libraries / makerbots / augmented reality / wonder

I’m a show-me-the-money girl who hangs with early adopters. I love seeing my friends out there on the bleeding edge, telling me about all the things that are going to be tomorrow — or won’t, more likely, but could be — a million possible tomorrows in a joyful technicolor static. But for me, why again did I want to spend a few hundred dollars on a product without even a service history? What would I do with it in my life?

I was just attending the ALA Midwinter tech wrap-up webinar, where bleeding-edge friend Jason Griffey was talking about makerbots and libraries, and fielded the inevitable question from people like me: why do we care? What would we do with this in our library lives?

Yesterday I was stomping around the forest with my husband and five-year-old daughter. I read Ken Jennings’ Maphead not so long ago and it reminded me I’ve always been curious about geocaching, and it was a nice sunny day and technology was an excuse to get outside in it, so I told Ms5, we’re going to look for a treasure in the woods! And we did, and it took a while — intermittent signal as we drifted below the ridge — and suddenly there it was, a taped-up little box under some shards of wood in a fallen-down tree. Right there on the line between metadata and magic.

It’s what hits me, over and over, as I look at location-based services and augmented reality — geocaching, Layar, Foursquare, Scan Jose, name what you will — the world is full of secrets hiding in plain sight, simply there waiting for us to look at them. The world is full of mysteries and wonders we don’t need an invitation to see, merely the willingness to look. Jamie Larue said that in the past libraries were about bringing the world to the community, and now they’ll be about bringing communities to the world — I wonder where the desire lines are running through reality, waiting for us to tumble upon them, insinuate information and make a thing of wonder.

Isn’t that what libraries were always for? Secrets in the world, hiding in plain sight, waiting for you to stumble upon them and have your world opened with one heartstopping lightning bolt, look around in new ways?

I pledged to a Kickstarter project a few months ago — it was already past its funding threshold, staggeringly so, one of those magic moments when the internet descends on someone full force and long-tail rivulets snake down into a flood — but he was selling skulls. The most lovely filigreed skulls, arabesques and curlicues, a romantic steampunk memento mori. I needed one for my office. I ordered one.

I didn’t realize, somehow, how small it would be. It fits in my palm just right and stares back at me staring at it. Nor how fragile — less than plastic, more than paper, it is like a butterfly — in the old sense, both “butterfly” and “soul” — a whisper, a breath, a fragile thing landed here from the future. A moment of pulling back the curtain between now and what could be.

I work for a startup now. My whole life is what-could-be, stepping into the space filled with nothing and making a something be there. I am easily transfixed by possibility these days.

So this is how I’d answer that question, the question of why. Because discovery is wonder. Because possibility is love. Because, amid the stacks and silent places, the forests and convention centers, there are secrets whispering to us, licking at the edges of our minds and asking to transform us. Because information and imagination were ever thus, and associating that with books was a wonderful historical coincidence: not a shackle.

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