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PE 101, "Modern" Political Economy, Final Exam

The Glass Bead Game

Ezra Klein loves the Amazon Kindle ebook reader:

My Shiny New eBrain | The American Prospect: There is much to be said for the book: its pleasing concreteness, its physicality, the crackle of its pages, its portability -- all have evolved over centuries to create an exquisitely designed entertainment device and information transmission system....

[T]he book does have a weakness... our minds... are sieves, with the holes and hooks seemingly randomly distributed. Few are immune to the frustration of glancing at our bookshelf and realizing that a tome we read a year ago has disappeared... the information and key arguments so fully lost it's as if they never were....

[M]any of us have developed ad hoc mitigation strategies. Notes... a complex but tightly defined set of symbols and underlines meant to signal the import of useful passages, a psychedelic rainbow of highlighted sentences, multicolored sticky notes jutting out from every sixth page, key arguments written down in a central set of notebooks somewhere, anything to more effectively keep hold....

The Kindle promises to take us much further. Annotations, highlighted passages, and random notes can be centrally stored, searched, and automatically attached to the book. The text itself becomes searchable, offering up its secrets in response to a well-chosen keyword.... This central repository of all we have thought or noticed or felt while reading promises to give us access to what physical books have always sought: A more perfect version of our own brains.

On some level, this is what Google does now. But the mind offered isn't ours, it's the hive's. You have access to part of my brain through my blog, access to a bit of Bob Kuttner's through The American Prospect's archives, access to an insane person's through lolcats.....

Devices like the Kindle... pledge to archive our personal intellectual histories.... They will not replace paper. More than likely, nothing will. But they will... relieve [paper] from it what it is worst at -- transmitting large amounts of information to imperfect receivers.

And as the information-transmitting task falls to a medium better suited to it, documents seeking to broadly inform will change as well. Authors will update books as new information becomes available, primary sources will be linked throughout the text, communities of readers will be linked together so the text stands next to an enlivening and enriching discussion of its arguments rather than alone in your hands, readers will vote on the bits that are most important and they will be highlighted or marked as you travel through the text.... Our computers and electronic readers will honor our books in a way we could not: by remembering them.

20071208_delong_micro.jpg I think that the public web can today do everything that Ezra Klein hopes that some descendant of the Kindle can do someday--and more. If I want to search a more perfect version of my own brain, I Google--and I include something like "" and "" in my search string. Voila. But I can also search Robert Kuttner's brain. And I could search Ezra Klein's brain if he would settle on a stable URL.

Plus I get more. Google not only gives me access to my own external brain pack. It gives me an army of link-creating gnomish research assistants who index and comment on what is in my external brain pack. A clear win-win.