Humans versus technology (and governments): Occupy EU

Eurozone map in 2009 Category:Maps of the Eurozone

Image via Wikipedia

I am so happy that I am not alone in my take on the Paradiso Conference, although the Conference itself is not mentioned.  Not only has an Open Letter been written to the European Commissioner for Research and Innovation (Máire Geoghegan-Quinn), but, to date, over 10,000 people from across Europe have signed it.

This letter, which you can view at http://www.eash.eu/openletter2011/index.php?file=openletter.htm , is  entitled “Horizon 2020: Social Sciences and Humanities research provides vital insights for the future of Europe”.  

The letter points out what Blind Freddy can see: that European society is complex and diverse, and it is more appropriate to talk about ‘societies’ and ‘cultures’ in the plural, rather than the singular.  This in turn suggests that there is no ‘One size fits all’ strategic plan, economic model or financial solution that can possibly be the most appropriate for all the countries in Europe, particularly those who are already members of the European Union.  The ongoing financial crisis in Greece (which is largely about banks not losing money, rather than austerity or poverty experienced by the people of Greece) has provided a very clear example of this.

This letter encourages creative responses to the question of what Europe will look like in the future, given current (and historical) events.  While there is little doubt that there will be change and transitions, as is pointed out, in the final analysis it is the people – of Europe and elsewhere in the world – that should be the focus of all debate, and their well-being the goal to be achieved.  I sometimes think that ‘strategy planners’ forget such simple facts, and assume that’s what is good for them (their companies or banks or governments or whatever) will somehow, by default, be good for the population at large.  We know this is untrue, as we see corporations scurrying to make profits for their shareholders (some of whom are us!) rather than considering the environment or any other short or long term ethical issue.

As far as academia is concerned, and the information professions in particular, this letter raises important issues.  For example, multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary work is encouraged in order to deal with the complex problems that we face: none of the ‘disciplines’ – whatever they are – has the vision, knowledge, methodologies or skills to imagine and put into place suitable solutions on its own.

In particular, it seems to be generally forgotten that ‘change’, whenever it is mentioned, is only important to us if societal change will occur – as a stimulus or a response to, for example, changing medical practices or changing technologies.  We are only interested in change, for the most part, if it will affect our lives in some way: our work, the education of our children, or where we will take our holidays.  If changes occur within a praxis (for example, new techniques for hip replacements) we would only be interested if, for example, either we or somebody we knew were to undergo such a procedure.

Those who praise technology as the most important, or perhaps even the only, agent of change have sadly completely misunderstood what the question was: particularly those who are designing technologies for problems or events that don’t yet exist, where they hope the technology will bring such phenomena or entities into existence.  And this is not to say that this doesn’t happen – look at the internet generally, and Google and Facebook in particular.  But I am fairly certain that none of those involved with the development of these had any idea how they might be used and, indeed, are used quite differently from what they may have imagined.

As the Open Letter points out, we cannot let the future be determined solely by the technologists: a number of challenges (and perhaps the most important ones) fall well within the bailiwick of the Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH).  And that, fellow information professionals, means us.  These areas include, as noted in the Letter, education, gender, identity, intercultural dialogue, media, security, and social innovation (to name but a few).  The Letter notes that it is the “key behavioural changes and cultural developments” which should concern us: “changing mindsets and lifestyles, models for resilient and adaptive institutions” are mentioned as examples.  The authors call this challenge “Understanding Europe…” and believe it is as important as other challenges such as food and transport.  They state, “a climate of sustainable and inclusive innovation in Europe can only be established, if European societies are conscious of their opportunities and constraints – this knowledge is generated by Social Sciences and Humanities research”.

It is time, I think, for all information professionals to consider carefully, and to articulate, how they see their societal role.  This is as important for the world as it is for individual professional futures.

Framing Paradise in Europe

Amelia Andersdotter, Swedish Pirate Party

Image via Wikipedia

PARADISO. a word bursting with promise, was chose as the title of a conference at which to discuss the future.  Subtitled, Ínternet and future societies’, it was never exactly clear whether the intent was to discuss what the present internet is, what the future internet might be, or even which societies were involved.  On one hand, the conference was being held under the auspices of the European Commission and indeed, under their very roof: Charlemagne at Schuman, shorthand for the acre or two in Brussels which is the power seat (or so the bureaucrats would like to think) of Europe: the location of the European Councail, Parliament and Commission.  http://paradiso-fp7.eu/events/2011-conference/  .  All the presentations available can be found at: http://paradiso-fp7.eu/events/2011-conference/agenda/.

The photo above is of one of the most interesting speakers at this conference, a Member of the European Parliament representing the Swedish Pirate Party.  Her presentation is unfortunately not available on the official Paradiso website.  Her name is Amelia Andersdotter.

