Infomancy

This is the week, it seems, of people reading my posts and making them better. First, Ken Hite revealed the infomantic significance of the Ford’s Theatre index card disaster. Then, Barista‘s David Hiley expanded my link to Jess Nevins’ post on Japanese automata with a fuller biography of Gakutensoku, the golden calligraphy-writing robot.* David also pointed out the secret through-line between the automata and index card stories:

Here he [ie, me] combines two wonderful and pathetic factoids in the one zany flow. Handy, dandy, it has the logical flow of the management of information which leads to proto-robots which takes us ultimately to these machines, which we all share as we prowl the world from our keyboards.

The way I see it, I didn’t combine the Ford’s Theatre and Gakutensoku stories, he did. I just put them next to each other. But I appreciate his kind words and the phrase, “wonderful and pathetic factoids.” That goes on my ever-growing list of alternate taglines for this blog.

This is what I love love love about the 21st century: Barista posted about Gakutensoku three days after Jess Nevin’s original post, two days after my own. Granted, I’m impressed by anyone who writes a post in two days. (I have on my hard drive a half-written response to Seth Shulman’s Telephone Gambit that I started writing when I saw Shulman give a talk at MIT… in 2005.) But the real infomancy is the way these not-necessarily-pathetic factoids carom around the internet. A librarian in Texas (who knows everything, by the way) writes a short piece about a 1920s Japanese robot. It bounces off a Canadian history professor, and is read by an Australian film writer. Who then researches the history of that robot, using an amazing online encyclopedia of more than 2 million user-generated articles, not one of which existed eight years ago. It’s easy to take it all for granted, my friends, but we are living in the future. Where’s my flying car, you ask? You’re driving it right now.

(At least until Big Cable / Bell Canada takes away the keys.)

*Barista says Gakutensoku “ain’t no robot–it is an automaton.” But are the two categories mutually exclusive? Mr. North, Ms McDougal, Mr. Da Vinci, can I get a ruling?

5 Comments

  1. When I wrote this modern infomancy was sort of what I had in mind.

    The deleted part of my post, though–that is, what I chose not to post after due consideration–was how those of us who are infomancers can tell the difference between books written without the aid of all the modern resources (i.e., online databases and the Web) and books written with the help of them. There are a couple of mystery and detective encyclopedias I’m thinking of in particular which were clearly written by people who didn’t get online to do their research. My Pulp Heroes will pimp-slap them. Of course, my book will be published by a small publisher, at least in the first edition, and these other books have Big Name Publishers, so these other books pwn me where it counts (sales).

    Nonetheless.

  2. That was a terrific post. It (along with Ken’s comment in reply) illustrates two points about 21st century research very nicely: First, that it isn’t about internet sources versus physical books. The black belt researchers are the people who know how to use the former to leverage the latter, and vice versa.

    And second, when I say, “Jess Nevins knows everything,” what I mean is, “Jess Nevins knows where to look to find out just about anything.” Which is functionally the same thing, and how it really works.

    Finally, while I do wish your sales figures more accurately reflected your awesomeness, I hope you yourself appreciate, looking at that description of your typical Monday afternoon, what an absolutely excellent job you have.

  3. Well, thanks. And, yeah, the true infomancers (I’m going to adopt that term) make use of *everything* available to them, not just the traditional sources. We’re Bruce Lee, and the other folks are the Shaolin Masters–and we all know who wins that fight.

    I wish my sales figures were better as well. But I’m working on getting an agent who will, presumably, help me get my non-fiction books into higher profile publishers’ hands. I may yet see my books published by Oxford or Routledge.

  4. Guh. My mind just blew up in awe and in recognition of the term “infomancer.”

    Now, to find a way to explain it to high school students so that I can see who gets it and who doesn’t… but I’ve a pretty good idea of who’ll be there already, I think.

    Wow. That is likely to be my word for the season. I love it.

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