Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Future history, juxtaposed

Recently, my local university library switched cataloguing system, from our local Swedish SAB system to the Dewey decimal system. However, the transition was not made all at once, but rather is done sections at a time. New books are entered into the new system, while old books remain as they are, with some migration from old to new according to rules mostly inscrutable to us students and patrons.

This means that there are two sections for every subject, one old and one new. Interestingly enough, the difference between the two is distinct enough to tell a tale of its own. The old sections mainly contain classics, postmodernism and cyberoptimism. The new sections are, as you might expect, up to date.

Walking from the old sections to the new is akin to walking from the past to the future. However, the future is a very particular future, with a very particular set of events that shaped how things came to pass. We know these events, as we lived through them and have them in living memory. We remember what we did on 11/9 when we heard the news about the twin towers; we remember the aftermath. These things are reflected in the titles of the new shelves, as well they should be.

The old shelves, however, tell a different story. The classics are timeless, and point towards some universal truth or other. The postmodernists do their darnedest to deconstruct settled notions of universality and truth, so as to open up the space to actualizing new universals and new truths - those of our own making, as it were, rather than those we happened to inherit. The cyberoptimists are all enthused about the coming of the computers, and what it could, would, should mean in terms of a better future.

The future was up for grabs, and it was up to people like you and me to make the effort to make it a place worth living.

I suspect the library at some point will complete the transition from the old system to the new one, and that this inadvertent contrast between what was, what could be and what is will become but a memory. But for a little while longer, it will remain possible to observe the difference by physically moving around. Future history, juxtaposed.

It behooves us to notice these things.

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