Everything Is Miscellaneous The Power of the New Digital Disorder

David Weinberger

Holt Paperbacks



Trade Paperback

288 Pages



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Human beings crave information. The human mind is constantly collecting, labeling, and organizing it inside the brain as well as in tangible, exterior systems and databanks. But the shift from the physical to the digital is mixing, burning, and ripping our lives apart. In the past, everything had its one place—the physical world demanded it—but now everything has its places: multiple categories, multiple shelves. Simply put, everything is suddenly miscellaneous.

In Everything Is Miscellaneous, David Weinberger charts the new principles of digital order that are remaking business, education, politics, science, and culture. In his tour of the rise of the miscellaneous, he examines why the Dewey decimal system is stretched to the breaking point, how Rand McNally decides what information not to include in a physical map (and why Google Earth is winning that battle), how Staples stores emulate online shopping to increase sales, why your children’s teachers will stop having them memorize facts, and how the shift to digital music stands as the model for the future in virtually every industry. Finally, he shows how by "going miscellaneous," anyone can reap rewards from the deluge of information in modern work and life.

From A to Z, Everything Is Miscellaneous will reshape the way readers think.


Praise for Everything Is Miscellaneous

"There is no order. There never was an order. There never will be an order. That's the order. Or so David Weinberger convincingly (and far more gracefully) postulates in his incredible new book, Everything is Miscellaneous . . . He explains in astonishing detail exactly why it’s the best we've come up with so far by exploring every conceivable method of organization humans have used in the past. Starting with alphabetization and moving through the development of modern maps, knowledge trees, the organization of animal species, and an insanely readable analysis of the Dewey Decimal system, Weinberger reveals the flaws in each developmental system and what can be learned from their failures. Leaping between explanations about these outdated methods and analyses of modern informational and organizational powerhouses like Wikipedia, Flickr, and Del.icio.us, Everything Is Miscellaneous reveals more about the way we think in a single chapter than will have occurred to most readers over a lifetime. Weinberger, a doctor of philosophy, possesses an admirable mind, and draws out the battle between simplicity and complexity with an elegance uncommon to this type of text . . . Nothing I write here can communicate what an oddly fun, smart, and thought-provoking book Weinberger has written. In discussing The Brothers Karamazov, Weinberger himself ponders this phenomenon: 'Somehow, through a series of explicit statements, Dostoyevsky manages to create an understanding of the brothers so rich and tangy that it defeats articulation.' In the end, one can only say of either book, 'Read it.'"—Drew Nellins, bookslut.com

"The world is messy, like it or not, and it's only going to get messier as the Web destroys rules and rule-makers. You can either complain about the chaos and wish for the good old days of order, or you can buy this book and understand why delirious disorder will soon make us all smarter."—Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail

"David Weinberger attacks the complexity of the real world, not by making it simple, but by making it clear. Once he explains how things can be in more than one place at a time—and make sense—you'll never look at a humble index card the same way again."—Esther Dyson

"From how information is organised, to the nature of knowledge and how meaning is determined, this book is a profound contribution to understanding the impact of the digital revolution."—Richard Sambrook, director, BBC Global News

"Everything Is Miscellaneous is a rare and mesmerizing mix: on the one hand, it's an essential guide to latest information age trends, one that will be extremely useful for businesses and consumers alike. But the book is much more than that as well: it's a probing and profound exploration of how we create meaning in the world."—Steven Johnson, author of The Ghost Map and Everything Bad Is Good For You

"Just when I thought I understood the world, David Weinberger turns it upside down—and right side up—again. Everything Is Miscellaneous explains the radical changes happening in digital information—and therefore in society as a whole."—Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia and chair, Wikia.com

"Think about how you organize your CD collection. Whether you're quirky or meticulous, once you pick a system, you're pretty much stuck with it. But in the digital world the laws of physics no longer apply. At iTunes you can sort music by any number of criteria, including artist, genre, song name, length, or price. The Internet itself is a hyperlinked web of information that we cruise organically, often finding ourselves far afield of where we started. Weinberger takes us on a journey through the human constructs of classification, from alphabetization through the Dewey decimal system, all necessary but limited approaches to organization that seem antiquated in the digital age. At places like Amazon.com and Wikipedia, an almost infinite ability to sort and combine objects and ideas produces results that range from the surprising to the ridiculous. This so-called third order mixes it all up; it's all about multiple connections and a realization that the world is not as orderly as we thought. Weinberger presents a thought-provoking and entertaining look at our rapidly evolving culture of data."—David Siegfried, Booklist

"Weinberger analyzes the Internet's impact on the way we look at the organization of information. As he sees it, the order of things, with the shift from the physical to the digital, is changing: in the physical world, everything had its own place; in the digital world, everything is miscellaneous, fitting into multiple categories. Weinberger describes and assesses the traditional ways of organizing information, including the examples of Dewey, Linnaeus, and Ranganathan, and then moves on to the new order including online digital arrangements of archival photographs from the Bettman Archive to the lists and categories of books and other products on Amazon.com. This thought-provoking book allows readers to step back and take a look at how the digital world impacts how they are and will be looking at arrangements of objects and information. Highly recommended to students and researchers of business, social sciences, education, and library science. It adds another dimension to the latter field and should be recommended reading for its students and faculty."—Lucy Heckman, Library Journal

"In a high-minded twist on the Internet-has-changed-everything book, Weinberger joins the ranks of social thinkers striving to construct new theories around the success of Google and Wikipedia. Organization or, rather, lack of it, is the key: the author insists that 'we have to get rid of the idea that there's a best way of organizing the world.' Building on his earlier works' discussions of the Internet-driven shift in power to users and consumers, Weinberger notes that 'our homespun ways of maintaining order are going to break—they're already breaking—in the digital world.' Today's avalanche of fresh information, Weinberger writes, requires relinquishing control of how we organize pretty much everything; he envisions an ever-changing array of 'useful, powerful and beautiful ways to make sense of our world' . . . the book's call to embrace complexity will influence thinking about 'the newly miscellanized world.'"—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Prologue Information in Space "Absolutely not." I've apparently begun by asking Bob Medill the wrong question: "Don't you put the most popular items in the back?" He could have taken it as an insult, for it's a customer-hostile technique many retailers use to force shoppers to walk past items they hope they'll buy on impulse. But the soft-spoken Medill is confident in his beliefs. Besides, he's been asked that before. It's a rookie question. "No," he says, looking out over the Staples office supply store he manages. "In front are the destination categories because that's what
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  • David Weinberger

  • David Weinberger is the co-author of the international bestseller The Cluetrain Manifesto and the author of Small Pieces Loosely Joined. A fellow at Harvard University, Weinberger writes for such publications as Wired and the Harvard Business Review and is a frequent commentator for NPR’s All Things Considered. In 1994, he founded Evident Marketing, a strategic marketing firm on technology issues. He lives in Boston.