"I certainly never write a review about a book I don't think worth reviewing, a flat-out bad book, unless it's an enormously fashionable bad book." --
says, John Gardner in Conversations with John Gardner
Quoted from 'Dictionary of Library and Information Science Quotations'     Edited by Mohamed Taher & L S Ramaiah. ISBN: 8185689423 (New Delhi , Aditya, 1994) p.150. Available @ Amazon.com

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Word Matters - Multicultural perspectives on information societies

World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and like minded people have been working to handle many issues that relate to the information age. The book in hand is just one contribution from many such concerned minds.

I wrote to Jack to permit me to post his review of this book. And then followed the correspondence with him:
What a great bit of puzzles about this book:
a) WSIS doesn't have it even in its marketing (if it shows no signs of being a partner / allied in publication of the content);
b) the review you wrote is not accessible;
c) none of the online book stores, including bn.com, isbn.nu the Amazon sites have it (except Amazon.fr)
d) LC, Br Library, and Candian National Lib, do not have this book!!!
e) an interesting thing to be noticed is when google translates the title it would be: Stakes of words [google]. This gives a turn to the matter and matters in words!!! and,
f) I found hardly three reviews, incl yours. None of the databases I checked incl LISA, LL, and those indexed by EBSO Host, PROQUEST, etc., has this title.

Am I making fus all-ado-about nothing or the world does not care for whatever the word matters??? Continue reading Jack's response to all of the above puzzles***

Word Matters: Multicultural perspectives on information societies, A cooperative publication coordinated by Alain Ambrosi (WFCN) and Valérie Peugeot (Vecam)
with the collaboration of Daniel Pimienta (Funredes). four languages; (Caen : éds. C&F, 2005), 656 pages, 39 euros, ISBN: 2915825033.

From the Publisher: Word Matters, a collective work by some thirty authors from civil societies all over the world, deciphers the central concepts of the “information society”.

Technology is never neutral: it carries social, economic and cultural conse-quences. New information and communication technologies are no exception. The words used in international negotiations or legislation are a poor reflection of such consequences; they propagate perceptions that are rarely subjected to democratic debate, the fundamental requirement for any political decision. At this juncture, as the World Summit on the Information Society unfolds, this book subjects the concepts of the information age to critical perspectives from different sensibilities and cultures, thus introducing alternative visions. Fully multilingual, this work is a reference for anyone who aspires to decode these key issues, and is an invitation to pursue the debate. With Carlos Afonso, Alan Alegre, Subbiah Arunachalam, Michel Briand, Sally Burch, Mavic Cabrera, Kemly Camacho, Dominique Cardon, Sasha Costanza-Chock, Marcelo d’Elia Branco, Luis Angel Fernandez Hermana, Rikke Frank Joergensen, Alain Kiyindou, Hervé Le Crosnier, Mouhamadou Lo, Raphael Ntambue, Sean o’Siochru, Stephanie Perrin, Marc Raboy, Pascal Renaud, Catherine Roy, Partha Pratim Sarker, Christine Schweidler, Marcelo Solevicens,Felix Stalder, Rosa Maria Torres, Roberto Verzola. publication details Content and Extracts

From other reviewers:

A. Jack Kessler, kessler@well.sf.ca.us wrote:
FYI France: a review, of "Word Matters / Enjeux de mots, regards multiculturels sur les sociétés de l'information" (Caen : éds. C&F, 2005) http://www.cfeditions.com

A printed book intended for anyone interested in the "outside" (non-anglophone) digital information world... a world as-yet remarkably lacking in, or some might say "free of", the particular philosophy and bias and cant which permeate so much of the anglophone approach to all of this now...

A text, moreover, presented in English & French & Spanish & Portuguese, evoking previous trans-national and multi-lingual eras: for instance the 16th century, back when the Biblia Políglota Complutense appeared in Latin & Hebrew & Greek...

