A Unified Theory of the Web, & the World

August 6, 2008

Recently, I read Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory of the Web by David Weinberger. I don’t read tech stuff, or even technology and culture type books, hardly ever, but when I started blogging a few months ago, this title seemed particularly apt. Partly because it fits with the idea of a blog – each post being a “small piece” – “loosely joined” by theme on my blog – and likewise, it would apply to the blogosphere and web, by extension.

I found his book to be not only highly readable, but insightful and entertaining as well. An example of the latter and his sense of humor: spam is “annoyance marketing”.

He studies the web as a communication medium, and among other things, feels that the web is primarily a written universe. Not just written computer code, but written words. Contrary to Luddites’ views of the web being the death of literacy, Weinberger makes a convincing case that to the contrary, the web enables people to communicate. Not only that, but it enables them to communicate with people with shared common interests, regardless of geography, economic or social class, or other barriers that exist in the “real” world. The vision that Weinberger concludes with is a blissful universe made possible by the passion and self-fulfillment born of shared interests. He says it allows us all to connect with our truest nature.

“Everyone’s an expert” is another benefit to the web. We learn how to discern reliable voices through their persistence and the advice they give, like regular contributors to newsgroups and forums. So if in my off-time I enjoy helping others learn to navigate the new digital universe, I need not work for Microsoft or some other large software corporation – I can simply make my contributions through the web’s own forums.

One of the biggest points Weinberger makes is the social nature of the web. When this book was published in 2002, blogs were out there, but I don’t think they were quite the big thing they’ve become over the past few years. (I could be wrong about this, being new to the blogosphere myself), but I find much of what he talks about to be very applicable to what is called today “Web 2.0” – with Facebook, myspace, and others.

Weinberger’s commentary ultimately goes beyond the Web, however. Because the Internet is so much a part of our daily life, much of what he writes about the Web is equally true about the World. Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory of the Web – is really a Unified Theory of the World, too. The case he makes is a promising one, full of optimism and hope.

© writingreading, 2008

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Reviving Women’s Lives through Cookbooks

June 19, 2008

I wrote a post recently about Carol and her dread of cooking. This was from a book called Eat My Words: Reading Women’s Lives Through the Cookbooks They Wrote by Janet Theophano. As I’ve continued reading this book, I just have to comment further.

This is a fascinating, extraordinarily detailed examination of, well, as the subtitle indicates – unearthing and resurrecting women’s lives and social surroundings through a detailed examination of various cookbooks. It’s not as boring or far-fetched as I may have made it sound, here. That little synopsis just simply doesn’t do it justice.

What Theophano does is to go far beyond the mere printed words on the page, to examine the ways cookbooks link multiple generations of women (heirlooms); how cookbooks also serve as guidebooks to womanly and wifely duties and decorum; how cookbooks were a way to gain or promote literacy among women; and how cookbooks, through the exchange and gathering of recipes, are a communal activity – and therefore can reveal a myriad of social interactions which often crossed boundaries of race and class which were otherwise insurmountable, given the time and place of their writing.

I am truly impressed with Theophano’s versatile range and analysis, and her ability to shed light on women’s lives and culture through this method. She is truly talented in the way she brings these women back to life, through something that on the surface seems so ordinary and mundane – a cookbook. And many of the women discussed in the book are otherwise obscure or unknown – simply everyday ordinary women. Now and then, there is a prominent authoress or lordly lady, but by and large, most are ordinary women.

I’m certain that my poor attempt to convey the drama and interest of this book falls short, but if you are interested in learning more about our foremothers, the history of home cookery, or general women’s studies, this is one not to miss!

©2008 writingreading