Der Spiegel has conducted an interview with Umberto Eco, the novelist, critic, semiotician, philosopher, and all-around Thinker of Things. They discuss, among many other topics: Ulysses, the cultural power of lists, the definitive meaning of duck-billed mammals, and…Google. Eruditely, of course, in each case. Below, the Google passage:
SPIEGEL: It would seem that you are saying that we should stop defining things and that progress would, instead, mean only counting and listing things.Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.
Eco: It can be liberating. The Baroque era was an age of lists. Suddenly, all the scholastic definitions that had been made in the previous era were no longer valid. People tried to see the world from a different perspective. Galileo described new details about the moon. And, in art, established definitions were literally destroyed, and the range of subjects was tremendously expanded. For instance, I see the paintings of the Dutch Baroque as lists: the still lifes with all those fruits and the images of opulent cabinets of curiosities. Lists can be anarchistic.
SPIEGEL: But you also said that lists can establish order. So, do both order and anarchy apply? That would make the Internet, and the lists that the search engine Google creates, prefect for you.
Eco: Yes, in the case of Google, both things do converge. Google makes a list, but the minute I look at my Google-generated list, it has already changed. These lists can be dangerous — not for old people like me, who have acquired their knowledge in another way, but for young people, for whom Google is a tragedy. Schools ought to teach the high art of how to be discriminating.