I thought I’d share a final essay I wrote for a course on “Organizing Information”, connecting Walter Ong on the eras of information culture with Bruce Sterling on the eras of technoculture, via Suzanne Briet considering objects as documents.
That was a mouthful. It goes something like this: Ong talked about the shifts in culture that occurred in the move from oral (spoken) transmission of information to literate (written) society. Sterling talks about the shifts in culture that occurred due to the way that things (material objects) are produced and consumed, from handmade to mass-produced to “smart”.
Suzanne Briet was a librarian and documentalist in France in the early 20th century. Her work has come into the light in recent years largely thanks to Michael Buckland and an article in JASIST titled “What is a Document?”, in which Buckland explores a variety of perspectives on what constitutes a “document”. Briet (now, rather famously, in library circles at least) asserted that, although an antelope in the wild was not a document, an antelope that was captured, put in a zoo, cataloged, and considered an object of study could be considered a document just as much as text printed on paper.
So, using Briet’s ideas about objects as documents, Ong’s cultures and Sterling’s begin to converge into a conglomerate in which it is (or will be) no longer easy to distinguish between the two. This is especially the case in an “Internet of Things”, in which objects are increasingly retrievable and record information about themselves.
You can get a copy of my essay (pdf) if you’re interested.