Alice in the World Wide Web

Poets have their canon, physicists their string, general interest readers their New Yorker, Sartre’s Self-Taught Men their alphabetized reading lists, not so desperate housewives their Pioneer Woman. Does the reader in the Web look for a clean well-lighted place, a site of one’s own? What do you want to read today?

Alice asks the Cheshire Cat “which way I ought to go from here.” “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat. “I don’t much care where,” said Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

How do we decide what to read? Can literature tell us what to read, what we should read? Martin Gardner, in The Annotated Alice (1960), says that “The Cat’s answer expresses very precisely the eternal cleavage between science and ethics. As Kemeny [A Philosopher Looks at Science, 1959], makes clear, science cannot tell us where to go, but after this decision is made on other grounds, it can tell us the best way to get there.” What other grounds?

Librarians at Alexandria knew how many scrolls were on hand. How many scrolls we now have online is a more difficult question. Ulrich indicates they’ve more than 300,000 “periodicals of all types – academic and scholarly journals, Open Access publications, peer-reviewed titles, popular magazines, newspapers, newsletters, and more from around the world.” Add to those, millions of blogs, scores of white papers, piles of procedure bulletins, egrets of email, spools of spam, pop-ups of poems, Hosannas of EBSCOHosts!

Why do you want to read today?