Is relentless self-promotion really necessary for success in today's society? Must one constantly grandstand in order to get publicity, mind-share, and support? Is the exponential-growth carcinoma philosophy appropriate when trying to motivate charitable deeds? (see TheCancerIdeology, 19 May 1999)

This came to mind the other day when I went looking online for the old (mid-nineteenth century; see NumisTriviaOf1852) Roget's Thesaurus. One version I found (project name elided to protect the innocent), dated 1991, had a breathless foreword:

We produce about one million dollars for each hour we work. One
hundred hours is a conservative estimate for how long it we take
to get any etext selected, entered, proofread, edited, copyright
searched and analyzed, the copyright letters written, etc. This
projected audience is one hundred million readers. If our value
per text is nominally estimated at one dollar, then we produce a
million dollars per hour; next year we will have to do four text
files per month, thus upping our productivity to two million/hr.
The Goal of Project G-------- is to Give Away One Trillion Etext
Files by the December 31, 2001. [10,000 x 100,000,000=Trillion]
This is ten thousand titles each to one hundred million readers.

It's entertainingly almost-right-justified when displayed in a monospaced font; apparently someone made an effort to tune the choice of words to pad out each line. Unfortunately, there are several ugly typos in what resulted ("... how long it we take ...", "... This projected audience ...", "... by the December 31, 2001 ...").

But getting substantive, now that January 2002 has arrived perhaps it's an appropriate time to pause and evaluate. One hates to criticize any charitable effort to do Good, but aside from poor proofreading the above paragraph shows an unfortunate amount of either megalomania or fuzzy thinking in many dimensions. Does every hypothetical member of the audience want every G-------- publication? (Even the tables of random numbers, digits of pi, or other mathematical quantities? Or the human genome sequence reprints? Or the multiple editions of various reference works, reissued every few years? Or all the non-English language publications?) Does everybody want everything at once, right now? (Any honest estimate of future value delivered really must be discounted back to present dollars.) Should free machine-readable books produced by other efforts subtract from the G-------- balance sheet? Do unproofed, amateur, error-ridden versions of important materials actually make a positive contribution, or do they mislead and add confusion to attempts at scholarship?

Don't get me wrong. I applaud Project G--------'s work to share public-domain electronic texts. I was lucky enough to meet the Project's leader, MH, at a computer conference some years go (see NiceHackers, 20 Dec 2000) and he's a splendid fellow. MH also shows up, coincidentally, in a list of happy users of my old Free Text information retrieval software, so you know I've gotta love him. (see NorthAmericanTexasHistory, 15 May 2000)

But in the struggle between celebrity press-release headlines and hidden goodness, I'm always reminded of the comments by George Eliot (RememberMe) and Albert Schweitzer (FoamOnTheOcean), who said it better than I possibly could.

(see also BuildingBookWeb, 2 Feb 2001, re Victor Hugo's thoughts on the invention of printing)

TopicPhilosophy - 2002-01-02

(correlates: ToughTimes, GreatWriters, HalfwayPoint, ...)