Digital Libraries '94 Keynote Address
Paul Evan Peters
Coalition for Networked Information
21 Dupont Circle
Washington, DC 20036
Notes for the address:
A number of things are on my mind as I stand before you this evening.
- Albert Einstein and his chauffeur.
- Bruce Sterling's closing remarks on the politics of Clipper at the 4th Annual Computers, Freedom, and Privacy Conference on March 26th as published in "Wired" 2.07 (July, 1994)
- "When the going got weird the weird turned pro."
- Also in, I believe, "Intelligent Robots, An Aware Internet, and Cyberpunk
Librarians" (LITA Publications: 1992).
Woody Allen, according to his biographer Eric Lax.
"We stand at an important cross-road. To the left is certain destruction. To
the right is utter despair. Let us pray that we choose wisely."
"Digital Library Research and Development at the Dawn of the Meso-Electronic
I want to try to situate this conference, and the work that occupies each of
you so completely, in a context that helps to establish its extrinic as well as
its intrinsic merit.
And, to do this in a way that reaches out to your creative, imaginative right
brain as much, if not more, than it does to your analytic, decisive left
I will do this first by offering some remarks drawn from the observation that
before we became 'homo sapiens' we had to first become at least 'homo erectus'
and 'homo habilis,' and from the related observation that tool-using and the
social learning process attendant to the development and use of tools in human
communities were and remain extremely important themes in the story of the
evolution of human-kind.
The tools-set with which we humans are trying to come to terms are those that
manipulate the electro-magnetic spectrum, in all of its various
The massification of access to computing and networking defines the
contemporary moment, not the overall tool-using era.
I will then move on to some remarks about the Internet and the Clinton
Administration's National Information Infrastructure (NII) initiative, thereby
situating this conference and your work in that important context.
I will offer these remarks under the heading "The Social Construction of the
Information Highway," which may give you some feel for how I intend to approach
this much discussed subject.
I will then close with some personal observations about digital library
research and development. observations that are best anticipated as excusable
presumptions by an after-dinner, conference kick-off speaker.
The dawn of the meso-electronic period.
For some time I have be in the grip of the idea that we are hard into what is
best thought of as human-kind's paleo-electronic period. Consider ...
Our electronic environement is as dangerous and forbidding as it is vast and
inviting ... positive Eden of virtual delights.
Our celectronic ommunities seem to be dominated by explorers, pioneers,
hunters, gatherers, story-tellers, and, yes, even wizards and their
And, after all the appropriate slack has been cut, the best that can be said as
far as I am concerned is that we are using crude tools with which we are having
some uneven but very real success in fashioning crude but functional electronic
I am not only speaking of the Internet and SMTP, FTP, TELNET, gopher, and the
There is no more blunt electro-magnetic tool than broadcast television and
There is no more inflexible electro-magnetic tool that vinyl, CD, and cassette
Now, though, it seems like we are on the threshold of what can be productively
though of as human-kind's meso-electronic period.
Fixed settlements are beginning to emerge in cyberspace.
Places that offer safe, reliable havens to folks who are much more interested
in making a living and living a life then they are in discovering a resource or
charting a territory.
Domesticate flora (databases) and fauna (algorithms) are replacing all manner
of cyber-things that go bump and roar in the *day* as well as the night.
And, notions of private property, and fences that enforce those notions, are
beginning to appear, prompting fears than the ideal of the 'open range' and the
public good will be soon be history all together.
To my way of thinking, we are clearly at the end of the period in which cheap
stunts, brillant hacks, and acts of ignorance or desperation were the principal
ways for creating useful and affordable network resources and services.
I believe that we are now at the beginning of the period in whch strategic
think, careful research and development, steady progress over the long run, and
significant investments will be the drivers of progress in the network
So, I believe that your time has come ... *finally*, for many of you ... and
that ths conference could not have come at a better time.
What's more, the conference theme and its actual program tell me that most if
not all of you are deeply and seriously interested in scientific and scholarly
communication and publication, and in what digital libraries can do to improve
the quality and to increase the productity of this sort of communication and
This interest, and your work is extremely important, for reasons that I'll now
pursue as my second main topic.
Before I do, I must play brief homage to George Gilder (particularly:
"Microcasm" and "Life After Television"), and many others.
Gilder believes that what we trying to do is to become as good at manipulating
things in the *microcasm* as we are at manipulating things in the macrocasm.
For him, and me, this is what really defines post-industriasociety.
Not only micro-electronics but genetics and nanotechnology, to mention but too
other growth industries of the microcasm.
