its organization, and have been dealing with information science even before its formation as a science related with cybernetics, control and communication. They were both also involved in business, in fact they have been both selling their catalogue cards and systems. They shared standardization and globalization visions. However, they had mainly social visions, that would be imagining organizational systems of information that would promote communication, knowledge and peace.They seem to have believed that the world would become a complexity of information territory and the power will come together with knowledge. Particularly Paul Otlet was talking about a "collective book" a "universal book of knowledge". He created the Office International de Bibliography in 1895 together with Henri La Fontaine, an office with a goal to create a universal library, the Mundaneum ,where the classification system of Paul Otlet , UDC, would be applied. The Palais Mondial, which later on became Mundaneum, opens in 1920. Its collection was accessed through a system of thematic index cards . In the following photograph we can see some of the drawers of Mundaneum that contained the index cards. The institution was in the beginning hosted in the city of Brussels.
Otlet became an important figure in Unesco. He was convinced that the global spreading of knowledge and the exchange of it would promote world peace. as R.Boyd Rayward(1991) writes about in this reflective biography of Otlet. He was dreaming of a world where the transmission of information would overcome geographic boundaries. Dewey was dreaming of a "free library for every soul". He particularly talked about free schools and free libraries and the significance of what we would call today free access to information. As described in his biography in the website of the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) , he helped to establish the American Library association. In 1877 , while working as the librarian of Columbia College he founded there the first library scool of the world. He also initiated programs for traveling libraries. Dewey emphasized mainly the idea of open and free access and he was very influential in the american library world. The work of both influenced the wider world of library cultures but particularly their views on connected and free information can reflect todays world and possibly are more relevant to our experience than they were to the societies the lived in. Their point of view contained the understanding of the power of information and data together with the understanding of their social significance. Another important figure of the same period, philosopher, sociologist and political economist Otto Neurath, seems to understand the importancy of pictorial language, in a similar manner. Where Otlet and Dewey created a vision of a proto-database, a srtucture that would hold together universally big amount of information, Neurath proposed methods of information visualization. Together with illustrator Gernt Arnzt and his future wife Marie (Neurath) Reidemester they designed the project Isotype. The International System Of TYpografic Picture Education contained 4000 symbols designed by Arntz, that represented key concepts of the fields of industry, politics, demographics and economy, as explained in Arnzt web archive. Otto Neurath focuses on “uneducated persons and to facilitate their understanding of complex data” as Frank Hartmann writes. (2008, p.279) . In other words Neurath and his colleagues were dreaming of a universal system of information exchange, like Otlet and Dewey, only that Neurath was taking a distance from alphabetical norms, recognizing that illiterate people were by default excluded by powerful knowledge. All these ideas should be taken into account when we attempt to describe the ideology behind classification systems of our times because they were visions of a proto- web society. The need of a universal language is always present as it seems within the ideas of organization visionaries. And universal language (is it a classification system, or a museum signing system, or a method of illustrating books), can be constructed only through standardization and institutionalization. They even seem to realize that getting involved in an institutional context was the only way to go. They all were influential within institutions like American Library Association( Dewey) United Nations (Otlet), Museum of War Economy and the socialist party (Neurath). They attempted to change society, Otlet towards peace, Neurath towards knowledge for the low class, Dewey towards free access in information. It is important to realize that they operated in the modernist context, which has given space to the ideas of transparency, universal collection and storage of information, reform and globalization. Its exemplary that Otlet collaborated with the pioneer of architectural modernism, swiss Le Corbusier, for his Mundaneum.This join of forces highlights the modernist perspectives in towards a universally accessible and unified reality. The World City, was Otlet’s and Le Corbusier’s extension of the Mundaneum proposal, designed in the city of Geneva. Although again not realized, the project seems at the ultimate modernistic vision, the realization of a global, world archive. According to Michel Foucault(1986) in his Des Espaces Autres, the concept of the “general archive” and the “idea of constituting a place of all times that is itself outside time and protected from its erosion” both belong “to our modernity” (p.182). From a point of view the modern fathers of information organisation can be seen as reformers, from another point as social engineers that operated within burreocratic institutionalised practises in order to engineer a new society . Moreover, in our society, their views and dreams are translated through the lens of corporate knowledge capitalism, and effective production. Corporations are the knowledge institutions of our days. Google’s web indexing extends the concept of the Mundaneum or the Global Polis and embeds them clearly in the knowledge capitalism. Otlet’s ideas about semantically connected gathered information and universal books of knowledge leading to a world peace are challenged by the corporate and state power on information.The ideas of freedom of access of Dewey are quite challenged within corporate practices when online content is still bound on corporate servers. The visions of the fathers of information organisation during modernism become extremely utopic in the advanced information societies we are in, as information became so commodified that what matters mainly is to find it easy.
