My views on Libraries have changed drastically in the last few days. Mostly after I started thinking of companies and corporations and things as consumer creating versus intelligence creating.
Consumer Creating vs Intelligence Creating
First, a quick explanation -
- A consumer creating thing is anything that makes people stupid, exploits their psychological weaknesses, limits their choices, focuses on their weaknesses, and so forth. Note that this is not about good or evil or right or wrong or other intangibles - A consumer creating device/object/system literally reduces a user’s choice and freedom and even adversely affects their intelligence.
- We have a middle-ground. A win-win set of scenarios and arrangements where you give something in return for something else. This encompasses everything that is neutral or close to neutral.
- An intelligence creating thing is something that increases the amount of choice people have, makes them better informed and more intelligent, and in general gives them a better shot at whatever they want to do.
A perfect illustration of something that is intelligence creating is what Andrew Carnegie did with his libraries -
Carnegie’s personal experience as an immigrant, who with help from others worked his way into a position of wealth, reinforced his belief in a society based on merit, where anyone who worked hard could become successful. This conviction was a major element of his philosophy of giving in general, and of his libraries as its best known expression.
Perhaps what Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are doing for AIDS research etc. with the Gates Foundation would also fall into this category.
Craigslist and Wikipedia would too – regardless of what you think of the aesthetic appeal of the former and the accuracy of the latter. The former makes classifieds free and the latter makes encyclopaedias available to anyone with an Internet connection.
Libraries are Amazingly Good Intelligence Creating systems and they are in Danger
It’s amazing to think that in 1919, when the last Carnegie library was built, nearly half of the Libraries in the US were Carnegie Libraries. It’s worth pointing out that -
- These were grants and the Libraries did not belong to Carnegie or any corporation.
- They were built on Carnegie’s concept of letting anyone who wanted to work hard and succeed have a fair shot at it.
- The libraries had to provide free service to all – That was part of the agreement to get the grant.
- The city/town had to provide 10% of the library construction cost annually to support the Library.
It was a beautiful system. Free of insidious influences.
Anyone could check out a book for free.
There was no company trying to make money off of the people by advertising to them or charging them a fee.
It was books – people thought for themselves and became smarter.
With eBooks and eReaders we see various corporations jumping in – they see a chance to carve out their pound of flesh and it threatens Libraries.
Various Problems eBooks create for the Library Concept
Here are just a few of the problems -
- Companies are trying to take over the role of libraries – A terrible idea because a company is always focused on profit and only interested in their own good.
- With eBooks the financial barrier of owning an eReader comes into play.
- The concept that advertising supported book/information systems are the same as libraries is being propagated which couldn’t be further from the truth.
- Funding for Libraries is being cut under the illusion that the Internet or a company can replace libraries.
- You are putting a great equalizer into the hands of the rich. What do you think they are going to do with it?
There is the illusion that companies think about or care about the mission of libraries. They aren’t capable of it - they are profit oriented entities and if anything they have the opposite motivation of libraries i.e. they’d rather see people be ignorant as it makes for better consumers.
Why Companies and the Internet cannot replace Libraries
Please feel free to debate each of these points -
- A company cannot ever place creating intelligent customers over profit. At best it can be win-win. A library literally has creating intelligent customers as its reason for existence.
- There are lots of companies that are very interested in turning people into stupid consumers that keep consuming their products.
- The Internet does not filter out bad or manipulative companies and websites. A library does – at least to the extent that people have to seek out books that would manipulate them and not be bombarded with them non-stop.
- Advertising is propping up most Internet Companies and it is the most powerful consumer-creating force we have.
There is no such thing as a company that doesn’t care about profit or that cares more about customers than profit. If a company tries to pretend it does - it just means they’re in it for the long haul and value you more as a long-term customer.
The other possibility is that they want to get your goodwill and the advantage that gives them.
The more you think of it the more you realize that we have two powerful consumer-creating forces at work.
Advertising and Schools are Consumer Creating Machines
We’ll start with schools since that’s easier to tackle -
- Let’s say that 20% of students are categorized as A grade. How does the school system have the right to say the other 80% are not A grade?