The essays cover a broad range of subjects, from "Information Economy" to "Cybercrime", and from "Digital Libraries" to "Free Software". There are people here interested in "Virtual Communities", and others distressed by "Piracy". "Internet Governance" is of vital concern to some, while "Digital Divide" is more the central problem to others. "Gender", "Accessibility",
and "Human Rights" all play central roles in our information societies going forward, various writers here point out.

The ideas expressed here are novel, as well. In his essay Hervé Le Crosnier observes, for example, that:

"the role of libraries in preserving, conserving and making available documents is still fundamental. Unlike the technical illusion of a world of documents that is 'auto-organized', open to all and where information moves freely, tackling the issue using the experience of libraries as a starting-point enables us to imagine, on the contrary, a balance between technological innovation and social conditions..."
The book is a useful and even necessary addition to any library of "Internet" and "Information" and "Globalization" materials: at least because it represents an outside point of view to what usually gets heard. Continue reading this review

B. Partha Pratim Sarker: This book points out that "technology is never neutral: it carries social, economic and cultural consequences". New information and communication technologies are no exception. Says, New book... via Tunis. By Partha Pratim Sarker writing from Tunis, 12/11/2005

C. Subbiah Arunachalam: This is a remarkable book in more than one way...
The book, like any other translated book, has problems with translation. For example, in the essay by Sally Burch, originally written in Spanish, Abdul Waheed
Khan is referred to as ‘general sub-director’ of UNESCO (p. 54). Actually his designation is Assistant Director General!

This is a book I will strongly recommend to both academics and practitioners in the field working in the area of information /knowledge societies. The wide range of topics dealt with and perspectives brought together will surely enrich their understanding. The Department of Information Technology or the Department of Culture, Government of India will do well to commission a translation of this book
into many Indian languages. SUBBIAH ARUNACHALAM, CURRENT SCIENCE, VOL. 90, NO. 3, 10 FEBRUARY 2006: 456. [M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai 600 113, India. e-mail: arun@mssrf.res.in]

My comment:
This book is strongly recommended for libraries specializing in information technology, media relations, communication, cultural studies, ethnicity, races, diversity and international relations.

Related Resources:
  • [WSIS CS-Plenary] Announcing "Word Ma tters" Alain Ambrosi
  • [WSIS CS-Plenary] Invitation in TUNIS : Power Knowledge...and Word Matters [details]
  • WSISblogs.org: Blogging the World Summit on the Information Society
  • Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility & WSIS
  • Google for more

    Technorati Tags: Information society; Information technology; Civil society; World Summit on the Information Society; Information Age; WSIS
    Hi M.T.,
    Thanks for your note here. You said,

    1. Now my blog has the review - yours' is on the top. Any comments about your content that I have added. I have crossed the limit of four para. Is that OK?
    Yes four paragraphs is fine with me: but, and per my earlier request to you, please include my email address next to my name -- "Jack Kessler, kessler@well.sf.ca.us" -- I appreciate your having provided a link to my website, but I find that most of my readers prefer to use email, for communicating with me directly, so for quotations of my work that address needs to be shown.

    2. F.Y.I Your link to the review is down. Is there an alternative source?
    My review appeared as an issue of my FYI France e-journal, the archive of which I store online but on a restricted site.

    3. As a librarian-cum-researcher I have collected info about this book. I feel we librarians must do this much if we are not into deep in the content domains--we must at least be good at aggregating and disseminating.
    Undoubtedly true. If librarians don't aggregate and disseminate, who else will? Without librarians, "Using the Internet is like drinking from a firehose", goes the now-old saying...

    Tell me if you feel the review needs more of this librarianship touch?
    Your review is fine as-is, I think: you provide a suitably - librarianly bibliographic citation -- complete with ISBN and URL -- so no one should have any trouble finding this one... And your good short summary tantalizes the reader into looking further. And your inclusion of my own remarks takes them in further still. So that's both the enticement and the solid information which any good review ought to include.

