Un-books

learnscaping book

The Internet Time Portal was established as a companion to Learnscaping.

Learnscaping was the first unbook to be brought out of the informal learning flow, although initially it was titled Eating the Dog Food. It has since been joined by Work Smarter and What Would Andrew Do? These books all borrow from the thinking of Stewart Brand.

Brand’s books resonate with his awareness of the importance of ecology, both as a field of study and as an influence upon the future of humankind and emerging human awareness.

The WHOLE EARTH CATALOG functions as an evaluation and access device. With it, the user should know better what is worth getting and where and how to do the getting.

An item is listed in the CATALOG if it is deemed:

  1. Useful as a tool,
  2. Relevant to independent education,
  3. High quality or low cost,
  4. Easily available by mail.

CATALOG listings are continually revised according to the experience and suggestions of CATALOG users and staff.

PURPOSE

We are as gods and might as well get good at it. So far, remotely done power and glory — as via government, big business, formal education, church — has succeeded to the point where gross defects obscure actual gains. In response to this dilemma and to these gains a realm of intimate, personal power is developing — power of the individual to conduct his own education, find his own inspiration, shape his own environment, and share his adventure with whoever is interested. Tools that aid this process are sought and promoted by the WHOLE EARTH CATALOG.

“When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation…. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along. It was idealistic and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.” Steve Jobs


Like the  Whole Earth Catalog, my unbooks and this site are designed to function as an evaluation and access device. With them, the user should know better what is worth getting and how to do the getting. As generous “users” said when the Catalog came out in the sixties, we’d love to turn you on. Unlike the Whole Earth Catalog, this un-book lists things that are readily available via the web.

One thing we should have out right now. You will encounter repetition galore here. Ideas are forever floating around in my head. When presented with an outlet, for example my column in CLO magazine, I open the spigot. The same idea will pop up in new places. It’s not as a bug; it’s a feature. Free reinforcement: maybe you missed it the first time around. For example:

Malleability, multimedia, and more*


CLOs know that extracting meaning from growing mountains of information is tougher than ever before. The walls between disciplines are falling. Specialization, knowing more and more about less and less, is no longer an option. Everything is connected to everything else.

Reality is an endless stream of knowledge, culture and ideas that flows faster and faster. Traditional books are snapshots of that stream. The swifter the stream, the shorter the life of the book. A book is an event. We need a process that outlasts the moment — a movie in place of a photograph.

“I AM OUT OF TIME. You bought the beta edition of this book. Things change so fast that all books are dated by the time they are published. The world is moving too fast for closure. Our lives are in beta.”

So began my 2006 book, Informal Learning: Rediscovering the Natural Pathways That Inspire Innovation and Performance. The day it was published, my ideas were frozen in time, inert and unyielding to change. My author journey from outline to printed book took the better part of a year.

Something’s wrong here.

Books have been a mainstay of self-directed learning for centuries. CLOs may not break out the cost of books in the budget, but they assuredly invest heavily in them.

Books are not the ideal way to present subjects that change rapidly. Before I’m accused of calling for the death of books, permit me to say that works of art are timeless. Books such as Moby Dick, The Little Engine That Could, Catcher in the Rye, and David Copperfield are unbeatable. These novels and stories are whole unto themselves. That’s not the case for most nonfiction.

Wake-up call to the publishing industry: Why don’t you produce books that are current? Where are the pictures and maps? Why is the text all one size and color? Why don’t you provide updates on the Web? Why does it take a year to turn out a book? Why do most books come out as if one size fits all? Why don’t you encourage conversation with authors? How long do you expect to remain in business if you continue to act like fossils?

The publishing industry hardly has changed at all since the first paperback was printed in Venice. A page from the 1493 edition of Virgil’s Aeneid looks very similar to a page from The Social Life of Information printed 500 years later: rectangles of monochromatic text, no illustrations, page numbers in the corner and 1-inch margins all around.

books

A study by the Jenkins Group, a custom book publishing firm, found that:

    • One-third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.• 42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college.

    • 80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.

    • 70 percent of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the past five years.

    • 57 percent of new books are not read to completion.

Increasingly, people hunt and gather what they want to read. Today’s activist readers pluck information from the blogosphere and YouTube and their friends on Facebook and MySpace.

To prosper in times ahead, we need to re-conceptualize our relationship with books, the role of authors and how to make books better. The shorthand for what I have in mind is the “un-book.” Here are some of the characteristics of un-books:

    • Unbooks are guidebooks for knowledge explorers navigating the flow of the news, information, sound bites, observations, debate, hacks, diatribes and memes that are the Web. Un-books invite participation. Participants choose how deeply they want to explore a topic and can remix content to create the learning experience they seek. Un-books link to the flow of knowledge, not sanctified facts. Treat that knowledge as community property, and the community will maintain and improve it. Many authors may write guidebooks to the same stream of knowledge, and a single author may create many un-books from a single stream• Unbooks are inherently multimedia. One of those media is paper. Paper is portable, familiar and easy to annotate. A hard-copy book conveys authority.

For the continuing saga of unbooks, visit the site.

*Effectiveness Column in June 2008 CLO magazine