POLITICS OF CLASSIFICATION SYSTEMS: STANDARDISATION AND BURREAUCRACY
It seems that there is a collaboration of two factors then, important for the cataloguing practice. What kind of classification system the library is using, and what is the cultural capital of the cataloguer, which possibly makes him or her do specific choices in where a book should be classified and what keywords are going to be assigned to it. An interesting tension can emerge from this question: is there a certain degree of "freedom of choice" for the cataloguer? According to critical librarian Emily Drabinsky (2012) in her work Teaching the radical catalogue, no. Nothing lies outside of the system as she says (p.) . Categories and controlled vocabularies represent fixed values. Therefore, seems more relevant than to examine each cataloguers ideology or culture , to understand that he is operating under a template choice standard. To explore what the cataloguer is carrying in terms of ideology , is to explore what template choice means. And this is not only relevant to the cataloguers in the libraries. In the online context, people have become cataloguers. Users access, classify, store online information constantly and operate within content which is classified under the standards of online giants. So the problematics and politics of classification systems are not anymore relevant only to library cultures, but through the web culture they become crucial for all . The idea of the template choice is transformed within the networked paradigm, particularly because controlled vocalubaries seem to fall apart oftentimes. However, the list as a form seems to express still a standardized view on things. A significant research that explores the political, ethical, social implications of classification is the one of Geoffrey C. Bowker and Susan Leigh Star (1991) in their critical study Sorting things out: classification and its consequences. In this book they explain that "all classifications, including those in libraries, ... ..apply a system of classificatory principles to a given set of objects…",( p.). The authors understand classifications as systems that demand certain principles to be applied. They state that they are different than standards, but they are to be standardized, while “a standard [..] is a way to classify the world”. (p.12). To me the template choice is precisely this form of choice upon a given set of principles. As classifications become standardized, choices become also. Models of how to work, to communicate and to think. And these standards are applied to a truly variably and heterogenous mix of objects. Classification systems are meant to be able to conceptually fix any given set of objects in a certain manner and the list serves this function. When standardized, classification systems can also can become global, as happened with DDC and UDC for example. Here another issue emerges, the possible conflicts between standardized and local classification systems, as brought up by Bowker and L.Star (p. 326) and explored above thourgh Drabinsky’s example. The two authors think that local classifications are pushed away by the standardized ones, notion that aligns again with Gleick’s idea on “topical lists” and their replacement by “alphabetical lists”. Furthermore, for Bowker and L. Star, classification systems are part of modern Western bureaucracy. “Assigning things, people, or their actions to categories” is a ubiquitous part of work in the bureaucratic state”. (p. 285). Alison Adam’s (2008) view aligns with this notion, when in her essay "Lists" quotes Bruno Latour: "the main job of the bureaucrat is to construct lists that can then be shuffled around and compared" (p.175). Bureaucracy acquired a new dimension in information, service based societies. We live in the society of not only a state bureaucracy but also a big companies bureaucracy. Databases and catalogues of goods, services, people, are organized in an attempt to offer a great productive result. As Manovich explained, users not only search and access but they classify and archive in a variety of media and this consists in a great amount their online experience. They do it for themselves, by organizing personal material and found information, they do it for the companies, by listing metadata and experiences in order to construct online profiles in a bureaucratic and standardized way that operates in favor of the company and the advertisers. As explained before, this online data indexing and listing practises take quite a distance from the librarian/ cataloguer practise. The ways approaching content to be listed can be much more diverse and manytimes reacting on the main unified model.For example many facebook users do not use their real names or other pragmatic data , so to say they challenge the obligation of listing a specific type of content and challenge the universality of classification systems. However, what does remain same is the formal aesthetic expression of the list, which seems still to “serve” the globalised burreocratic ideologies. Bureaucracy is a system that relies in writing and information technologies of storing and classifying information, relies on citizens that acquire certain literacy skills. With its endless lists and form filling, needs alphabetically literate people that are able to be a part of its system. Therefore,the practise of template choice is widespreadwithin writeen cultures and webcultures particularly. While the globalised list becomes a device for the literate, standard options are stored in its materiality which enforce predetermined possibilities. Overall it seems to me that the aspekts of the universal language, the general archive , standardisation, all concentrate in an utopic view of an information world that suffers from the lack of serendipity.
