Reading Kevin Kelly

If Kevin Kelly didn't exist, we would have to invent him.

Not satisfied with his utopian ten point 1999 New Rules for the New Economy,  the utopian Kelly is back with an eight point manifesto in yesterday's NY Times in which he tells us that internet search engines will set books "free".

As Nick Carr wrote yesterday, "Kevin Kelly is excited again." And Kelly's excitement is about the vision of a universal online library made up of a "very large single text: the world's only book."

Kelly's vision is of a connected media in which all the world's books are digitally scanned and link. He calls this the "liquid version" of the book and argues that we have a "moral imperative to scan." The end product of Kelly's utopia is a hyperlinked world of 32 million books, the sum total of total publications since the "days of the Sumerian clay tablets" -- all combining to form a single hyperlinked text.

The only problem with Kelly's piece is he forgets about reading. He writes off our 500 year old tradition of sitting down with a single physical book. Kelly's vision is of communal participants, radical interactivists rather than passive readers. Thus, in Kelly's uber-scanned world, we will jump from link to link, we will surf from reference to reference, we will scrawl in other people's digital margins. But there is nothing in Kelly's piece about the simple action of reading a single text. In this digital world, it seems, we'll be much too hyperlinked for such a singular activity.

So in this utopia, there is only one book and nobody is reading it properly. I wonder if Kelly has secretly been "reading" Fahrenheit 451 or Brave New World.