    Also, tell me if you disagree with my contextualization.
    Contextualization? Well, if you mean the obiter dicta in your own comments, no, I do not disagree at all. There are a few "loaded phrases", in what you say, but I am sure you know this, and they are "loaded" in just the right way, in my own opinion too: for example your "like-minded people" is a good characterization, I agree, of groups such as this bunch, in our digitizing & Globalizing trans-national world -- and your "Technology is never neutral" assertion most certainly is true -- and above all your point about the need for "democratic debate", in all of this, definitely is the addition most-needed to current Globalization developments, and one which would improve things greatly.

    So, if others might disagree with your contextualization, let me just say that I myself agree with you wholeheartedly.

    I write to you (not because you are the next Shera, Ranaganathan, Sayers, etc. but)
    Nope, I'm not... :-)
    becaue the way you responded to my email yest.
    Email for me is fun. The formality required by previous forms of communication always frustrated me: the too-fine and too-precious art of letter-writing... -- and the telephone I find extremely inhibiting, not being of the "hey man, wazzup?" school or generation myself. But I do enjoy store-and-forward.

    And your request was well-phrased and polite: so often a writer stumbles across his own words online by accident, posted by others without permission or even notice and sometimes even attribution, and most often quoted very much out of context.

    So I was happy to reply and consent, in this case. And your added contextualization enhances my own points considerably.

    (First impression is the best impression, and that stays in memory forever).
    True of email correspondence, perhaps... not always, though... :-)

    Thanks for your kind response permitting me to do what I wanted to accomplish.
    Your posting is a good one: it would make me want to read the book, and to consider its ideas carefully, were I to come across it fresh now as a reader, and that is precisely the purpose of a good review -- also, the "Word Matters" and "WSIS" folks make important points, so the more energy people like you and me put into publicizing their efforts the better for all of us.

    4. Now, a word about my own comment on this book:
    What a great bit of puzzles about this book:
    a) WSIS doesn't have it even in its marketing (if it shows no signs of being a partner / allied in publication of the content); It's not a WSIS book, it is independent. There is no partnership or alliance in publication. The "Word Matters" writers are simply a group of, "people inspired by the WSIS effort, people who in turn have inspired the effort itself", as I said in my review.

    b) the review you wrote is not accessible;
    My review was released in a freely-distributed ejournal issue; but my own archive of it is stored now on my commercial site, controlled by me and accessible only through payment of a fee.

    c) none of the online book stores, including bn.com, isbn.nu the Amazon sites have it (except Amazon.fr)
    This is one of the primary "multilingual" access problems faced by the entire Internet, now: that for the most part it still speaks English-only...

    I say this pace Unicode and Open Systems and Creative Commons and other excellent efforts to broaden the Internet's perspective: not to comment upon technical capacities so much as to make your own point, in fact, once again but always-needed, that "Technology is never neutral" -- de facto, if not intentionally, the Internet like so many other Globalizing things is spreading "American" culture, now, through its propagation of American English as well as in other more subtle ways. So, even if the hardware & software & systems aren't doing so deliberately, the
    inertia & momentum involved in the marketing tug-of-war are: so, yes, Amazon.fr has a single entry for the book -- French-only -- and the others don't, yet... it's because the others all retain, de facto or de jure, their English-only biases, still...

    This is true of most online information resources, with regard to non-English texts: the version in English makes it there first --many of the others do get there eventually, although in a "first-to-market" world "eventually" is too late.

    So, even if bn.com & isbn.nu & amaxon.com & .es etc. all have interfaces and systems which can handle French character sets -- now... -- they didn't always -- one also needs to ask:

    a) do the _users_, as well, have hardware & software & systems which can see an "accent aigu"? -- one of my readers for instance uses, still, a Mosaic browser of his own design, which can't -- there is a problem with "legacy" hardware & software & systems, but there is an even more persistent & I believe perennial problem with "legacy" _users_, too! It is a problem with no solution: but The Customer is King -- the systems have to accommodate the users, not vice versa.

    b) the market, in addition, dictates English-only usage, currently, as even after all these years the Internet demographic still is primarily young & male & English-language-only...

    c) and "commercial considerations", such as the decisions made by buyers at bn.com and the amazons and isbn.nu -- (If I use that last site will they invite me there for a visit, I wonder? They say online, "Niue Island is Polynesia the way it all used to be.
    Swim with whales and dolphins. Walk through flocks of butterflies in virgin rainforest"...) -- are driven by, "b) the market", above, so the commercial guys won't buy "foreign" books until "b) the market" says they'll sell...