THE LIST AS TECHNOLOGY OF THE SELF
Not only libraries, but also individuals mainly adopt classification systems rather than create. Media theorist Stuart Hall (1997), in his “Media and representation” lectures, explained that: "the capacity to classify is a genetic feature of all human beings." Humans not only share collecting nature but also classificatory nature. Collecting is bound with being able to classify what you collect, to access it again, to remember what it is and where. Additionally, as a collection expands, classificatory needs start show up. On the other hand, following Halls argument, "the particular classification system used in a society is learnt". To Hall, without any notion of classification we cannot comprehend the shared conceptual maps of our culture. “To become a human subject is precisely to learn or internalize the shared maps of meaning with other people in your culture" he states in his talk and this is not necessary something we learn within formal knowledge processes. Moreover he specifies that it is about becoming a "cultural subject" rather than a biological one. As he highlights then, lists are constructions of culture which if we do not appropriate and reproduce we cannot at least culturally become. But if they are learnt within a cultural or social context, then we can approach them as means of training. Hall's approach in what is to become a human subject is maybe indicating that we need to understand the shared meanings of our culture in order to be productive and creative, in other words socially useful. This notion comes close to the ideas of Michel Foucault about biopolitical govermentality as presented in the publication edited by Michel Senellart “Michel Foucault: the birth of biopolitics”(2008). The notion of biopolitics for Foucault “deals with population(p.)". Through it he explores how life is governed through power and processes of what he calls subjectivation. (p.) He connects biopolitics with liberalism, as a form of governance of the social and the individual body and which has made the idea of power and control an extended version of itself. Power becomes biopower when it manages to control the bios, the life. Meanwhile, subjectivation, as a process of constructing the individual , works together with objectivation, they together constitute not what things are but the rules and forms through which we become human subjects. (p.) The idea of a state which produces a normalized subject has been related by Foucault with the first bourgeois societies. He thinks that the notion of a state caring about the individuals formation was not keen in sovereign societies. In the bourgeois societies and on, the concept of govermentality he introduced becomes biopolitical. In that sense the art of governing is directed towards governing also the individual in order to produce him or her in a suitable manner suitable to the exercise of power and control and their reproduction. Govermentalities are based in sets of practices. The technologies of production, sign systems, power and control and technologies of the self are each a “matrix of practical reason”. (Gutman et, p.18) These technologies that hardly work independently.I am mainly focusing here, related to classification systems and lists, in the technologies of the self . Maybe global classification systems could be seen the technologies of power and their lists as the technologies of the self. It is interesting to note that the technologies of power are, always according to the author, working towards an "objectivation of the subject” , while the technologies of the self "permit individuals to effect … a certain number of operations on their own bodies… and to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of happiness, purity, wisdom, perfection or immortality" (p.18) . Both technologies compile the concept of govermentality. As he explains in his lectures The culture of the self, each technology brings certain modes of training of individuals, and are not just about gaining specific skills but also certain attitudes as he calls them. Moreover, as he describes, these technologies have been filtered and transformed by mass media, to illustrate that the culture of the self is not an independent culture. In his History of Sexuality, Foucault explains that western man was "gradually learning what is to be a living species in a living world, to have a body, conditions of existence".