Interestingly, the conference was free and open to all: all those, of course, who could be in Brussels for three days in early September.  Registration was limited to 450 attendees, thereby excluding the other 6,999,999,550 for whom attendance was impossible for one reason or another.  It was no surprise therefore to find that the majority of attendees were from Brussels itself (surely the bureaucratic capital of the world) and furthermore, that at least 30% of the attendees were invited speakers.  The majority of these were representatives of the EU in one form or another, CEOs or owners of IT companies.  For decency’s sake, a few representatives of the social sciences were invited:  amongst these, Philippe Quéau, Representative of UNESCO to the Maghreb; Ruben Nelson, Executive Director, Foresight Canada;  Lynn St Amour, President & CEO, The Internet Societyand Australian Genevieve Bell, Director, Interactions and experience research, Intel Labs.   For the post part, the attitude that became evident during the conference was epitomised by a quotation from Wired which Angela Hariche of the OECD offered:

Google‘s founding philosophy is that we don’t know why this page is better than that one: If the statistics of incoming links say it is, that’s good enough.  No semantic or causal analysis is required. Wired 2008

Unfortunately, I missed the opening evening, and so cannot comment on that.  The winner of an international children’s drawing competition was announced, in which children from several countries (a strange selection of these…) were asked to depict the internet of the future.  For the most part, the children showed that they are as human as the rest of us: they are unable to predict the future but rather, at best, extrapolate from and exaggerate characteristics of the present.  One picture was, in particular, quite alarming: a person which his back to us is placed in front of a screen which shows a female characteri behind a desk.  She is surrounded by symbols of commercial concerns: FaceBook, Twitter, MSN.  The enquirer is clearly cast as subsidiary and trivial, a supplicant at the altar of technology, in need of its blessing and, at the same time, a consumer of ICT and its products.

The presentations  from the conference are downloadable from the link mentioned above, as mentioned, as so they are not duplicated here.  Please read them as you may well disagree with what I have to say here, which constitutes my impressions and opinions only.  Overall, it was hard to determine the purpose of the conference.  I was labouring under the delusion that it was a forum for discussion; a place where those who had studied the issue: the intersection between ICTs and society.  Sociologists considering social change, futurologists, and perhaps developers of advanced technologies discussion their design and use processes in order to bring about the social ‘development’ and ‘progress’ of society.  Was this the place to start piecing together the many bits of the complex mosaic so that a clear image of the future and how to achieve it would emerge?  But rather than identifying and dealing with the challenges that we are currently facing, I came away with quite different impressions.

The mindset of the majority of the speakers, participants and attendees seemed to be still strongly located in an industrialist, late capitalist/consumerits, modernist or ‘scientific’ world view.  Either they are unaware of, or do not wish to recognise, that different models exist and may perhaps be more useful, given the theme of the conference.  It seemed as if the speakers were invited particularly in order to convince the policy-makers in the Brussels bureaucracy what budgets they should consider for the issues they identified: issues that largely explored what developments their companies could undertake and, furthermore, that their companies (or committees) would be able to meet the challenges of the contemporary world successfully, as they had already created and could deliver solutions.

No magic wand was evident.

Perhaps (and caveat: I am cynical) the devout wish of the organisers and participants (for the most part) was to give the illusion of providng an open public and transparent platform at which all interested parties could express their views, debate and reach consensus, although the real (obscured?) intent was to ensure the continued funding of ICT projects in the EU.  The use of public monies for such purposes was not questioned, in spite of the present economic problems of the world, and particularly the Eurozone.  In other words, ‘problems’ were viewed selectively and not holistically.

The list of the ‘problems’ with which ‘society’ is now confronted was chanted as a liturgy by nearly every speaker: climate change, the financial crisis and political confusion, amongst them.  Of course, the solution – or the keys to paradise to continue the metaphor – is ICTs, particularly as conceived and executed by the interested parties.  ‘Research’ appeared to refer to the development of new technologies, and it was an outcome devoutly to be wished that the EC would supply a budget robust enough to support such ‘research’.  Strangely – to me, anyway – problems such as unemployment and joblessness, poverty, illiteracy and ignorance, and even education (no, not even elearning) were not mentioned.

Nor were solutions to specific problems offered, except for it being suggested that a more interactive, participative democracy may be possible using the internet.   This was particularly ironic for me, because as a member of the LinkedIn Paradiso Group, I have made a couple of comments in the discussion surrounding the event, only to discover that not only have they all be deleted, but I have been expelled from the group!  While I could have guessed that the organisers may feel omnipotence as they are, after all, setting out to change the world, I did believe that open discussion was a pretty important part of contemporary and future life, never mind paradise or other utopias.

Another element of confusion was the geographic focus.  It appeared as if there would be an emphasis on Europe, but alas, here too I was mistaken, confusing ‘geographic’ focus for ‘economic’ focus.  There were representatives from the United States, China and India.  And the mobile phone situation in Mali was discussed, if only to illustrate how it was possible (although I am sure seldom exercised) to access the internet from an old mobile phone.  My experiences in Africa, having spent the best part of 4 decades there, suggest that few people use mobile phones for internet access, and even fewer have smartphones of any kind.  And the internet is far from easily available or cheap.  And there are questions of literacy etc but I’ll leave it at that for the moment.

