It’s common to hear people say “These days, you can find it all on the internet” or “You can find everything on Google”. It’s true in principle, but that’s like saying you can play anything on the piano: yes you can, if you have the technique and the repertoire.
If anything is proof of this for me, it’s my desperate search for a book that I’d come across before on…and that’s my first problem. What was it a book on, exactly? I remembered that the book in question was fascinating, and had been referred to by thousands of authors and webpages. It was a classic. In its own way, it was one of those books like Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions that had influenced an entire generation. I was beguiled by it, and could remember the illustrations. What was remarkable was the apparent universality of the principles, the enormous scope of the subject. Some months ago, I nearly bought it, but not quite. Unfortunately, I didn’t put it on my Amazon wishlist, or save it on Delicious, or blog about it.
I know that it had something to do with architecture, something to do with design, something to do with landscape gardening. I seem to remember finding it through a post on Understanding By Design that I read on Profhacker, but retracing my steps led nowhere. I used every search term that I’ve used above, but got nowhere.
So this morning, I started again in a more systematic way, searching for classic books on design, and went through the lists I found until finally, the title shouted out from the page: A Pattern Language. My memory is acute: I could remember the shape and sound of the title, and that it was a collocation of two words not usually seen together that had something to do with design and structure. But the title is so unmemorable that I even had to scroll up again just now to remember what it was.
I’m posting this to remind myself of the book (this is often what I use my blog for), even though I’ve just bought it from Amazon, but also as a very short essay on the myth of Google, the myth that ‘you can find everything on Google’. The truth is that you can look for anything on Google, but what your looking turns up is predicated on your ability to search, and the terms and knowledge that you bring to it. And if that’s true of Google, how much truer must it be of any kind of research?
2 thought on “Desperately seeking (A Pattern Language)”
This somehow reminds me of how I often wish there was a way to find information about a piece of music that is haunting me and that I would love to hear again by humming it to the computer.
I can find the music if I know the name, but I can’t get anywhere if I only know the music and have forgotten all about where, when and how I heard it.
There is actually a way to do that – Midomi. I don’t know how effective it is, but it’s exactly that, hum into the computer and find a match. Another option is Musipedia that offers a number of inputs, including whistling/singing the tune. Another great one is Peachnote, which searches the entire library of scores at the International Music Score Library project. I’ve actually traced the impossible with Peachnote & Musipedia – incredible when it works, but of course the results are only as good as the database underlying it, so it’s not exhaustive.