(p.142). Global Classification systems can be seen as this means of training through which an individual, part of a wider culture, can learn what is to be under particular existential conditions, categorical devisions of a fixed logic. If the modernist visionaries were seeing knowledge as a tool for power in order to promote peace or a tool for power in the hands of the low class, for Foucault power and knowledge are interconnected and totally dependent in a different manner. His power/knowledge scheme (1980), rejects global language / and the global taxonomy. He brings the idea of the “insurrection of the “subjugated” knowledges, which are “naive-popular knowledges” (p. 82) disqualified within the knowledge hierarchy. It seems that Foucault's views on the disqualified, abandoned, topical knowledge allign with Gleick's view on topical lists but also with Bowker and Star’s on standardisation and conflicts of the universal with the local. What motivates Foucault to talk about the resistance of subjugated knowledges is the fact that he believes that they reveal “struggles”.(p) They are not only about the hidden, historical content but mainly knowledges that are pushed behind by “a functionalist coherence or formal systemization” (p.83). For Foucault, global theories, global knowledges or taxonomies are “totalitarian theories” or systems. (.p.81). In the Order of things, he brings the example of the list of the emperor’s animals. (p.) This fictional taxonomy of the animals of the Emperor, which appears in Borges’s 1942 essay "The Analytical Language of John Wilkins”, is appropriated by a chinese encyclopedia, the Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge. Its a list where the animals are classified as “mermaids”, “suckling pigs”, “fabulous ones” “others”, etc. Foucault re appropriates it to highlight Borges’ point: such a taxonomy only reveals the limitation of our own. He attempts to comment particularly on the wester notions of order. This taxonomy is not possible for western logic, and its relation to truth and power of taxonomic discourses. This brings then the list as a emblematic model of the production of the subject through the scheme of power/knowledge, universal taxonomies and the alphabetical literacy. The list operates as a technology of the self. First of all it gives identity. Identities (in theoretical or in the practical sense) have been always been about categorized metadata describing the individuals. The list structure of the official state identity survives and gets reproduced in the social networking context, for example in online user profiles. The list gives identity through classifying, under state standards, which follow the universal model. The list, as explained previously, gives listed items a significance as a whole. This reminds the concept of imagined coherence that Isabel Llorey (2013) writes about in her essay Governmentally and self- precarisation. In this article she explores the normalization of cultural producers through Foucault's biopolitical govermentality."The normalizing self-governing is based on an imagined coherence,uniformity and wholeness that can be traced back in the construction of the white male.." (p.59). Therefore the list not only assigns identity through the adaption of classification systems, it assigns also to the person out of nowhere an "imagined" coherence, which is a great example of normalization. The list gives identity and normalizes. As Eco claims, we make lists in order to defend the unknown and death, therefore we can see how practices of making and reading lists can become these operations that according to Foucault bring us in a certain state. The list attempts to transform us in a state of wisdom and immortality. It not only embeds us in the notion of the global knowledge. It can achieve for us immortality through its capacity as a written storing device for information. TakinG the notions of the template choice, universality, standardization and literacy into account, we can see how the alphabetical list constitutes the normalized, determinate and archived subject. And, these seem very fixed conditions to become, to get formed as subjects and understand the world. As Foucault states, they are "fixed and determinate processes" of self constitution and of "knowing a determinate, objective set of things". [quoted in Kelly, p.79]. These are the conditions of being a determinate, objective set of things, could be added to this.
THE LIST AND THE WEB
The list doesn't exist just within the front end, in the interfaces we use online.It is a structural element of the web, because it is embedded within programming languages. Back in 1989, Tim Berners Lee presented the first proposal for html, the language in which all websites are written.
