With not even a soupçon of the quagmire I was entering, I recently looked up the definition of ‘document’. In case you didn’t know, the glib dictionary definitions hide a debate that has, well, not exactly raged, but rather limped on for nearly twenty years now. I don’t know, but I guess that it was the arrival of the digital ‘document’ with the first word processors in the early 1980s which sparked it in the first place.
It turns out that there’s no one definition of ‘document’ that everyone’s happy with. We can all agree what a cup is, or a bus, but not, it seems, a ‘document’. And to cap it all, a recent paper in the Journal of Documentation (Frohmann, Berndt. Revisiting “what is a document?”, JDoc 65(2), 2009) tells us that we shouldn’t bother anyway. Shame, I’d been planning to investigate where the ‘document’ stands in the light of Web 2.0, much as Steve Bailey and James Lappin are doing for records. And then what happens? Google announces the death of the document.
How so? Well, instinctively, we humans don’t welcome change. We are ruled by nostalgia – or rather, inertia. Come any new technology, we always try to replicate the old model within it, failing to see that it offers scope for completely new ways of doing things. Web 2.0 is just the catch-all term for a number of such new ways – new models of communication and interaction – Blogs, Wikis, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and now, Google Wave. All of them are document-agnostic.