Blogging, As Seen in 1968

From His Master’s Voice by Stanislaw Lem:

The inflation of the printed word has been caused, no doubt, by the exponential increase in the number of those writing, but in equal degree by editorial policies. In the childhood of our civilization only select, well-educated individuals were able to read and write, and much the same criterion held after the invention of printing; and even if the works of imbeciles were published (which, I suppose, is impossible to avoid completely), their total number was not astronomical, as it is today. Today, in the flood of garbage, valuable publications must go under, because it is easier to find one worthwhile book among ten worthless than a thousand among a million. …

… It turns out, however, that freedom of expression sometimes presents a greater threat to an idea, because forbidden thoughts may circulate in secret, but what can be done when an important fact is lost in a flood of imposters, and the voice of truth becomes drowned out in an ungodly din? When that voice, though freely resounding, cannot be heard, because the technologies of information have led to a situation in which one can receive best the message of him who shouts the loudest, even when the most falsely?

We will note that similar complaints against the masses have abounded since before the printed word, back when any danged fool thought he was the next Sophocles. I am mollified in the pointless narcissism of blogging every book I read by the Victorian tendency to do something very similar in print, so as to circulate with their friends what they were reading and what they all thought about it. The Victorians were strong in introspection but had terrible latency.

: Zubon

7 thoughts on “Blogging, As Seen in 1968”

  1. That quote reminds me of numerous groups of people in our modern world, mostly “elitists” and communists (that dreaded c-word, which I use here to describe the adherents to the totalitarian system of government, not the idealistic anarchists). What bothers me about the quote is the underlying assumption that the individuals who are reading through millions of pages of garbage are incapable of discerning, detecting, or otherwise arriving upon a correct conclusion without inordinate amounts of outside assistance.

  2. Lem also fails to appreciate the various mechanisms for separating the wheat from the chaff.

    Opinion sites like KTR mean that we don’t each and severally have to play every MMO to form an opinion of it. Search engines are tilted towards your tastes. Good indexing and tagging allows people to sort through considerable volumes of information. Linking allows people to explore the internet in a much more effective way than random surfing.

    The fact that most of us have heard of Lem or even read him suggests that it isn’t as great a problem as he states.

  3. I think Google has shown the untruth of Lems’s argument. The internet is the ultimate “flood of garbage” and yet it is possible with the aid of good search tools and a focussed inquiring mind to pull really good information from the dross.

    While it may be harder for an individual author to be heard I don’t think it is because their great ideas are being drowned out in the “ungodly din” but instead because there are so many great ideas out there. From the readers perspective it is all to the good.

    PS. I also keep a blog record of every book I read. This is not really narcissism. Some time ago I came to the combined realisation that pretty soon all books will be available in digital format and that I no longer have space to keep all the hard-copy books I read. My memory is quite poor and very often the only way I can recall what a book is about (or even if I have read it or not) is to pick the my copy out from my shelf and browse it. Recording everything I read in a blog is a memory aid and is a preparatory step towards the day when I will no longer keep any hardcopy books.

    1. I interject that this is in a character’s voice, although I cannot say whether Lem also felt it. It is certainly a problem with our televised media, where quiet and sober discussion gets fewer viewers than shouting partisans.

  4. The greater numbers of writers and articles also has an effect of guiding more people to the good ideas. A lone voice may not be heard amongst a flood of shouting idiots, but that lone voice can be turned in to a massive chorus by active dissemination of the idea.

  5. Well.. ty Zubon for reminding me that this problem is not new. It’s good to know that we’ve had a lot longer to solve it. Even though everyone has to solve it on an individual basis and learn how to distinguish truth from error. I’ll give you a hint if you are wondering how, truth “tastes” different.

  6. I am reminded of Heinlein’s point that the next great field of science would be the librarian or archivist, simply to condense and extract gold from dross. He was quite right, after all. Expanded Universe somewhere, I believe.

    And, well, Lem is Lem. He’s operating from a different perspective than most of us, generally much closer to Kafka, but it’s a useful one to be aware of.

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