The image, part of documentation of HTML from the organisation that stardardises it, the World Wide Web Constortium, documents that the element of the list(LI) and its particular expression as ordered (OL) is part of the syntax of html. This is important as it shows not only the significance of the list as a design form of the web through an archeological perspective but also reveals its syntactical nature, which is classificatory. Alison Adam explains that for computer science, a list means “a data structure that is an ordered group of entities” (p.176) . She distinguishes lists from arrays and explains that lists are “one dimensional arrays”(p.176). She also refers to two special types of lists, queues and stacks. The fist use the logic of processing first the first items listed, while the latter do the opposite, begin processing with the last listed item. It is interesting that she observes that a stack approach is not so common in our culture by bringing the example of people waiting in line for a bus: the first listed has to go first, or at least thats how we do in in our culture.(p.176) What Adam emphasizes here is that within our culture the notion of hierarchic classification is strong. And of course this is something we can also observe in the list s of results from a query in a search engine. Who is really visiting the last listed item? We start from the first listed, and this cant be avoided within the culture of the list: first listed is the higher in hierarchy, the most important and most relevant. If we live in a world of information, then the internet is the part of the world where all information is ORDERED. So all the problematics of classification are embedded within our every day lives, in a very active way, particularly when we are online. Moreover the web’s information is classified under standards that nowadays are not simply defined by visionary individuals or knowledge institutions, but globalized corporations, particularly the online giants. And on top of this, these corporations affect the process of information collecting by adding their algorithmic filters, which personalise the content based on history, geographic position, identity. The fact the companies like Google are the classifiers together with the classificatory nature ot the web, suggests that the internet is dependent to bureaucracy and standardization and that its a normalising medium through its standardized classifications. By classifying the world and the self its normalizing them . Its not only the state anymore as in the world of Foucault that is involved in the construction of a certain individual, biopolitically constructed. The online corporation stands an extra normalizer of the individual. As a provider of content while also a provider of the structures through which we access and see it. Online companies do not only provide us with what we see but also with the way to look at what is. We collect within already classified collections. We can understand this by looking at the act of collecting in online libraries and archives or other repositories. Moreover, the systematic use of web indexers, companies which index the content of the web and offer it allready classified to the users, implies also that we search and collect within an indexed content and classification structures that reflect for example Google’s decisions on information organization. As Hall explained, the classification systems we use in a society are learned . In our current mode we don’t learn only ethical, social or educational classification systems that come from the great systems of belief, religion, politics and culture, the community, or the knowledge institutions, but from the corporate world which is bound with the ideas of productive, easy, effective and fast use of information. Its important to keep in mind that the lists we operate in while collecting information online are there precisely to transform the search experience into a fast, productive and not ambiguous one. So one the one hand we collect within corporate classification systems and algorithms that provide narrower and narrower possibilities while the adjust information to individuals. By insisting in the list as a form which is same all the time, different platforms collectively get the advantages of this structure which ensure a simple , abstracted and fast process.
THE COLLECTOR AND THE SEARCH INTERFACE
(collecting online is mediated by search interfaces which are constituted by lists and lately started hiding them)
The study of the history of some search engines, possible through the Wayback machine can reveal interesting findings that highlight transformations of their interfaces. The screenshots that follow document the emergence of Yahoo and Altavista search engines in 1996, followed by Google two years later.
