Information and the Future

This is the blog of the Information and the Future task force of the Rolfing Library at Trinity International University. The IF task force exists to explore the role of libraries in the future of Christian higher education.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

I've been thinking about...

Kevin's comment to the meeting minutes post on Hayle's book How We Became Posthuman. The word "posthuman" as I understand it refers to the integration of technology with human biology (think cyborg). One book I cataloged claimed that there is current work being done to enhance humans with all the super hero powers of the 1940s and 50s. Just recently there was a blurb on the web about experiments with material that could bend light to create a type of invisibility. My first thought is to dismiss all of this has more techno hype. My second thought is to be afraid of what we might do to ourselves in our rush to embrace the new and "improved." Finally I've been thinking about Marshall McLuhan's analysis that all technology is an extension of human attributes. Maybe we've been working on our posthuman project longer than we realize...

I've also been thinking about the Wikipedia critiques that appeared on the ATLANTIS listserv.
Jaron Lanier wrote a long article called Digital Maoism, on the seductive power of the collective as expressed for example in Wikipedia. A second, funnier, critique appeared from comedian Stephan Colbert ...

I have to confess that often thinking about emerging technologies (especially biotechnology) leaves me longing for simpler life. Kevin Miller suggests that evangelicals should appropriate the monastic movement as a model for spiritual formation. I think it is very interesting how many times recently I've heard evangelicals talk positively about monasticism. This week, I've been specifically thinking about the role the monastic movement played in preserving and passing on ancient culture during darkest days of Medieval Europe. Is there perhaps a precedent there for what we are trying to do as Christian librarians? ...

Finally, today in the ACRLog (one of my favorite library blogs) there was a post about honesty and library technology. The post asks if librarians attempts to mimic Google and thus make research easy are really honest, given that our technology does not really mimic Google underneath our clutter free web pages and that research is not easy. It seems this raises some important questions about much of our technology. At what point does technology's ability to mask the complicated and simplify tasks go from being a virtue to a vice? What does "honesty" mean when dealing with the world wide web? That is something I'll have to keep thinking about...

5 Comments:

  • At 11:35 AM, Blogger kc said…

    "Maybe we've been working on our posthuman project longer than we realize"

    Yes, see for example, Andy Clark's Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003) who argues we're already cyborgs and have been transforming ourselves into such since the origin of language, that our brains have a natural plasticity to adopt and adapt to new technologies. So for him, this is a natural transition for humans. As he phrases it, " . . . we shall be cyborgs not in the merely superficial sense of combining flesh and wires but in the more profound sense of being human-technology symbionts: thinking and reasoning systems whose minds and selves are spread across biological brain and nonbiological circuitry."

    He's another posthuman optimist, though his chapter on "Bad Borgs" is worth reading: ". . . the grass isn't always greener on the cyborg side of the street. Under the rocks of our new liberties and capacities lurk new closures, dangers, invasions and constraints. It is time we confronted some of the specters that haunt these hybrid dreams."

    Still, he argues, "there is no turning back. . . . The task is to merge gracefully, to merge in ways that are virtuous, that bring us closer to one another, make us more tolerant, enhance understanding, celebrate embodiment, and encourage mutual respect."

    Ah, to see humanity through such rose-colored glasses.

     
  • At 3:03 PM, Blogger Rebecca said…

    The ACRL post on "Honesty and library technology" was very interesting. I don't know if I would entirely agree with it. Is it really about honesty? Students don’t need to know about everything that goes behind a search system, as long as it enables them to find and use good resources. If it is possible for students to find good resources using a system that is similar to what they’re already familiar with, why force them to use a system that is more complex and requires learning new search techniques? Do we need to have difficult interfaces just so that students know that research is a difficult process? Students often avoid using library resources because they go to the library site and feel overwhelmed because there are new systems to learn which they don't understand. It feels safer and easier for them to escape to something they are already familiar with, like Google. Designing library interfaces that work like what they've already used can put one less obstacle for them to begin on the research process. And then hopefully as they go along, we can help them build their research skills. I wonder if there would be a good way to do that with technology? Have it be simple and easy to use when you first approach it, but as you use it more, the technology leads you into more complex searching. Although good research is probably more about critical thinking than about knowing the intricacies of complex search techniques anyway...

     
  • At 9:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

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  • At 9:48 AM, Blogger arcee said…

    Well, those evangelicals (who speak positively of monasticism) must not be advocates of the "Purpose Driven Frenzy." Perhaps you can guess which side of the fence I'm on? heh...joking aside, I affirm that our struggle in this post-evangelical society (see weblog)
    is to live in the tension that exists between not wanting to be completely enveloped by technology and yet recognizing a need to integrate it into our library services.

     
  • At 12:29 PM, Blogger kc said…

    i agree entirely with Rebecca's position. This is why i advocate using some of the money we save if we go with I-Share to buy a link resolver so our students can use Google Scholar and have access to our full-text journals and also buy a federated search engine so they can have a simplified search interface and still be searching our databases. So maybe our strategy should be moving our (college) students from Google to Google Scholar to the federated search engine to specific databases. If we get them to move one or two steps we've accomplished something. If we get them to move three steps we can all go out to lunch.

     

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