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Two-dimensional culture

November 22, 2005

In another great leap forward for two-dimensional culture, the U.S. Library of Congress is today proposing to build a "World Digital Library" of scanned artifacts from around the globe. In an op-ed in the Washington Post, the library's top dog, James Billington, writes, "An American partnership in promoting such a project for UNESCO would show how we are helping other people recover distinctive elements of their cultures through a shared enterprise that may also help them discover more about the experience of our own and other free cultures."

Does our arrogance have no bounds? Long the world's cultural bulldozer, we're now appointing ourselves to lead the way in creating a digital simulation that, says Billington, "would create for other cultures the documentary record of their distinctive achievements." It's so real you can almost touch it! Needless to say, Google's the primary funder of the effort. As the Register puts it: "All your cultures are belong to us."


Nick, the US tech industry is pretty global. We have more immigrants, we export more, we improt from German, Indian, Israeli. Chinese and other global vendors than the average US business. So I would not be as cynical for someone from the US tech industry to offer to do this. We are not as isolated from the rest of the world as our politicians may be.

On Google - what is wrong for them to offer to digitize such content? They have shown themselves capable of turning all kinds of content and democratizing access to the lay person. I was in France and India last week and acceessed local versions of Google (actually it was a pain to try and get to US Google.com). It is pretty impressive what they have accomplished from a global reach perspective in so short a time.

Posted by: vinnie mirchandani at November 22, 2005 03:21 PM

Nick, I'm not sure the issue is the digitizing (which is probably a "good thing"), rather it is the plans for access to these works that might be troubling. The biggest advantage to Digital is the fact that limitless identical copies can be produced for (essetially) free. Today, the only way to access original works is to go to these libraries and get permission to view them during working hours, which certainly limits their utility. Assuming there is no barrier to access and these documents are made available 24/7 on a web site for free (and no one has any special access privileges), I have a hard time seeing the downside. Maybe the right answer is for these libraries to digitize the originals, return them to their respective countries and host the digital files for all to see for free...everyone wins under that scenario.

Posted by: Chris Kitze at November 22, 2005 08:04 PM

Reminds me of the Gulf War Comment by Bush: "Either you are with us or you are against us".

Posted by: Nitin at November 23, 2005 12:54 AM

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