As we can observe the pre-google search interfaces of Yahoo and Atavista do not follow the dominant model of today’ s Google’s simple (basic) search. Even Google itself has been providing lists together with the search box. In some cases they even became too literal on classifying the web thematically:
Until the Google approach brought the most simple and abstract search interface, web indexers have been heavily relying on the model of a library classification system as UDC or DDC.The concept of a search bar is accompanied by the basic categories . The are also additional lists with categories like news or specific collections and the search interface is constituted by many lists in the front page. The basic categories are analyzed further in sub categories. The approach from general to narrow is present, and one has to navigate with the list system clicking every time to go narrower. As a model of information retrieval it has been closer to Dewey’s DDC rather than Otlet’s UDC. As explained before , Dewey created a basis of 10 categories and items are assigned numbers that represent the specification. Items belong to one category. What Otlet was proposing, the semantic interconnections between items which he managed using algebraic symbols like the +, is not present in web indexers. Of course, there is already the option to conduct an advanced search through boolean operations which can be seen as a way to approach semantically the content in the first level of the search. Why Otlet’s vision is not there was because items themselves are not connected , one has to navigate lineary from the general to the narrow all the time, and things belong in one category. Therefore, the lists of search interfaces continue to operate under the model of fixed spatial arrangement. Like the alphabet, they place thinks in places that cannot be changed. Overall, we can observe that from their emergence to the current mode of Google as a dominant search engine the interface has been simplified, the lists from the first page gradually dissapear and what mainly remains is a page with just one search bar. The reason of this simplification seems to me that is not only the attraction of more and more users. It seems to me that users were allready there. I understand it more as the outcome of the approach that looks at the web as the place where information is to be commodified. It is interesting to observe how the abtraction of the interface brings the abstraction of the form, but also of the language. Early search interfaces of web indexers even included the options of natural language, the possibility to ask a full question. Here, the classification and search interface is closer to the model of the librarian, that co-exists with the collection’s catalogue. Gradually, we moved towards a model , where natural language is is replaced by a tag based search. The online guide of Google documents this perfectly when it contains the so called “tip” number 3: “Choose words carefully: When you're deciding what words to put in the search box, try to choose words that are likely to appear on the site you're looking for. For example, instead of saying my head hurts, say headache, because that’s the word a medical site would use.” But what does this element say about the use of language and its universal connotations? If the alphabet became the most abstract version of textual based cultures, while arranged things in space in a fixed position, so their relationships, then this process of thinking more tag based and writing in such a way, seems that brings even greater abstraction. This is not only explainable if we think that we need to communicate with machines, and machines have to communicate to eachother in the processes of online communication. It follows a tradition of abstraction that constitutes the history of writing. The alphabet as an extension of the list becomes now more a sort of controlled vocabulary thesaurus with keywords that represent concepts the simplest way possible. So on the one hand as stated above, folskonomy in the web seem to bring subjectivity in the foreground, however, the tag abstracts back subjectivity which is also constructed through the list we accessed information at the first place. The major contribution of Google in this universal abstraction was that it simplified the search engine as more as possible. “Search the web using Google! “ is the motto that has been present under the search bar. This is maybe what caused the popular misconception about the content found in Google as “web”, while this has been the part of the web that Google indexes. So web indexers classify the content, and users search for it. The page of the search results is the listing of the classified content . Furthermore what was groundbreaking was the development of the simplest, easiest and most abstract search interface . I am looking at the basic search interfaces because I think that these are what the average user is using, including myself. Through it I see how the classifiers became the corporations . Standardization and institutionalization have been the main factors that led to the classificatory normalization of the subject within knowledge economies. Knowledge hierarchies are beeing constructed and provided by huge global corporations. Returning to the idea of (social) hierarchy of