Recently, I asked, Are libraries just too unCool to survive in an Internet age?, concluding that we can't discard what libraries do, but need to move beyond the stacks of books no one reads.
Librarian Michael Flannery, at the Lister Hill Library of the Health Sciences, University of Alabama (Birmingham) responded, with a somewhat different take on the questions:
As a librarian and a teacher I found your post interesting. Steve Coffman's comment about "aggregation, curation, and reference" is pretty accurate, more so than the tech guy on the TED Talk.
For example, "easy" will not insure the survival of the library; things are "easy" enough everywhere, and people aren't going to flock to libraries for "easy"—it's too much work to go to the library for…
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As readers doubtless know, the bricks-and-mortar bookstore industry is not doing well (here and (here). But does that mean a loss of writing and reading as such, or just different methods of connecting readers with writers?
I got a chance to test my guess when the local Christian bookstore closed, leaving our writers’ group that meets there stranded.
In truth, the group seemed to have been languishing for a while. We very much wanted to put on an outreach conference. But month after month, it just never seemed to happen.
When my father was a college student in Saskatchewan, a province of Canada then devastated by the Great Depression (1930s), the college librarian would not let students consult a book if she knew the answer to the student’s question. That was for fear of damage to the book.
Books were in very short supply, as were all necessities of life.
Times change. One day in late 2013 in Ottawa, winter closing in, I found myself without Internet access (a telecom glitch). And my laptop had died at the same time, so the local WiFi coffee shop was no use.
Last time out, I talked about the economic difference between producing social media and consuming it. People who think that getting underprivileged kids involved with social media will, in itself, boost social equality fail to appreciate this key distinction.
High tech knowledge is what pays, not fun and entertainment with high tech. Which is why Silicon Valley parents restrict their kids’ time with the all-consuming social apps that made their families rich, in favour of study, exercise, and real world relationships.
But let’s zoom out a bit now. Silicon Valley itself is, overall, a highly unequal society. Consider:
Some years ago, I read an account of a study (can’t find it now*) of poor, minority teens who spent a lot of time playing electronic games. Many pundits opined that, in an electronic age, such teens could thereby narrow the gap between themselves and their better educated middle class peers.
But the researchers had discovered a hitch: Playing electronic games did not translate into knowledge of the inner workings of computers, let alone generate well-paying careers in computer engineering.
True, the teens who went into computer engineering played the games. But those games were not a cause of their future success, only an expected corollary. The poor, minority teens filled up empty hours while learning nothing…
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I wish I had a simple solution. (I’ll keep looking.) But let’s start by clearing the decks of approaches that don’t work. One is, get a life and don’t worry about it. Kids are just being kids, and if you thwart them, you will harm their careers.
The explosion of Internet dating affects teens and young adults principally by making the casual sharing of intimacies with strangers seem normal. Aldous Huxley foresaw this development (1932), though he envisioned it happening in half a millennium or so. One outcome is the mainstreaming of porn.
As Mary Jo Sales noted in Vanity Fair (2013), thanks to the selfie, behaviour that we would at one time expect to find only in seedy nightclubs after dark, we can now find in the daytime in the elementary school cafeteria:
Last time out, I offered a quick summary of the online dating services that have surged, with singles living online.
If you are 40 years old in 2015, you were 15 years old in 1990. Teen interest in sex certainly existed; the Internet dating scene did not. And that scene is reshaping teen life, where it is not your imagination that many spend almost every waking moment immersed in an electronic device.
Readers may remember British writer Aldous Huxley’s “soft” dystopia, Brave New World (1932), set in London in AD 2540. In the “perfect society,” sex is plentiful but serious relationships are impossible.
Two factors have collided. First, the last few decades have seen a huge increase in the proportion of single people. Discussing a pioneer dating site, Emily Witt notes in the London Review of Books that Match.com’s original business plan
… cited a market forecast that suggested 50 per cent of the adult population would be single by 2000 (a 2008 poll found 48 per cent of American adults were single, compared to 28 per cent in 1960).
So a much greater proportion of the population is “looking.” And they are looking online. In fact, they are living online. At Vanity Fair, Nancy Jo Sales reported,
If you teach, preach, or reach anyone online—what are your copyright issues?
When I was a permissions editor in the 1980s, someone trademarked the phrase “three-peat” (three consecutive wins). Maybe I owe someone money for even using the phrase in this article. Or maybe not.
Some years later, publishers tried to assert that there was no such thing as copyright on the Internet. That was a huge rights grab on their part because they asserted it among themselves while denying it to writers.
In fairness, they may have been just as confused as everyone else was, in the Nineties, about issues like that. Writers successfully resisted them, but where are we now?
Connecting is MercatorNet's blog about social media and the virtual self. We'd love to hear from you. Send us your tips and suggestions. Post comments. We want to make it as lively as possible. The editor is Denyse O'Leary, a Canadian journalist.