    If that last sounds circular, it is. Joe Stiglitz won his Nobel Prize for showing that. And until the Internet breaks out of that circularity it will remain a mere cultural conduit, and it will not be ready for truly primetime "scaling-up" to international & trans-national applications. And if it persists, in ignoring or neglecting or denying multilingualism, it will "miss its market", literally, and get replaced by something which does this better.

    Most of the world doesn't speak English -- still, or ever -- and "most of the world" is The Customer, and The Customer is King...in marketing, anyway...

    So, that's my long-winded reaction to your very valid observation that the Big American Boys haven't yet picked up on this very interesting but, to them, "foreign" book... "Too bad for the Big American Boys, then", is my own thought: that plus your own very good argument in favor of injecting a little "democratic debate" into Globalization...

    d) LC, Br Library, and Candian National Lib, do not have this book!!!
    The latter two will get it, I expect. The Canadians, certainly, as they have a fundamental multilingual access mandate; and among languages French -- one of the languages of this volume -- is a leading Canadian priority. Also there is a lot of WSIS etc. participation by Canadian librarians. Acquisitions anywhere take time, though, and "foreign" acquisitions budgets always are strictly rationed: so I should think 6 months at the inside but as long as 2 years at the outside, for this.

    The BL will acquire it too, I think: theirs is not so much a "multilingual" mandate as it is a "European" one, but qua European at least the "Word Matters" book probably will attract them -- again, 6 months to 2 years there.

    But LC is not a national library, remember -- merely an inhouse collection for use by members of the US Congress -- and its acquisitions mandate is neither "multilingual" nor "multinational / trans-national", but simply to acquire and retain only what the librarians there believe said members of the US Congress some day will want to read... So, no, LC indeed may never acquire this particular book: sadly, I believe, for both our Congress and our US -- I hope very much that I am wrong about this, but we in the US can be very insular in our thinking at times.

    e) an interesting thing to be noticed is when google translates the title it would be: Stakes of words [google].
    This gives a turn to the matter and matters in words!!! and, That is a good translation... funny turn of words, but perhaps appropriate just as you suggest...
    My favorite "machine translation" story is that of the team which fed the old saying in English, "The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak", into their shiny new system, which converted it to German and then re-converted back to English, and the saying came back, "The whiskey was good but the meat was bad"!

    f) I found hardly three reviews, incl yours. None of the > databases I checked incl LISA, LL, and those indexed by EBSO Host, PROQUEST, etc., has this title.
    These are _Anglo-American_ databases, Mohamed... This is your own point, again, about the need for "democratic debate" in the development of Globalization: you say in your review text that such debate is needed for "any political decision" -- but all decisions are "political", even and perhaps especially the supposedly-"economic" ones made by business-people -- just as, too, the supposedly-"technical" decisions made by computer engineers -- always, when people are involved, there is politics.

    If you would try some citation analysis on any of the databases you have listed, I am sure you will find a significant bias -- still -- in favor of American and English imprints there. This is not just because of American market domination now, although that does play a role, it also is historical: these are Anglo-American databases designed at their origins to serve Anglo-American librarians who at the time had comparatively-little need for "foreign" books -- and the databases still are filled with such "legacy" data -- even the very largest, such as OCLC's WorldCat,
    only now are emerging into the big & bad & extremely complicated world of truly-international bibliography.

    There also are good bibliographic indexes in other countries which, like those you list, offer biases in favor of the products of their own particular home publishing industries -- again, not so much intentionally as simply historically and pragmatically, that by original design they were intended to serve local markets only. So, Swedish national bibliography offers Swedish imprints, Spanish national bibliography offers Spanish -- and if you dig into French national bibliography you will find a lot more references to this "Word Matters" book than you will anywhere
    else, simply because it is the work-product of a French publisher. International & trans-national bibliography are working hard -- "WorldCat", with all its limitations, is the best bet so far -- but the truly-global effort isn't "here" yet.