A second cut at this holds that we are trying to become as good at mass
customization (value creation) as well as mass production (voume creation).
"Mass customization" is an apparent oxymoron that, like the sound of one hand
clapping, is well worth a life of meditation.
The social construction of the information highway.
Metaphor are wheels for the mind, and we've seem an extraordinary number of
them used and abused in this area.
Little boy metaphors, after Graceanne DeCandido, editor of the "Wilson Library
I don't know what it means but it makes me uneasy ... angry.
I don't know what it means, but tell me more.
Both suggest that the major roles to be played are those of engineers,
capitalists, and regulators.
Good reads other than "Neuromancer" and "The Shockwave Rider."
Near Stephanson's "Snow Crash."
David Brin's "Earth."
Vennor Vinge's "A Fire Upon the Deep."
Daniel Keys Moran's "The Long Run."
Little girl metaphors.
Festival / bazaar.
Beyond metaphors of the information highway (=how we think about it) there's
the social construction of the information highway (= what we expect from
The Clinton Administration's NII initiative will not determine the 'personality
of the networked environment,' it will be determined by it.
Increase the returns on investments in research and education.
Improve the competitiveness of US firms in the global economy.
Make government more accessible and accountable to its citizens.
Lower the costs and improve the responsiveness of the health care system.
Promote individual and community development.
Create a retail and entertainment paradise for plug slugs.
The NII initiative is nothing more and nothing less that an attempt to
reformulate national telecommunications policy so that helps rather than
hinders the progress that the Nation has already begun to make in coping from
with the transition from analog to digital electro-magnetic tools and with the
convergency of the broadcasting, telephone, computer and other industries that
this transition is forcing.
Quite a long history here since the Communications Acts of 1934.
The Carterphone decision.
The FCC computer inquiries.
US vs. ATT.
Presidential, vice presidential, and Congressional attention will make a
So will getting such matters out of the Federal and other courts.
But "I am from the government and I am here to help you" remain the twelve most
feared words in the US, let alone in these specific industries.
Where telecommunications policy stops and economic, social, and information
policy begins is an open question.
Not only have computing and communications technologies become
indistinguishable, the difference between software and information has as
An open question is how well an Administration elected under a banner reading
"It's the Economy, Stupid!" will handle these sorts of policy boundary
Concerns of this sort have been heightened by the role of the National Economic
Council as the 'lead forum' and the Department of Commerce as the 'lead
The Aministration's NII initiative clearly does not suffer from a 'vision gap,'
but the jury is out on whether it suffers from a 'values gap.'
The *new* information highway.
Elements of the sedimented, imbeded "is" need to be surfaced and
reconceptualized if we are to do a proper job with the effervescent,
superficial "will be."
The most important "is" to which folks like us have access is the Internet. We
need to begin to think of the Internet as the incubator of networking
applications that (1) serve research and education communities in general, and
that (2) support scholarly and scientific communication and publication in
All of us who care about quality and productivity in research and education
communities wish you "warp speed" with your research and development, because
we critically need the advanced networking tools, resources, and services that
you are endeavoring to innovate in order to secure the capabilities and
aspirations of those communities in the very crowded, noisy, and high-stakes
process of the social construction of the information highway.
I am now ready to close with six brief personal observations about digital
library research and development I that are best thought of as excusable
presemption by an after-dinner, conference kick-off speaker ... who is, after
all, but Einstein's chauffeur.
It's a Network, Stupid!
The 6/13 NYT (A1!?) article on *email* addresses.
.org and .mil were not mentioned.
Home page URLs on business cards.
Think distributed and interoperable (= client /server).
Assume that the cost of logic and bandwidth (= the transport and delivery
system) is not the controlling cost
Assume the model suggested by the pharmaceutical industry.
The one thing that Windows (OS / 2) and NCSA Mosaic bound with the WorldWideWeb
is definitely doing for *you* is positioning capacity for the
performance-intensive applications that your R&D will create and prove.
Assume that predator / prey relationships will be reversed in networked
Information will look for users more than users will look for information.
Users will direct agents rather than issue commands.
Design for the Sega Genesys Generation.
Highly interactive information technology.
Problem solving in the company of artificial intelligence.
Are now undergraduates.
Will soon be professors and then provosts and presidents.
Folks who came to digital technologies for sound rather than number or text
Never forget that folks are much better prepared to reward 'time to market'
than they are 'quality to market.'
Not sure how this squares with some of the other things that I have said.
Play pass on the belief in 'disintermediation.'
It is a research question, not a foregone conclusion.