It’s all very well talking about how ICTs change our lives (in middle-class, affluent, well-resourced populations), as Neelie Kroes did in her opening address, but without being specific, and looking at both the good and bad, such statements are less than meaningless.  It’s not the ICTs, Neelie, it’s what people do with them.  And what do they do with them?  They share ideas (information) across time and space.  Quickly.  And that’s about it.  And it’s not even this that is so very important:  what is most important of all is what people do with those ideas, how they know which ones are useful, which they can trust to make decisions and to act upon, which ideas will help them – in the long run – achieve happiness, act in sustainable ways, or whatever else the current objectives of humans happens to be, as varied and diverse as they (and which include making a profit, controlling people, ensuring safety or whatever).

There were some speakers that hinted that a new way of thinking about the world – and in fact, just thinking, as a new experience – was now required, and I must agree.  Sustainability, well-being and happiness:  can it be that these same people really desire these ends?  Carlo Sessa, President of ISIS, Italy, coordinator of the PASHMINA project and member of the Global Europe 2030-2050 expert group, spoke towards these ends, and his comments were very interesting.  But how may they achieved against the hegemonic backdrop of vested interests and profiteering?

What information people have to do with learning

University of the Pacific Arthur A. Dugoni Sch...

Image via Wikipedia

As you may have noticed (or not, as the case may be), I haven’t written here for a while.  I’ve been meeting a publishing deadline for a new book, which has been an exciting project (for me, anyway).  This is a bit of a draft chapter on scoping out the role of education.  I am writing about how best to educate information professionals for the digital age: the whole question of tertiary education is, at the moment, quite fraught anyway, as any of you so involved may be aware.

I’d welcome your thoughts on this.  Here beginneth the text for today:

Teaching and learning

As humans, we are engaged in teaching and learning from birth to death.  We learn from living – from every experience we have – and no experience is ever wasted.  Learning processes are affected by sensory input, physical sensations of energy, fatigue, pain, emotions, spiritual insights, and flashes of creativity.  Knowledge is created from individual experience and vicariously, from the experiences of others, which are shared in a multitude of ways: directly in face-to-face conversations, through reading what others have written or recorded (in books or email, where communication is asynchronous) or through the mediation of technologies such as television or radio, or chatrooms, which may be synchronous.  For centuries, a distinction has been made between such everyday learning, and ‘formal’ learning which takes place at certain times and venues, where there are clear and different roles for teacher and learner.  The teacher is ‘somebody who knows’, and the learner is the person who lacks knowledge.  (The learner, like the information user, is constructed in a deficiency model).  The role of the teacher is multifaceted: s/he must socialise learners, training them to work respectfully with others, as well as conveying content and instilling in them the ability and the skill to learn how to learn.

 

With regard to students in a first professional degree in information work in the 21st century, however, the model of a teacher in front of a classroom of children is not the best one that can be emulated.  All information students, whether undergraduate or postgraduate, are adults.  They live in a highly networked, digital information environment, one in which globalisation is present in many spheres, as are many problems – poverty and climate change amongst them.  These students, as adults, already have a considerable amount of knowledge, gained formally and informally.  The leitmotif of contemporary discourse is postmodernism, which places an emphasis and responsibility on individuals to attempt to make sense of the world we live in (a task in which information workers can assist).  It stands to reason, therefore, that the ways in which the discipline/profession is taught is at least as important as what is taught.

 

There are a number of components that will affect knowledge creation or the learning process.  These include the personality, competencies and interests of the individual (and the teacher), as well as previous experiences and his/her cultural context, the space in which the exercise takes place, the complexity of the content, the time available, as well as many other factors.  The teaching and assessment methods employed are usually predicated upon the epistemological approach to the content as well as to learning theory.  Apart from content, the educational programme needs to be built on an intellectual framework or structure for the discipline/profession, to demonstrate clarity regarding its goals and responsibilities, and to provide clarity on the chief concepts within the theoretical framework.  In addition, teaching techniques should encourage the development of the skills mentioned previously – such as working in teams, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, creativity and the like.  Assessment and evaluation should also be aligned with the teaching philosophy.

 

In this chapter, then, there is a brief review of framing epistemologies that are considered suitable for education for digital librarians, and the three predominant models of teaching/learning that are most common.  The argument is made that a constructivist methodology supporting the heutagogical model (which resonates with critical pedagogy) is probably the most suitable, and can be used for the design of course experience and student assessment and evaluation.  While there is a healthy body of literature on teaching and learning, educational theory and adult learning, in particular, no attempt is made here to summarise or critique it.

Use of ICTs in education

It is not original to note that the use of ICTs has already changed formal and informal education, but their use is still embryonic, and a great deal of research is being currently undertaken with regard to online learning, also known as elearning or Web 2.0 education.  Specifically, these terms designate a physical distance between the teacher, the documents referred to and the students – and between the students as well.  Networking enables conversation, remote access to documents and creation and distribution of other documents.  Elearning exploits audio-visual media as well as text, synchronous and asynchronous communication, and the mediating technologies can be mobile, such as smartphones and tablets.  This has given rise to renewed emphasis on making educational resources ‘open’, that is, freely available on the internet, and one of the first universities to do this was the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2002, with its OpenCourseWare project (see, for example, the portal at InfoCoBuild [online] http://www.infocobuild.com/education/education.html).  Alongside these developments, there has been increasing interest in the idea of open access materials in publishing generally, with a focus on educational resources, currently spearheaded by Wayne Mackintosh of Otago Polytechnic, New Zealand with the Open Education Resource (OER) Foundation ([Online] http://wikieducator.org/OERF:Home) and the WikiEducator ([online] http://wikieducator.org/Main_Page).  This counteracts to a certain extent the extraordinary rise in for-profit online education, to which Daniel (2011) refers, and which points to the increasing commodification and commercialisation of higher education, in particular.  The OER venture, if successful, will also go some way to assist in providing access to quality tertiary education and research in Majority World countries.