- Think about what a typical school is better suited for – Sending kids into a world where anything is possible or a medieval world with a feudal system where they should step out knowing that they aren’t good enough.
Perhaps what the school system is best suited for is a world where 80% of kids are ready to work hard at making other people rich and happy. We’re literally training 80% of kids to be OK with accepting terrible jobs and getting less out of life – all because they couldn’t get a math problem right.
The amazing thing is that even kids who are good in one area (sports) are made to feel terrible because of inadequacies in another area (perhaps grades).
Advertising is as bad as Schools
Advertising is also corrupt.
- Why would an advertiser offer to pay $10,000 to run an ad in a magazine? Obviously, because he feels that it’s worth more than improving the product. Or that the awareness it creates is worth that much.
- However, Advertising doesn’t create awareness – it creates an artificial need. Or it reminds magazine readers of something they want or need or desire.
- After that want has been stoked advertisers link its fulfillment with their product.
The argument would be that there’s nothing wrong in advertising a product that customers would possibly want. However, that’s not what’s happening -
- The first step down the slippery slope is to start convincing people they have more needs than they have. It increases profits to sell your product even to people who don’t really need it.
- The second step is to pretend that your product fulfills those artificial needs. Often the companies start believing this themselves.
- After that it’s a non-stop process of training users to buy things to fulfill needs that can’t be fulfilled.
Advertising is the equivalent of a Doctor that keeps thinking up imaginary illnesses and treating patients. They never feel ‘better’ because they didn’t have anything wrong with them in the first place.
Look at the various older forms of entertainment i.e. books, movies, music and compare it to the new forms of entertainment that advertising and new innovations in exploiting human psychology have enabled i.e. TV, virtual games, and video games. Things are getting worse and worse.
Companies are offering things for free and supporting it with advertising and tricks like virtual gifts because they feel they can get more out of you – It’s not because they love you. The real world is being replaced entirely by a virtual world and it’s all in the guise of entertainment.
Libraries can’t depend on Companies
A company is optimized for profit.
The stock price, the CEO’s bonus, the employee’s salaries and bonuses, the perks people get, how good the buildings are, how satisfied people feel in their jobs.
They are all linked to profit.
Whether or not the people in a company admit it their brains are constantly figuring out how to optimize profit and how to delude themselves into giving it meaning.
If you put the library system into the hands of a company it might think it can keep the library system as an intelligence creating machine. However, what will really happen is one of two things -
- A win-win situation. This is non-optimal because the company will only help people who are in a position to help it back. There is no longer any incentive to help the poor and the people who most need libraries.
- A consumer creating situation. Why not tilt just a little bit in the company’s favor and start pretending that customers owe the company running libraries and should do things in return. Let’s start making it easier for people to read books that we want them to read and believe things that we want them to believe.
If the company let’s go of its own profit based DNA and runs the Library as an intelligence creating machine there are a lot of problems -
- Users are costing resources without giving anything back.
- Rivals are using resources while not sharing their own.
- The company’s focus is removed from profit-making. The opportunity cost of running a non-profit business would be enormous.
At that point it’s no longer a company – It’s a trust or charity or non-profit.
We need another Andrew Carnegie
That’s what it comes down to. The Internet Archive is great and it doesn’t have the money to compete with the Giants. We need Warren Buffett or Bill Gates to fund an intelligence creating non-profit that focuses on creating a self-sustaining Library System.
The transition to ebooks and ereaders provides a great opportunity – both to create a more efficient and powerful library system and for the consumer creating machines to take over the library system.
Libraries and Books are similar and intertwined – they are unpolluted by profit and advertising and manipulation. It’s an author going for something more precious than profit – immortality. The biggest battles for the Future of Books are going to be fought behind the scenes and perhaps no one cares.
It’s all quite amusing at some level - for something as transitory as profit companies are trying to kill all of books and now even libraries.
Filed under: Reality | Tagged: future of books, future of libraries, lack thereof | 1 Comment »