For the next few weeks, I’ll be updating with some posts I wrote for a small discussion group blog in my LIS 2000: Understanding Information class. Some of them were in response to others’ posts or things we had discussed in class that week, so I’ll try to fill in the context when possible. This, my first post, refers to our first small group book discussion on The Information by James Gleick.
One thing that really struck me while reading The Information and also during our in-class discussion of the book is the idea that new technologies don’t develop in a vacuum. They are all part of a continuum of development, each one arising from the ones previous, taking the positive aspects (i.e. what works) and developing into something more efficient and useful (ideally). Really, I think that new technologies are meant to complement older ones and should be used hand in hand. What I find surprising is that people seem to have collective amnesia and regularly forget this fact. Each new technology is regarded as either miracle or bad omen, but either way, something that is revolutionary, destined to change the way we think, behave, interact, etc., and bound to edge out some other “outdated” technology.
In this extreme way of viewing new technologies, there is never room for two things that might have overlapping purposes so, of course, the older technology will go the way of the dinosaur. Telegraphs and newspapers? Why, telegraphs are so speedy and quick, one can get news in an instant instead of waiting to read today’s headlines tomorrow in the newspaper! Books and e-books? E-books save on paper! And are so portable! Libraries and the internet? Everyone has access to the internet and it tells us everything we need to know exactly when we need it.
I wish The Information could be general life reading to remind everyone that each technology came from somewhere and while some are defunct, each served its purpose in its time and place. Okay, telegraphs are largely gone now but clearly newspapers are still around. Just because e-books are growing in popularity and are easy to use doesn’t mean that books are dying. Books have been around for hundreds of years and are unlikely to disappear completely. The internet is extremely useful, yes. However, libraries are still relevant – as we’ve been discussing in class, information scientists help find the best sources of information, the most appropriate answers, and help sift through the chaff of the internet.