David Weinberger
KMWorld Archive
This column is part of an archive of David Weinberger's columns for KMWorld. Used with permission. Thanks, KMWorld!


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Data and our future: too much of a good thing? Not enough? How will we know?

08 July 2019

In this column over the years I’ve talked about many, if not most, of the ideas in my book, Everyday Chaos: Technology, Complexity and How We’re Thriving in a New World of Possibility, simply because that’s what I was thinking about during the 6 years I spent writing it. Now the book is out—a fact, not a plug, but a fact I sneakily hope might serve as a plug—so let me take you behind the scenes.

After my prior book, I thought I was done with writing books as a way to develop and publish ideas. After all, that book, Too Big to Know (with a subtitle too big to remember), argued that many of the limitations of the traditional forms of knowledge were due to the physical limitations of books. So how could I ever justify writing another one?

I was co-directing Harvard’s Library Innovation Lab at the time, where my main personal project was developing LibraryCloud, an open platform for library metadata designed to be used as a multi-library data service. I became more and more fascinated by the rise of open platforms that enable any developer on the web to use some set of an organization’s data and services in ways that it did not anticipate. It struck me how radically different an approach to product design open platforms represented. Rather than trying to anticipate what users will want, by setting up an open platform, a business lets anyone develop their own uses, add features, write a new UI, or integrate the app into their own workflow.

Unanticipation, which was the working title of the book for some months, was fascinating to me not simply as a change in product design. More importantly, it seemed to me to be a change in how we think about the future. Indeed, many of the most exciting and even emblematic phenomena on the internet also reject the traditional idea that the way to manage the future is to anticipate it and to actively limit it to the possibilities we want actualized. Open source, open access, agile development, on-demand manufacturing, unconferences, designing for interoperability, and so much more instead see benefit in not only holding back from anticipating, but in actively creating more possibilities. The mantra in my head became Make. More. Future. For a long while, that was the working title.