 

Amongst all the technological changes, perhaps the most noteworthy characteristic is the relatively easy and cheap access to information resources, which has blurred the distinctions between who has knowledge, who shares knowledge, and the ways in which individuals create their own knowledges.  There is little point in memorising a great deal if access is so easy (Berg, Berquam and Christoph, 2007).  University students form only a section of internet users who can all control online content delivery, create information to share with others (via blogs, wikis, FaceBook notes, websites and mashups) and create knowledge themselves (e.g. Klamma, Cao and Spaniol, 2004; Lenhart and Madden, 2005).  Commenting, communicating, contributing and collaborating are activities that students – and many others – engage with every day.  Furthermore, education is only one area in which rapid change is taking place, and a major challenge facing higher education now is preparing students for a different future.  Mobility, flexibility, lifelong learning and job-readiness must all be considered, to encourage the development of people who can cope with uncertainty and change.

Social responsibilities of higher education

It comes as no surprise that under present circumstances, institutions of higher education are increasingly called upon to recognise their social responsibilities, even, and perhaps especially, while there is an ongoing trend towards the corporatisation of the university.  In 1997, Saul, in his book Unconscious civilisation, suggested that the population at large prefers to believe in a fantasy world created and perpetuated by a corporatist ideology, rather than addressing the many issues raised by economic rationalism.  He believes that, in spite of increased access to knowledge and education, the struggle for individual freedom and democracy is being lost while we succumb to “the darker side within us and within our society” (Saul, 1997, p. 36), characterised by greed and selfishness.  In 2009, a UNESCO Conference on Higher Education accentuated the contribution that higher education makes to the eradication of poverty and progress towards sustainable development goals.  Higher education institutions should both respond to and anticipate societal needs.  Universities must, UNESCO asserts,

 

advance our understanding of multifaceted issues, which involve social, economic, scientific and cultural dimensions and our ability to respond to them.  [Higher education] should lead society in generating global knowledge to address global challenges… Higher education must not only give solid skills for the present and future world but must also contribute to the education of ethical citizens committed to the construction of peace, the defense of human rights and the values of democracy (UNESCO, 2009, pp. 2-3).

 

Even while there is talk of a ‘knowledge economy’ and a ‘learning society’, the means must be found to realise the anticipated positive outcomes, and this highlights the role that digital librarians can play.  Hutchins (1970) was an early proponent of the idea of the ‘learning’ society, after considering the model of classical Athens.  At that time in Athens, he noted, education was not separated from the rest of daily activities but becoming educated was a societal aim: society educated the individual.  “The Athenian was educated by culture” (Hutchins, 1970, p. 133) facilitated by slavery, which freed citizens from the more mundane chores of life.  Hutchins believed that modern machinery – and now ICTs – have taken the place of slaves and can likewise permit this in contemporary life:

 

The two essential facts are… the increasing proportion of free time and the rapidity of change.  The latter requires continuous education; the former makes it possible (Hutchins, 1970, p. 130).

 

Schön, whose work has been referred to previously in connection with professionalism, is considered by Ranson (1998, p. 2) to be “the great theorist of the learning society”.  Schön is another scholar who has noted the turbulence of the modern age and the loss of the ‘stable state’, which convinced people of the unchangeability or constancy of life, or at least the “belief that we can attain such a constancy” (Schon, 1973, p. 9).  Technology is disruptive, however, and has threatened the ‘stable state’, so even while a desire exists to remain the same, there is a continuous process of transformation which demands proficiency at learning (Schön, 1973, p. 26).

 

Schön was particularly concerned with ‘professional’ learning, and as demonstrated in his work The reflective practitioner (1983), he associated the problem firmly with the rise of what he calls ‘technical-rationality’.  ‘Technical rationality’ is described by Usher et al. (1997, p. 143) as “a positivist epistemology of practice… the dominant paradigm which has failed to resolve the dilemma of rigour versus relevance confronting professionals”.  Schön’s reaction to this was the development of the notions of ‘reflection-in-action’ and ‘reflection-on-action’, which respectively deal with considering what a person already knows and his/her attitudes towards a problem in order to understand it, and considering the phenomenon after the event (Schön, 1983, p. 68).  It is tempting to note the phronesis in Schön’s thinking.

Where do you stand? Why?

According to Keirsey, Oprah Winfrey may be a T...

