But there is increased evidence that we are being bogged down today as specialization extends. The investigator is staggered by the findings and conclusions of thousands of other workers—conclusions which he cannot find time to grasp, much less to remember, as they appear. Yet specialization becomes increasingly necessary for progress, and the effort to bridge between disciplines is correspondingly superficial.
As a whole, I saw Bush’s vision as one of optimism and the potential that technology (and Memex specifically) could offer, with an element of caution, as this quote above, runs through his essay. In particular, this line struck me as prescient and connects well with The Library of Babel.
When I talk to colleagues or friends about the work I’m pursuing, occasionally someone will needle me by asking why we need librarians when anyone can access anything from Google. I like to point out that anyone can access anything online, but not everyone can evaluate the usefulness or quality of what they find. There is, as Babel‘s distressed Librarian points out, an staggering amount of useless information, and our attempts to catalog and evaluate everything can make information even more overwhelming to society.
“Obviously, no one expects to discover anything,” Borges nearly sighs. If we fail to organize, collect, and evaluate, and don’t teach those skills, Borges’ vision and Bush’s warning may well come to pass.