    The most famous example of this general problem is that of Google, recently. They offered to digitize everything in several major US and UK libraries, including the substantial "foreign" holdings, but the president of the French national library objected. When he supervised the celebrations of the anniversary of his nation's revolution he was horrified to find, he said, that the references to it retrieved from such databases as you cite led off with "The Scarlet Pimpernel", a very anti-French best-seller book which favored the aristocrats and the much-hated British, in those conflicts. So he has demanded that Google reveal the principles governing their search algorithm to him, and of course for commercial competition reasons they have refused.

    But what would be India's reaction if Anglo-American databases implemented there were, on searches for materials on Indian history, to cough up first-and-foremost some Victorian English best-seller entitled "The Black Hole of Calcutta"?

    Or consider Chinese reaction to similar database searching: telling their users that Chinese-English history was not about "opium wars" but about courageous British adventurers and The Royal Navy, in best-sellers such as James Clavell's "Tai-Pan"?

    It's exactly as you yourself put it, "Technology is never neutral".

    Am I making fus all-ado-about nothing or the world does not care for whatever the word matters??? How would you look at these? Any clues?
    This depends not upon the book but upon how you yourself define "the world". If you take that last term to mean the current established world of big business database-building, one by design or accident or both entirely dominated now by giant American corporate factors, then yes that world is not so interested in "Word Matters" and may not be for a long while.

    If on the other hand something changes -- some "democratic debate" gets injected into the Globalization process, as you yourself suggest -- or, and I myself believe more likely, the Third World simply grows wealthy and begins demanding their own way in "the market" -- then the database folks will swing 'round.
    It's by definition, actually: those search algorithms, and marketing generally in fact, are based upon "the market" -- "The Customer is King" -- and if the new customer turns out, increasingly, to be Chinese or Indian or Latin American, then "the market" and those databases just as increasingly will serve her / him what she / he demands. That's why the economists call it "supply & _demand_", after all... :-)

    So I would expect, myself, that over time explanations for Indian history will float to the top of the Google heap, more and more, which emphasize things like "The Sepoy Rebellion", rather than "The Sepoy Mutiny" and "The Black Hole of Calcutta" as they currently do; and thanks to increasing Chinese wealth, now, the world will be learning more and more about "The Opium Wars", too.

    So I am an optimist... I believe it's the way The System is very deliberately designed, in fact... :-) But these things indeed are political, as you yourself have suggested, and the politics in all of it must never be overlooked.

    No change ever happens without someone doing the changing, though; so if you personally would like to see a world more open to multi-lingual and multi-cultural information access, I encourage you to keep plugging texts like the "Word Matters" volume, _regardless_ of what over-sized and elderly outfits such as "LC, Br Library, and Canadian National Lib", or "LISA, LL...EBSCO Host, PROQUEST, etc.", do or don't do. The 1960s had a saying: "If you don't like the news, go out and make some of your own..."

    May I post all of the above, incl your review not accessible comment?
    You may post anything I write ...
    And, yes, this permission includes the entire text of that review, which I have appended here in case you do not have it already: a citation URL should be just http://www.fyifrance.com, as we already have discussed -- e.g., Kessler, Jack (kessler@well.sf.ca.us). "Review, 'Word Matters / Enjeux de mots: Regards multiculturels sur les
    sociétés de l'information'", in _FYI France E-journal_(Feb 15, 2006) ISSN 1071-5916 ; http://www.fyifrance.com

    Would appreciate if you leave a comment at my blog
    Blogs are hard for me, Mohamed: I do love store-and-forward, as I said, but one primary advantage of that is my ability to centralize it -- if I begin blogging in addition to all the other online writing I do I will lose track of my own work, from having to maintain too many "centers", so I must stay with email. You please feel free, though, to re-post whatever I may write to you, or whatever you may see written by me but posted elsewhere.
  • No comments: