Ever since I discovered that many of the books listed for 712 this
semester are searchable in Google Books,
I’ve been thinking about some of the ways to merge the full-text search with my
reading and note-keeping habits, especially as an added aid to memory and for tracing themes/topoi.
End-of-book indexes are, for the most part, adequate for the kind of thing I’m
talking about. I can turn to the back of Gunther Kress’s Literacy in
the New Media Age, for example, and find all of the pages where "design"
turns up. I suspect that the indexes at the ends of books are automated in
many cases with, perhaps, a slight amount of customization from the writer and
editor. Still, there are times when indexes don’t list the terms I want to
put in a row, follow. I’m aware of the labor-intensive manual methods for
tracing terms, and still I’m warm to shortcuts for what can be needlessly
exhaustive chores. Smarter, not harder, like my dad always says.
Given that the course is defined thematically around notions of mapping the
future of disciplinarity, "future" seemed like an obvious choice to trace
through Kress’s book. The index doesn’t include an entry for "future",
however, so I went ahead and searched for the term at the Google Books port for
LITNMA and came away with
fifteen occurrences scattered throughout. I tracked them
down (Google Books only gives partial excerpts when the content isn’t
"restricted") and included the passages on a handout: "Kress’s Fifteen Futures."
For added locative precision, I included page numbers and quadrants. This
week I switched over to noting a-b-c-d quadrants (left) after a talk with Collin.
My soon-to-be-retired page-recording system relied on an intuitive but messy legend of top-mid-bot
for tracking down word/phrase locations on the page.
Using the a-b-c-d method, the page markers for "future" passages came out
13b: It will pay attention to the context of social, economic and political
changes of the present period and those of the near future.
22c: There is also the overwhelming reason that the conditions of our present
and of the near future–economic, social, technological–are ushering in a
distinctively different era of communication.
37b: Because the present state and likely future of literacy causes such
anxiety–at times at least partially justified–I want to say something briefly
about the affordances of writing and image, and perhaps of speech as well.
Fairly straightforward, right? What more could we do with this?
In class, the question came up whether Google Books would allow for multi-term
searches. At the time, I wasn’t sure, but I’ve explored it since to find
out that it supports combination searches. The problem is that each
page is a separate data-set in Google’s system (as far as I can tell), so it won’t
clusters of terms that break across pages. Given the arbitrariness of page
breaks, this seems like something that could be improved (I probably should’ve
mentioned that the entire spirit of this entry is wishful, speculative).
Here’s the rub. We can search words, phrases and sentences; Google Books
supports this quite well. But what about searching for concentrations in a
semantic field. In other words, grab a handful of terms from the semantic
field of futurisms: shift, turn, future, instability, new, transformation,
revolution. I’d really like to be able to select any combination of terms
as a way to sift for passages where they appear together. The semantic
fields could be user defined (tag-sets, basically), and they might be stored for
future returns, for sharing, for application to other texts, book-length and
otherwise (go on, tell me if this is already possible). Something like the
tag families and selection system at use with del.icio.us would be terrific
And while I’m on it, why not have selectable bibliographic entries that
indicate the pages where those sources are taken up. Let’s say I want to
swiftly zero in on all of the places where Halliday’s Language as a Social
Semiotic is invoked in
LITNMA. I could search for "Halliday", but there’s another source
of his in the bibliography and it’s not certain that every reference would
include his last name. I hope you Google techs are reading this because
I’d really like to see something like that, too.