September 9, 2019 Brian Allain

The Universal Book

So what happens when all the books in the world become a single liquid fabric of interconnected words and ideas? Four things:

First, works on the margins of popularity will find a small audience larger than the near zero audience they usually have now. It becomes easier to discover that labor-of-love masterpiece on the vegan diets of southern Indian priests. Far out in the long tail of the distribution curve – that extended place of low to no sales where most of the books in the world live – digital interlinking will lift the readership of almost any title, no matter how esoteric.

Second, the universal library will deepen our grasp of history, as every original document in the course of civilization is scanned and cross-linked. That includes all the yellowing newspapers, unused telephone books, dusty county files, and old ledgers now moldering in basements. More of the past will be linked to today, increasing understanding today and appreciation of the past.

Third, the universal networked library of all books will cultivate a new sense of authority. If you can truly incorporate all texts – past and present in all languages – on a particular subject, then you can have a clearer sense of what we as a civilization, a species, do and don’t know. The empty white spaces of our collective ignorance are highlighted, while the golden peaks of our knowledge are drawn with completeness. This degree of authority is only rarely achieved in scholarship today, but it will become routine.

Fourth and finally, the full, complete universal library of all works becomes more than just a better searchable library. It becomes a platform for cultural life, in some ways returning book knowledge to the core. Right now, if you mash up Google Maps and monster.com, you get maps of where jobs are located by salary. In the same way, it is easy to see that, in the great networked library, everything that has ever been written about, for example, Trafalgar Square in London could be visible while one stands in Trafalgar Square via a wearable screen like Google Glass. In the same way, every object, event, or location on earth would “know” everything that has ever been written about it in any book, in any language, at any time. From this deep structuring of knowledge comes a new culture of participation. You would be interacting – with your whole body – with the universal book.

– from ”The Inevitable” by Kevin Kelly