Adam and expanding it in the lists we use to access information online ,we can see how hierarchical based information retrieval is the main characteristic of search engines of online corporations, while for example within Internet archive, which is a non profit knowledge institution , the search results do not appear hierarchically in the sense of ranking. However, still ,the mode of ORDER cannot by bypassed. It is embedded within the culture of the list, a culture which makes order out of hierarchy, semantics or even randomness. Thinking about the list and the interface I realize that the list is an interface. A prototypical interface to collections, a catalogue to access the classified content, an online catalogue of a library. On the other hand it also consists the interface, which is build with a multiplicity of lists in all the levels from the back to the front. I explored above the lists’ presence in the front end of popular search engines. And the finding was that the most abstract and contemporary search interface, Google’s, keeps only one list in the frond end. After the search, this is the list of search results. If the list is an interface but also constitutes it its important to understand what interfaces are. I want to bring Soren Pold’s and Christian Ulrik Andersen’s interface criticism discussion. The authors have been working on a cultural and aesthetic criticism of interfaces. In their Manifesto for a Post-Digital Interface Criticism,(2014) they point out up some of the core qualities they find in interfaces. “ The interface is an ideological construct.” As they note “...[it] reflects a balance of submission and control. This balance is often conditioned by ideology. On some occasions the user is seduced to interact without negotiating this relation” (§3.). As the authors present, interfaces reflect power and control, which in the case of this research is the power of the ones who create classifications, and the ideologies behind their views. If we agree with this ideological dimensions of interfaces then particularly search interfaces of Google to Internet Archive could carry different ideologies within them, aligning with the nature of each institution/ information provider. We use lists within search interfaces , so ideological constructs within other ideological constructs. And mainly, as the authors point out, often times we are “seduced” to use them without even considering this. This comes close to the very definition of ideology as an underlying dictation that functions in a level we do not really understand , feel or consider, somehow automatically as a script. We perform web searches without acknowledging the notions of power and control that are hidden within the vast amount of information offered and the structures which hold it. We should acknowledge that despite the difference between information providers, and all tough we cant really compare the role of an online giant web indexer to an online free access archive, there is a shared condition expressed in all of these interfaces: they are there to provide effective and fast information retrieval. They are inherently connected and refer to the values of universal knowledge and a productive and cost efficient access to information. This standpoint , to see “the web” as a place for fast and accurate information appears highly problematic if we dis attach it from the notion of productivity within a knowledge based society. The web could be a playground of information and an online amgibuous space with unexpected possibilities. “The mechanisms of the interface constitute the sensible...The interface is a multimedia that integrates sound, images, text and interaction in feedback-loops” ($6). The form of the list as an interface not only can hold within it all forms of media. This is particularly visible in the online lists of search results. Moreover, the notion of the feedback loop and its relation to writing, particularly to search interfaces its significant. The whole notion of a search interface as a feedback mechanism , highlights the cybernetic nature of the whole computer culture, a culture of information organisation. We seen before that Otlet had an even -pre cybernetic vision. But for the information science of cybernetics the manipulation of information has to do with notions of controlling society, again a social engineering approach related to communication. This is something that is carried in our online experience with (search) interfaces. As Pold and Andersen write ; “The cybernetic feedback-loop is a central part of the interaction between human and computer[...]. However, this coinciding registering and representation takes place at all levels of the interface. The multimedia as a cybernetic mechanisms constitute the sensible (even beyond the human) – i.e. the way we sense, what we sense, and how we act upon this “ (§6) . Then the sensible experience that we have is constituted by interfaces largely. The construct what is arround us, what we perceive as our realities. What the list then brings in this experience? The qualities engaged with the alphabetical list are embedded within this experience. The notions of a globalized, standardised looping reality are expressed in the visual characteristics of the list of search results. The sensible is becoming globalised and unified.
