Thursday, December 29, 2005

Technology - boon or bane?

Technology! Technology! Technology!

Many librarians have groaned about the encroachment of technology into their lives and I even had classmates asking why on earth we should learn about Access and Power Point in library school. We were told that if we didn’t want to miss the bus we better learn technology – at least some of it.

It is not just the ubiquitous computers that constitute technology in libraries. There are intricate databases, electronic libraries and quite recently RFID tags. Not many patrons know of RFID tags. But in the library community there were questions of privacy. It is not just libraries that use RFID, so does Walmart and the Defense Department of U.S.

RFID is popular in the medical community as well. The medical community claims that RFID chips will help them monitor their patients. Every technology, of course, is introduced to the larger community with a promise that it is going to better their lives. Only time can tell if these claims are true.

While it looks like RFID is being embraced by giants like Walmart, a Japanese library has come up with a plan to make users’ lives easier too. You don’t need to carry a library card, just use your palm. This is of course not a very new idea. It has been suggested before in the name of “Smart Card” by Kenneth Dowlin in his “Libraries and the future.”

Click here for details on Japanese palm-vein security system:

This system offers a higher level security system, claims Fujitsu Ltd. the system vendor. So I guess the choice now for users is whether they want a chip inserted into their fatty tissues below the triceps or to have their palm veins recorded with an infrared light. I understand safety precautions are important especially in the wake of 9/11 and that once you have one kind of technology it is only natural that it will lead to another. Yet all this sounds too high tech. Really! is all this technology boon or bane?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Does Internet make us Illiterates?

This is an interesting article written by Naomi Baron, a linguistics professor at the University of Washington. I agree that all this internet, digital, online, electronic – whatever one might choose to call the new media –information has made (or at least it seems so) the younger generation lazy. While librarians and to some extent publishers are thinking of making users’ lives easier in their search for information by providing electronic access, the same electronic community is also forgetting that evaluating the information they find is a crucial step. Librarian and teachers have tried to reiterate this in their instruction modules. But it doesn’t seem to spread to all levels of students.

Also with internet users, including myself, browse. Browsing is not the same as reading. Quite often I only read the headlines and don’t go any further. This along with the fact that users are not evaluating their information will no doubt lead to an illiterate society. But, I do not agree with Naomi when she asks “will effortless random access erode our collective respect for writing as a logical, linear process?” There are many cases where the process of writing is being abused through wikis, blogs and personal websites. But this has also given students and the public in general a chance to explore the art of writing. Writing comes with practice and it helps when someone passes along a positive or constructive criticism. I understand that unfortunately not much of that goes around either. Teachers in school can help with this problem. If children learn at a young age about the etiquettes of writing, our future blogs, wikis and many other nameless softwares that are yet to come will be of better quality. As she mentioned Cliff Notes and Reader’s Digest have been around for a while and yet there was a user community that took the time to read the primary texts. Some one encouraged this – a teacher, a parent or a librarian. We have to continue doing this. This is asking too much, but it would be nice if we can forget the economy for a while and concentrate on issues that will really better our lives in future – helping form a truly literate society.

New media always come with new set of problems. It will take some time and effort from all of us to fix these problems.