Last week, I went through the current (dis)organization of the book with Tim Sullivan, my editor at Basic Books. I’ve known Tim for a few of years, (even before he became the editor of the tenth anniversary edition of Cluetrain), which is the basic reason I went with Basic for Too Big to Know. Tim’s got a sharp eye for the structure of books, as well as being smart about, and fully engaged in, the content. Truly pleasure to work with.
Tim is the opposite of freaked out by my thrashing. In fact, he’s actually sort of encouraging about it, because (I assume) he sees it as one way the creative process proceeds. So, I came out of that conversation a little less freaked out myself.
Here’s where I am at the moment. I have a prologue that needs some work but Tim thinks sets up the problem well enough. It contrasts Darwin’s sort facts with those at Hunch.com, and tries to lead the reader to see not just that there is too much to know but that our new muchness seems to be changing the nature of knowledge itself. (My concern with the prologue is that I don’t want the reader to think that the book is about algorithmic learning, as the Hunch.com example might suggest.)
I’ve now re-done Chapter 1. It begins with a section on the data-information-knowledge pyramid as an example of our traditional strategy of dealing with the knowledge overload by narrowing our field of vision. Then I talk about information overload as a fact of life. I introduce Clay Shirky’s “It’s not information overload — it’s filter failure” idea, and then say that the difference is not simply that we now have social filters and the like. Rather, our filters now don’t filter out so much as filter forward — they reduce the number of clicks it takes to get to an item, but they leave the other items accessible. This puts the fact of overload straight into our faces. I close by suggesting a half dozen ways this affects knowledge, but I’m not sure I’ll keep that little section.
I’m working on Chapter 2, for the moment called “The expertise of clouds,” which was a leading contender for the title back when I was plotting the book. It looks like it may be a very long chapter on networked expertise.I’m not exactly sure how to organize it at the moment. The main question is whether I put into it all the multiple case studies and examples of networked expertise I’ve been accumulating.
I feel like I’m postponing facing the organizational problem posed by what I’m proposing as Chapter 3: the history and future of facts. (That’s the grandiose way of putting a much more mundane topic.) I’m afraid that chapter will strike the reader as unfocused and pointless. Why are we reading about the 19th century social reform movement in England? Beats me. But, thankfully I have Chapter 2 to distract me from that question.