Image via Wikipedia

The debate continues: will ereading replace reading paper documents?  At a popular level, there seems to be a fairly strong move in favour of ordinary, print books – in particular.  Other types of documents may not be subject to scrutiny using the same criteria.  Oprah Winfrey, a public figure who has strongly encouraged reading through her immense influence, appears to be rather sceptical of ereading:  see, for example, http://www.oprah.com/health/How-Reading-Can-Improve-Your-Memory

Gene Ambaum and Bill Barnes are similarly not very impressed by ereading, in spite of new and different capabilities of digital media (see, for example, ‘Inanimate Alice‘ which was referred to in a previous post on transliteracies).  At least the librarian gets some positive PR here, for a change:  http://www.unshelved.com/2011-3-4

Our thoughts and prayers are with the Japanese people today.  Thank goodness the Internet is helping families find each other, as well as making us aware of what is going on and what is required (http://www.news.com.au/breaking-news/people-turn-to-the- and #prayforjapan and http://www.mendeley.com/groups/951191/earthquake-and-tsunami/)

All the best

Sue

What’s the point?

Center for Information and Communication Techn...

Image by whiteafrican via Flickr

There is no question that there is a surging urge to digitise. But what inspires this? What is the point of all this activity? There are a number of conversation strands to this topic, and I look at some of them here.  It is likely there are more, and others.  What does emerge is that there are professional, philosophical, economic and possibly even cultural differences in approach to digitisation, and these are by no means consistent or consensual. In fact, some of the drivers for digitisation seem to be using the same means to achieve quite different ends.

1. The first and perhaps most obvious inspiration for the digitisation of the world’s documents and cultural artefacts finds its origin in the zeitgeist of the so-called information society: a zeitgeist, may it be said, which by now is surely rather old and tawdry, and exposed for the misconceived delusion that it is. We now know that all societies have always been ‘information societies’; that we by and large agree with Daniel Bell and Manuel Castells that the concept of the ‘information society’ is in fact but another stage of the capitalist industrial society, which encourages consumerism. We are aware that the notion of ‘globalisation’, in the way it is enacted by multinationals to exploit the poor and disadvantaged in favour of the rich, has some serious ethical questions to answer. We can also, quite quickly, dismiss the idea that technologies, in and of themselves, can create change or increase social development: it is the USE of them, and the PURPOSES for which they are used that will make the desired differences in the lives of individuals, communities and societies. This purpose, from the point of view of information professionals, is to assist in the communication of information (or ideas) between people. Alas: at the same time, there seems to be a parallel desire to keep populations ignorant or misinformed, at least by certain regimes: information flows are suppressed.

2. A second driver for digitisation is certainly economic. This has two aspects: firstly, digitisation and increasing use of information and communication techologies (ICTs) seems to be understood to be the way to create new jobs, new possibilities to make money and perhaps even fortunes. This aspiration was dashed at least once, with the dot.com bust in the 1990s: the only people who seem to be making money now are those who are selling the equipment – which needs to be constantly updated and replaced – and the software – although possibilities here seem to be limited with the increased availability of free software and, more importantly, Open Source coding systems. Some online endeavours are financially valued in strange ways, too, which are perhaps difficult to understand. The billions of dollars that Facebook is allegedly worth is, to my mind, a strange phenomenon. But there are still seemingly unlimited opportunities for online merchandising, marketing and retailing, and consultants in social networking marketing seem to be thriving.

The other side of the economic or financial aspect is the possibility for saving money and cost-cutting. This applies not only to the vending of virtual objects such as ebooks or online services (website hosting, for example), which cost little to store and maintain. The replacement of libraries by the internet seems to be a very real possibility for many governments dealing with the fallout from the Global Financial Crisis (GFC – which always, for some reason, reminds me of Dahl’s Big Friendly Giant – BFG). David Cameron‘s present regime in the UK is a good example of this: it extends to replacing large numbers of public servants whose work can, apparently, also be done by citizens using the internet. ICTs continue to be deified as saviours of the world, if one is to believe the rhetoric that is expressed in many government documents, particularly perhaps some of those emanating for the iEurope European Union’s digital economy initiatives.

3.  Digitisation of documents does, however, open doors that were previously firmly shut. The Open Educational Resources University  (http://wikieducator.org/OER_university#Core_initiatives_of_the_logic_model) campaign being led, to all intents and purposes, by Wayne Mackintosh, is a prime example of this. It uses the best characteristics of the ‘information society’ , such as globalisation, to reach scholars and teachers all over the world, in order to create and distribute university learning materials to those who live all over the world – not just in the rich parts – so that they will have access to tertiary education. Surely this is the only way forward, in this dimension? I have mentioned Open Source software; there is also an increased movement towards access to ideas that is possible in a digitised, virtual, networked, information environment: Open Access. This is particularly useful for the dissemination of scholarly information, as well as those documents that are required to support other roles in society, not forgetting entertainment. All of these possibilities, combined with the increasing mobility of ICT devices (smaller and cheaper) and wireless access, may perhaps lead to significant improvements in people’s lives. Some even say that ICTs facilitated the recent political changes we have seen in North Africa.

