July 19, 2011 2 Comments
Now that we’ve passed the middle of 2011, I feel confident enough to suggest some of the things that I think we will have to think about in the near future. I did once acquire a crystal ball, but it didn’t work: I therefore offer no predictions, but rather some thoughts on what seems to be going on at the moment, focussing on the possible effects on the information management professions. I will mention some of these each day for the next couple of days. Please do not hesitate to comment, as well as to add issues and phenomena that are important in your field of endeavour.
1. Multifunctionality and convergence
We have seen, for more than a decade, increased multifunctionality of information and communication technologies (ICTs). The phone is now a camera, voice recorder, workout monitor, letter writer, internet accesser, aide de memoire and map finder, as well as other things. This is a continuation of the development of computers, which were soon used for a lot more than just arithmetic and calculation. The social media and search engines are moving in the same way: FaceBook does email, Bing integrates FaceBook data, FaceBook can also be used to become a member of various blogs and webistes of interest. Google appears to positioning itself to run the Googleverse, as it develops its own versions of popular software – such as email and wordprocessing and social networking – as well as interesting additions such as Skype, blogging, Flickr and, of course, the library: Google books. And then there’s Google Scribe, which anticipates what you are going to write; Google Body, which allows you to peel back, layer by layer, the human body; and Google Goggles, which enables you to search Google using pictures from your smartphone.
I posited previously (2002) that converging technologies have led to increasing convergence between the information professions: will this continue? I believe that this would be desirable, but whether it is practicable and attainable is, of course, a different matter. The arguments for increased convergence – or at least collaboration and multidisciplinary interaction – include a stronger public presence and perhaps more political clout (within organisations and communities); sharing of solutions to problems which have perhaps been located within particular disciplines/professions, but which are experience by all; recognition of the similarities, rather than the differences, of the challenges that face the information professionals. Some of the more complex issues that must be dealt with include the retention of professional profiles, as each discipline/profession has unique characteristics and different contributions to make; the plethora of professional associations, all of which require membership fees and produce newsletters and journals that must be read; and lastly, the overwhelming number of subdivisions that can be identified in this enormous field. Too much ‘multifunctionality’ can be diffuse – Jack of all trades, master of none. But such demands are presently made on us: just consider the number of different tasks that must be executed in the role you currently occupy.
2. Social networking and user-generated content
The appearance and ongoing development of Web 2.0 appears to have no end. In the analogue world, because of the relatively tedious ways in which documents were created and distributed, more control was possible, perhaps because of necessity. Documents were not created or published unless it was necessary for whatever reason. Publishing procedures were closely linked to bibliographic control systems: ISSNs, ISBNs, in book cataloguing information, edition statements and so forth formed part of a vast mechanism. But even before the 1980s, people complained about information overload. Then the internet appeared, and information professionals groaned: how on earth were we going to manage this flood of documents? It appeared that every Tina, Dorothy and Helen could publish whatever they liked. We didn’t even know what was out there, never mind trying to keep up with classification and cataloguing. And then Web 2.0 happened, with amazing social possibilities. The hallmark of this version of the internet is user creation and interaction. Barthes mentioned the ‘death of the author’, in the sense that each reader will recreate an author’s text, an idea explored also, in some detail, by Umberto Eco in his ‘The open work’. The death of the Author, with a capital A, has another interpretation now: the Author does not have to condoned, approved, validated, lionised or even recognisable to be able to publish as much as s/he wants to.
Part of the problem for the reader is being able to contextualise the author, in order to draw meaning and fully understand the ideas that are being conveyed. The Author is no longer automatically an ‘authority’ (“I read it in a book so it must be true”): far more sophisticated skills are required in order to select, understand, analyse and critique the information with which we are now overwhelmed. This is sometimes called ‘critical information literacy’ which is quite different from the ‘information literacy’ that librarians used to know and love. In fact, it might almost be called ‘critical media literacy’ or, the term I currently prefer, ‘Critical Digital Literacies’. All the technology in China – and the rest of the world – will not help us one jot if the general population does not develop these skills. I believe that we, as guardians of memory and cultural heritage, are the very people to undertake this.
Increasing epublishing and ereading means, at the very least, familiarisation with the tools that are required is necessary. Does this mean the end of publishers? How does it change the publishing cycle? There have already been huge shifts in educational resources and scholarly communication patterns (more on this at another time); Open Access and Open Source are widely used and increasingly popular. This will have, perhaps, the greatest impact on poor countries – but what will the nature and consequences of this be?
Consider the rise of civilian journalism. I grew up in an environment in which it was natural to doubt every word on the radio or in the newspapers on current events; we needed to understand that we were being fed half news or even no news at all. Sadly, in environments were ‘free speech’ is protected by law, too many accept that what news is being reported, and what comments are made on it, is both important and authentic. The ways in which journalism (‘churnalism’ is a new aspect of this – see www.churnalism.com) and the media operate is accepted as part of the transparent background. Civilian journalism empowers ordinary people to report directly on what is happening: this, enhanced by Twitter and Facebook, provide different interpretations and views. It can be said, therefore, that in this regard, the internet is like Foucault’s Bibliotheque Fantastique: a place where we go to discover ideas and to have them challenged. The new heroes are, if you like, at the bottom of the pyramid, in terms of sheer number, at least.
The other aspect of this is that printed newspapers are likely to shift to online only. An advantage of this for individuals is that they can use push technologies – news aggregators such as RSS feeds – to deliver only the bits they want to know about. And then there was Twitter – and now, for those with iPad tablets, FlipBoard, which allows you, effectively, to create your own magazine.
As information professionals, what are we going to do about this? How will we manage and encourage access to all these ideas? A Sisyphean task, seemingly. How can our knowledge and skills be used? How can we access and use user commentaries and annotations? At the same time, we must ask, “Who is NOT using the internet? Who is NOT publishing their ideas?” This group may include anyone from serious scholars to the illiterate and disadvantaged: whose voices need to be heard? Should we have any involvement with this – knowledge creation and distribution?
The rise of secret gardens, or, the Splinterweb. Social networking is all well and good, but perhaps the hysteria is now over: do we all want everybody to know our every move, our ever mundane and trivial thought? And let’s not mention the time it takes to pursue this triviality. It seems that people are becoming more selective, perhaps more discreet and attempting to use their internet space and time more meaningfully. This would suggest not only targeted audiences, but a judicious and discriminating approach to who can see what. There is little doubt that, with the emphasis on intellectual property (note for example the astronomical number of patents that are being applied for and approved), most knowledge creators/publishers wish to protect and preserve theirs. So, while a considerable portion of the internet will remain public and open, increasingly we are likely to see inaccessible areas. Costs will be involved, flying in the face of the open access movment.
- Integrating Web 2.0 with Traditional Software: MindTouch Lauches Contextual Help CMS (readwriteweb.com)
- Readings 3: Self Publishing and DIY (sebloom.wordpress.com)
- A complete guide to web, Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus privacy and security! (theedublogger.com)
- Science churnalism (guardian.co.uk)