THE EFFECT OF THE LIST: THE FLATNESS
Moreover, a certain (perception of) space is created , which is constituted through the way we navigate within the list but also it formal charakteristics. Looking at the model of the list in online space and particularly lists of search results, like in online archives and libraries or web indexes, I see it as an expression of a flat online experience.. These lists are visually same, and look bureaucratic, therefore they reduce a possible interesting online experience to a very flat one. Flat here should be understood as boring but also as an experience with no sense of space. The navigation in the list of search results is simple: going up and down, next and previous page, and picking items. The results are rendered in the form of the fundamental, most basic and simple list. A box shaped form filled of words. Constructed out of thin, possibly black or grey lines that by managing free space they constitute boxes that hold words inside. They keep things in the place they “should be”. These lines create a grid which is a very visual form that a list can take. These lines can be even absent. But they are still there as imaginaery lines. Furthermore, the results are static, nothing moves except our eyes and hand with the mouse, while going from top to down or back to top and from page to page, from left to right or the opposite. The background doesn't move as the boxes don’t move, everything stays in place. The words of course don't move, they are what should remain mainly still. To end up with this formal analysis of the sensible chakteristics of the online list of search result, it has no depth. The background and the surface are both two very two dimensional modules , the one on top of the other. On the one hand, to me, this flatness of the background and of the items, together with the quiet and non movable structure, constitutes an flat online experience. Our senses are somehow excluded. And additionally, this flatness destroys the feeling of space, we navigate lineary and hierarchically in a one surface. The list of search results manages to maintain a non-space experience for the person. Search result pages are information spaces that are treated in this tradition of standardization and bureaucracy with all its political implications and positions. Of course search engines are simpler and effective the way they are . Howerever it is precisely this lens of (over)simplicity and (over) productivity that should be looked. The list as a dominant material form of rendering search results reflects standardisation and universal , unified language. It also forces as to look at any content the same way. Is the world of information a space where we only want to be productive , effective, go , hit, find, use? Or could we have seen the internet as a real space build on and for information? On the other hand, as a printed list due to the materiality of its technology cannot provide the sense of depth , the online list is designed within an environment that makes possible the manifestation of a space, with characteristics that would consist a spatial and sensual experience. Why this doesn't happen to online search results should be looked also through the history of 3d electronic space to 3d online space and the reasons why they never became a dominant spatial design model , allthougth they emerged in the early 90s. The work of M. Cooper and the Visible Language workshop of MIT in 1994 “Information Landscapes”
was a significant contribution for thinking the possibilities of electronic media, information and space. Cooper was a co-founder of the MIT Media lab and was teaching interactive design. The work, a demo of a data visualisation proposals, presented a three dimensional textual space of typography, while investing on the possibilities of interactivity and animation. While bringing the elements of infinite zoom, transarency and live data, one would navigate in a full three dimensional space, changing his position within the information space. I am not brining this work as utopic, allthough of course efficiency and productivity do not allign with playfull, rich and deep information spaces, but mainly as a point of criticism on the flat online experience that is constituted by the normal way we navigate in information online. The space was purely textual but the navigation possibilities transformed the list notion of space to something much more interesting. As David Reinfurt writes, (2007) the design was focusing on “creating connections and making meaning“(p.3). The flat online experience doesnt enforce connections, because the fixed spatial arrangement of the list assign things with their fixed relationships. Therefore, such flatness reduces even the possibilities of learning or thinking something new. As Nicolas Negreponte notes, Cooper managed to “break the flatland” (quoted in Reinfurt, p.3). It seems to me that approaches like Cooper’s did not become popular due to efficiency reasons. One the one hand, 3d approaches in the web would be really difficult to handle from the old dial up connections. The tools where also not so easily accesible by a wider audience, that possibly didnt even have a computer at home. They would be really time consuming. Additionally, online information is highly corporate. The structures they hold them support the goals of the Classifiers. The simple form of the list materialises and guarantees the commodification of information and its vast accessing with an emphasis in producing something out of it quickly and feed the system back. After all these decades of flat online experiences, it seems that the tools for a new approach in information organisation are accessible, the content is allready there, and we still insist in the normalised list to see or order information. The practise of many artists or developers that use programming language to create online works , and the literacy that can be acquired online in such a field are a good example. Moreover, the web is full of content, not only through web indexers but in online archives , libraries and other repositories. All the elements are then there to create new information landscapes.
Asking in the beginning what is the effect of the list on the online information collector, I found the flatness as an concentrated expression of an experience build upon standardisation, unified language, normalisation, productivity.Order as ideological construct is reflekted upon the whole process of information collecting online. The list is a technology which constructs subjectivity and objectivity. Realising that the online experience is consisted of such a flatness, I also realise the the modernist dreams of a general archive and a unified language are still present in our culture, within the systems of web indexers or online libraries and archives. There is an urgent need for hyper subjectivity, ambiguoys taxonomies and alternative interfaces on online information. Why the internet has been kept so normalising through the materiality of the list? Focused on efficiency and clarity? It has become a tool against serendipity and ambiguity.
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