4. We cannot rule out the possibility that digitisation is also being stimulated by technological determinism. “Oooh! I want to build a twaddler! It’s new! It’s big! It’s shiny!” But what can it be used for? Does it help me? Will it last for ever? Do we need one?  Rather cynically, there does appear to be some of this in a few digitisation initiatives, which have lasted for only as long as the funding has been around – and there doesn’t appear to have been enough reason or purpose to continue the funding. While, for many reasons, I endorse and support – and am enthusiastic about – the purposes to which the digitisation of cultural resources and documents can be put, I am still more than a bit concerned about the long-term prognosis. ‘Digital preservation’ still appears, to me, to be an oxymoron. As well as this, as I have been saying for about two decades, the technology is still very primitive: I don’t think that our clever colleagues in computer science and technologies have come anywhere near to where their work might still take them. Regarding existing technologies as the ‘last word’, or even suggesting that things may stay more or less the same (simply because our imaginations fail us), could mean making a very big mistake indeed.

5. The last aspect of the enthusiasm for digitisation may be motivated by a desire for control (above and beyond any economic or financial considerations). Access to information (or ideas, which I find to be the most useful synonym) has always, and will always be, regarded politically, as ideas may be – and indeed often are – dangerous: at least to the status quo, and especially to those who would be upset or lose out if the status quo were to be disturbed. Paradoxically, digitisation simultaneously provides the possibility for loss of centralised control: the use of Twitter and Facebook in Egypt, for example, or perhaps as a slightly more exaggerated example, WikiLeaks and now UniLeaks (http://www.unileaks.org), which could be seen as serving as the conscience of contemporary society. Citizen journalism – and indeed all social media – are other expressions of this facility. Information, or ideas, no longer have to be sanctioned by those in power or positions of authority: anybody (even me) can say what they like and have the possibility of being heard all over the world. UKUncut ( http://ukuncut.org.uk/blog/26th-march—invite-your-friends) provides  but one example of this.  This may possibly be an unexpected outcome of (4) above: “We invented the twaddler but we didn’t realise it could be used like THIS!”.

Looking forward to hearing from you – and please post comment here and on the Wallwisher!

All the best as ever, wherever you are

S

Wallwisher

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

Image via Wikipedia

Now here’s something easy that could be fun and productive!  I have started a Wallwisher at http://www.wallwisher.com/wall/digitalcollaboration.  If you visit this site, you will have the opportunity to add your ‘post-it’ idea, and comment on those that are already there. Enjoy! Sue

Comme des francais – orphans, cousins and nieces

FYI France: digital tortoise or digital hare?

Regarding the “orphans” — the legally and financially dispossessed, of the 20th c. and future digital worlds — the books / texts no one claims, or their cousins no one wants either, hidden in the vast library treasuries now being digitized by so many…

The French today, le 10 February 2011, announced their approach to these problems, see below — it is a brave declaration, well worth reading, as much for its “vive la différence” aspects as for what it both says and does not say.

Some comment:

* Approaches: “top=>down” very much versus “bottom=>up”

The above fairly characterizes a fundamental difference in approach, between the US and the Rest of the World Including France, in these and many other matters. And it is a difference best remembered on both sides, although often glossed-over, forgotten, or even never-known.  The French here are looking to their highest levels — their august national library, their publishers’ association, their national and supra-national governments — for leadership, in digitization. This is regulation-before-invention, rationality-before-impulse — “all is forbidden which is not permitted”, perhaps, as the oldest saying about all this goes…

The US approach could not be more different: “over here”, instead, two young Stanford graduate students, gangs of free-wheeling “venture capitalists” operating far outside the bounds of State-regulated “banking” — a virtual and real and very expensive maelstrom of inventive activity, conducted by a horde of mere kids (think of young Hewlett & Packard, Jobs & Wozniack, Brin & Page, Doerr fresh from college, Gates before he’d even finished, Zuckerburg ditto) all of them far too young at the time to have come up against any real “State regulation”, yet, more serious than a pot bust or a parking ticket, anyway, then many hectic deadlines and midnight sessions and much “labor rights” insecurity, “only the paranoid survive”, and tremendous excitement… There is no “business as usual”, in US hitech innovation: little of the “regulation” or “rationality” which the French so value, and absolutely _no_ “métro, boulot, dodo”.

China is different in all this, from the US, Japan is different, India is different although more like the US than some of the others are, perhaps. So thinking of France, a nation so like the US and yet so different, may help us to appreciate how _un_-like the US all the others really are, too — may enable us to take such differences less for-granted than we often do, in the hitech marvels currently pouring forth from the US and out upon the rest of the world, now.

* Marketing

If there is one characteristic of the US approach really not understood or even permitted, in most “foreign” places, it is “le marketing”. In US usage, the term describing and encouraging the private “corporations”, such as Google and Apple, which lead in these digitization efforts, is “marketing-led”: in a US firm, per the US “business” schools, marketing must be everything — if you can’t “sell” it you shouldn’t “do” it — it’s a way of characterizing the customer’s input, or the manipulation of same, in design and operations and all aspects of the firm, an outgrowth of the “customer is king” mantra of the older Horatio Alger commercial generation in the US.

