Lazy Luddite Log

20.6.12

Library

I was sitting in a public library the other day printing something and thinking how fond I am of such a setting. This love of the local library has been in me a long time. My family were regular users of the then Dandenong Valley Regional Library Service. It was more than just a way of instilling in us a habit of reading. It was also a safe and cosy environment in which to engage in the life of the wider community.

There were holiday programs and meeting rooms and all sorts of information services. It was at that library service that I got my work experience and also my original experience of voluntary associations (the then chief librarian Colin Watson founded the Dandenong Valley Science Fiction And Futurist Society which met at various branches).

It went further than this however. My family gave me the impression that public libraries were important in an almost reverential way. I was given an impression of the history that free public borrowing libraries shared with mechanics institutes. The mechanics institutes, beginning in the 1800s, were sometimes the philanthropic project of existing universities, sometimes the product of workers banding together to fund for themselves a setting in which technical and, later, cultural information could be transmitted to fellow workers.

Over time these were converted into or replaced by public libraries, operated by local government rather than by voluntary associations. A significant contribution to the literacy, mobility, and solidarity for the working class was made by mechanics institutes, and even today I think we can see public libraries as fostering similar values for mass society.

Nowadays I use the municipal library service of the City of Monash. I am particularly fond of the Clayton Library. It is one of the smaller branches but it has the most fantastic setting. Get this - it is housed in the same structure as the local indoor swimming pool! Are you shuddering as you imagine shelves of books getting splashed by dive-bombing kids? Well the books are safe because the library and pool are in separate chambers separated by the foyer. I love walking into that foyer and thinking "turn right for the body and left for the mind".

Have a swim. Have a coffee at the small cafe there. Borrow some books. What a life! I worry that we take these sorts of services for granted and forget how much they enhance our lives. This is one good use of local rates.

Cross-posted here.

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8.6.12

Word Limit

I want to submit something to the City Of Monash Wordfest 2012 Short Story Contest. I am yet to decide what to write but have a few months. For the moment I have just decided to write whatever comes to mind and this odd item is the result for now.

At a major university on a minor planet, a surprising and shocking discovery was made. A study was published entitled 'Data Limits Of The Cosmos And Proposals For Its Conservation'. The title was boring but the contents of the dissertation were of the utmost import. The basic thesis of the study? That the Universe was in fact composed of information and that there was a finite and diminishing quantity of such information. Once the media translated these findings into the vernacular it was a sensation on that minor planet, and on any world which had contact with it.

The implications were disturbing. Anything that ever happens can be deemed information. Atoms vibrating deplete the data limit of the Universe. Statements describing the movement of those atoms also contributed minutely to the hastening of the end of all things. If a tree fell in the forest and nobody saw it then that was information. If someone was there to see it then that was information. And if that person then blogged about it then that was information too. Every tiny thing shortened the life of the Universe.

The dissertation from that major university included projections of how long the Universe had to go depending on how much stuff happened from that moment on. It was noted that the consumption of the data limit had grown exponentially since the advent of civilization on all the many worlds. Sentients made more things happen and recorded and recounted those things. The conclusion of the dissertation was that less had to happen and fast. The Universe had only one Epoch left but if action, or rather, inaction was taken then that could be extended by possibly another two. Governments began to respond.

Those space-faring sentients who enjoyed accelerating the development of isolated worlds they made contact with suddenly embraced doctrines of non-interference and isolation for non-space faring sentients. What the Universe needed, they contended, was less exploration, and consequently, fewer epics and sagas written to glorify those experiences.

There were many other behavioural changes at a domestic level on many-a-world. Original songs were frowned upon or in some cases banned. Cover versions, preferably in the same exact genre, were deemed the only kind of song one could responsibly sing, if one was concerned for cosmic longevity. Literature and theatre and film were similarly denuded of originality by a desire to preserve reality. Academia also responded to the crisis.

The scientist who had discovered the problem had acted very responsibly by retiring. However he did grant one short interview with the media in the hope of driving home the importance of data conservation. One question he was asked was what the end of the Universe would be like. His only response was to say that "the Cosmos will end with an ellipsis rather than an exclamation mark."

It was generally understood that the end could only be postponed and as a result many aspects of life persisted. However a small but scared minority got very angry with those who continued to consume information by living interesting lives. They became militant. This militancy was expressed in violent fashion at what came to be known as the Poetry Slam Slayings.

A lone gunman walked into a bar hosting an exchange of live improvized verse and opened fire on all those present. Somehow his spray of laser-fire missed the poet currently at the podium. She looked back at him, with an expression of concern more than fear, and uttered a line that was telecast to a hundred planetary news nets - "They will sing songs of this bloody night."

That statement marked the beginning of the end. The callousness of the gunner and the wisdom of the poet put things into a new perspective for many. Why did life have to become sedate in the hope of prolonging the life of a Universe that was mind-bogglingly ancient? What value were epochs of enforced boredom? Was there any intrinsic moral value to eternity? And besides all that, it was apparent that inaction was just another kind of action. It was with such musings that the philosophy of a "Short And Sweet Universe" was formed and over a few generations became the dominant perspective.

That was many generations ago. Since then life has gone on and many more chapters have been added to the history files. Songs have been sung. Tales have been told. Many, many essays like this have been written. And much of history since has been one of positive improvements in the quality of life and interactions across the Galaxy.

It is as if knowing there was a limit to all this has made us sentients value what we have all the more. Nobody seems to mind that that final moment may come at any time as long as life is rich. 'Data Limits Of The Cosmos And Proposals For Its Conservation' has become one of the most referenced primary sources for essays such as this one. It is more than that however. In a way that its author never expected, that publication gave us...

Is that a pretentious way to end this story? Or witty and innovative? In any case I had fun finishing it in this way.

Cross-posted here.

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