But nothing could be more “foreign” to the French approach, here or generally. Digitization of their precious texts is motivated not by “marketing” but by various forms of altruism — history, philosophy, notions of the value of “reading” and the necessity of “education” — mention “marketing” and the folks in France involved in these matters literally will not know what you mean, as to them that is merely an instrumental, operational idea, more like “typing”, or “filing”, the idea that “marketing” could be central or a motivation or an end-in-itself, to the French is very foreign and the very strangest…

* Money

Unless it’s “monetize”… The French are no strangers to either term — Paris houses one of Europe’s best and biggest international business schools. But in France, as in most non-US places, it’s not “marketing” or “money” which drive book digitization efforts, for example, but “patrimoine culturel”.  Whereas in the US, “it’s the money”… The younger Venture Capitalist Generation’s mantra, this time, chanted repeatedly into the ear of the even-younger Graduate Student Corporate Founder, “Monetize! Monetize! Monetize!”…  To foreigners this preoccupation is a mystery, while in the US it is the essence: “The business of America is business”, as one US national president put it succinctly.

* Floods and Famines

Now then comes the problem, though: there must, it seems, be room for more than one approach.  Because things have Globalized, now: like it or not, for both us and the French, and the other Europeans, and the folks in India, and the teenager in Urumchi in China, doing research for her term paper & texting her friends & shopping at Victoria’s Secret, all via her cellphone… Also because there is a new flood of all this on its way, now…

The “information overload”, predicted from the “computers” of the 1980s and 1990s, was just “Flood 1.0” — an initial inundation, one coped-with, moderately well, by then-new tools such as “personal computers”, and by hypertext and information search & retrieval and The WorldWideWeb, and by Jerry’s List, then Yahoo, Google’s infamous algorithm, and decades of hitech development.  Now, though, from outside of the “computer” world and to a great extent unanticipated by it — “from Left Field”, to use the US baseball-analogy — comes the newly-Globally-omnipresent “mobile” telephony, and its possibilities for communicating via Internet.  The “power of many” just got graphic demonstration in the images from Cairo, repeating Teheran, and the Obama and Dean campaigns, and Manila’s “People Power”, and so many other recent instances.  The use of “mobiles”, in finding and retrieving and using and creating raw “data” — and then, hopefully, useful “information” too — is the information overload “Flood 2.0” just-now breaking.

However many “computer” users there are now or ever will be, Globally, there are far more “mobile” users now — and the two digital worlds, “computer” and “mobile”, now are merging, into user networks capable of producing virtual firestorms of data, and many unpredictable consequences.  As all of us who followed Cairo events on Twitter et al. over the last few weeks can attest…

Typical GoogleSearch retrievals of i.e. “3,439,000 results” are about to jump a thousand-fold, then — already we don’t really understand at all why “#1” floated to the top, of our particular retrievals-heap — Google says their algorithm knows, but that she’s just not telling — imminently, though, soon retrieving 1 out of “3,439,000,000+” instead, we’ll _never_ be able to find or evaluate or use anything, if we don’t start thinking outside of our old “computer”-era boxes pretty soon.

* Of Tortoises and Hares

Which brings us back to the French, here, and to their “different” approach — one which, I am suggesting, stands for similarly-“different” approaches to be found elsewhere, all over the newly-Globalizing world in fact…  Plenty of sterile debate takes place, in hitech, about who was “first” and who is “fastest”: sterile because most of it is circular — where knowledge is additive, identifying origins is an arbitrary matter of deciding where to draw the line — whether at a certain coffee shop in Silicon Valley, or at John von Neumann or Lady Lovelace, or at the invention of the “zero”.  But the French have held their own, in this history: for instance their Minitel offered “online graphics”, and “commercial applications”, and “general public access”, all long before the US Internet did — back when all these activities still were illegal on the Internet, in fact. Early French contributions did not end, or even begin, at Descartes…  And one of the first among non-anglophone nations to try at least to adopt the early and still-anglophone ASCII-only Internet was France: this despite the many battles — over “accents aigüs” and “OSI protocol wars” and “droit de copie” and the fascinating “droit moral”, through which M. Victor Hugo still “owns” a slice of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” to the eternal mystification of Americans, and now over “Google the phenomenon” — the battles have been part of the process, educational for all sides.

So now, increasingly, comes governance: _who_ will “call the shots” and _how_, as the digital scales up to Globalized applications — to a Globe where governance generally is done mostly in a very non-US way, in places like Iraq and Afghanistan and Egypt as we recently have discovered, and really everywhere else, in places far more “different” from the US than France and the French ever have been?  The French have been “first”, in this, in many senses, and they very often have been very “fast” — they have been “en avance” of the US even in some hitech arenas, for example, in spite of there having been a “retard français” in others — always, however, they have offered usually-friendly although not-always-noticed clues, to us their US friends.  So in this “governance” instance, perhaps the French can help again. Their “top=>down” approach, and other aspects of the way they intend to do their book digitization — for “orphans” and “out-of-print” and other things — may be very different, from the way these ideas are thought of in Mountain View, or Manhattan, or Washington DC.  But they are more representative of the rest of the non-US world — and that is where the US wants to sell its own products and services, now, in a Globalized economy — marketing’s Golden Rule, “know thy customer…”  Worth-a-journey, then — the French, on caring for digitization’s “orphans”, below — definitely worth-a-study, at least.

–oOo–

[Original version in English — translation _not_ by JK — see

also the original version in French, below]

Paris, 1 February 2011 –

“Signature of the framework agreement for the digitization and

online exploitation of out of print French books of the 20th

century”

Frédéric Mitterrand, Ministry for Culture and Communication, René Ricol, Commissioner-General of investment attached to the Prime Minister, Bruno Racine, President of the National Library of France, Antoine Gallimard, President of the French Publishers Association (Syndicat national de l’Edition, SNE) Jean-Claude Bologne, President of the French Society of Literary Authors (Société des Gens de Lettres, SGDL) have signed a framework agreement reflecting the will to give new life, through digitization, to copyrighted out of print books of the 20th century. The aim is to digitize and make available for sale online, a corpus of 500 000 books within five years.

This agreement, fruit of the past year’s reflection and cooperation, enables the project to be taken one step further with the launching of a detailed feasibility study within the coming months. It stresses in particular the fact that digitized books through « Investments for the future » will be exploited by means of a common management guaranteeing publishers and authors, equally, a fair remuneration in line with intellectual property rights. As a result, copyrights law will be modified.

Digitization will rely on the legal deposit collections stored at the National Library of France. The latter will be entitled to possess a digital copy for its own use. The website Gallica  (http://gallica.bnf.fr/) will display the complete enriched bibliographical records, provide a possibility to access excerpts and redirect users towards online retailers in order to buy a digital copy.

The state financial support will be provided within the framework of the program « Development of the digital economy ». This euros 4.5bn scheme is one of the main components of the euros 35bn mobilized by the government for the « Investments for the future ». This includes euros 750m earmarked for the development of new ways of promoting and digitizing cultural, educational or scientific content.

[And the following is the original version in French — with a few ISO 8859-1 character set symbols added-in here, only, by JK.]

* Paris, le 1er février 2011

“Signature de l’accord cadre relatif à la numérisation et l’exploitation des livres indisponibles du XXème siècle” Frédéric Mitterrand, ministre de la Culture et de la Communication, René Ricol, commissaire général à l’investissement, Bruno Racine, président de la bibliothèque nationale de France, Antoine Gallimard, président du Syndicat national de l’Edition et Jean-Claude Bologne, président de la Société des gens de lettres, ont signé un accord-cadre traduisant la volonté de redonner une nouvelle vie, sous forme numérique, aux livres sous droits du XXème siècle n’étant actuellement plus commercialisés en librairie. Un corpus de 500 000 livres pourra ainsi être numérisé et proposé à la vente à l’horizon de 5 ans.

Fruit d’une année de réflexions et de concertations, cet accord-cadre permet d’aborder une nouvelle phase dans la mise en oeuvre de ce projet avec la réalisation d’une étude de

faisabilité détaillée dans les prochains mois. Il rappelle notamment que les livres numérisés au moyen des Investissements d’avenir seront exploités dans le cadre d’une gestion collective assurant aux éditeurs et aux auteurs, représentés à parité, une rémunération équitable dans le strict respect des droits moraux et patrimoniaux. Le code de la propriété intellectuelle sera modifié en conséquence.

La numérisation des livres sera effectuée à partir des collections du dépôt légal conservées à la Bibliothèque nationale de France. Celle-ci pourra conserver une copie numérique pour son usage propre. Le site Gallica (http://gallica.bnf.fr/) présentera l’intégralité des références bibliographiques enrichies, avec une possibilité de feuilletage, et renverra à des sites marchands pour l’acquisition des livres numériques. Le soutien financier de l’Etat s’inscrira dans le cadre du programme « développement de l’économie numérique ».

Ce programme doté de 4,5 milliards d’euros est l’une des principales composantes des 35 milliards d’euros que le gouvernement mobilise pour les « investissements d’avenir ». Il inclut un volet de 750 millions d’euros visant à développer de nouvelles formes de valorisation et de numérisations des contenus culturels, scientifiques et éducatifs.

[* Both versions are from the “Press Release” distributed via email on February 10, 2011, by the BnF.]

–oOo–

Tortoises are said to have better track records than hares, long-term — and, besides, it is not always entirely clear who is the “hare” and who the “tortoise”, until the end of the race.

Jack Kessler, kessler@well.com

–oOo–

FYI France (sm)(tm) e-journal                   ISSN 1071-5916

FYI France (sm)(tm) is a monthly electronic journal published since 1992 as a small-scale, personal experiment, in the creation of large- scale “information overload”, by Jack Kessler.

/ \     Any material written by me which appears in  FYI France may be copied and used by anyone for any good purpose, so long as, a) they give me credit and show my email address, and, b) it isn’t going to make them money: if it is going to make them money, they must get my permission in advance, and share some of the money which they get with me. Use of material written by others requires their permission. FYI France archives are online at http://listserv.uh.edu/archives/pacs-l.html(PACS-L archive) or http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/Collections/FYIFrance/

or http://www.fyifrance.com — also now at http://www.facebook.com

(“Jack Kessler” My Notes) and at http://fyifrance.blogspot.com/.

Suggestions, reactions, criticisms, praise, and poison-pen letters all gratefully received at kessler@well.sf.ca.us .

Copyright 1992- , by Jack Kessler, all rights reserved except as indicated above.