The Technology Habit

By jakelaurenti

Although it’s easy to joke about, behind Louis C.K.’s humor are important issues about technology.

With each new advent of technology, there are both advantages and risks. However, as time goes on, it feels as though our society focuses solely on the benefits technology offers.

Cloud storage refers to saving data to an off-site storage system maintained by a third party. That data is saved to a remote database which can be accessed by your computer via the Internet.

As Louis C.K. points out, “The way that they’re going to talk you into this is that you’re going to have a smaller device.”

Although he exaggerates what the size of an iPhone will be, in a sense, he’s right. The convenience of cloud storage is that one doesn’t need to carry around a physical storage device. No more external hard drives and USB cords. Also, people can access their data from any location that has Internet access, and don’t have to use the same computer to save and retrieve information.

As with much of technology, the benefits are concrete and can be laid out clearly. The risks, however, are becoming increasingly vague. Things like data tracking and government surveillance are discussed, but do little to hinder people’s use of technology.

Apple’s iCloud storage system, which was launched in 2011, now has over 320 million users. Much like other cloud storage services, Apple preaches the benefits. One example is “Find My Iphone”, which is a service that can locate your Iphone if you lose it. However, it can also be viewed as a tracking device that can be used to detect your location.

On their website, Apple leaves the consumer with the idea that, “iCloud takes care of everything for you. Just like that.” Or, as Louis C.K. puts it, “You don’t need your stuff. Just give it us and we’ll put it on the cloud.”

Apple is also sure to explain how “it keeps your personal information and data secure.” Again, like other cloud storage services, iCloud secures one’s data in an encrypted format to ensure it is “protected from unauthorized access.”

However, when one reads through the iCloud Terms and Conditions, it becomes evident that Apple can potentially decrypt and access all data stored on iCloud servers. Apple, not the user, defines and controls the encryption keys. Apple can “access, use, preserve and/or disclose your Account information and Content to law enforcement authorities whenever required or permitted by law.”

So, in a way, users are willfully handing over personal data, including photos and documents, to a service that has no guarantee of security.

The question is why?

Is it as simple as people being naive, as Louis C.K. suggests?

Do the benefits outweigh the risks for users?

Is privacy even a concern?

It would seem that the protection of privacy is not a priority for users. However, privacy is a difficult term to define. Its definition differs from person to person and depends on past experiences, interests, and a person’s behavior, among other factors. Some researchers suggest that “over time, regular use of social media without any major negative experiences may lessen their concerns about sharing information.” 1

In other words, as technology becomes a part of everyday life, it changes our society’s perception of privacy. Certain forms of self-disclosure become the norm, people become removed from the negative aspects, and as a result, people’s concern about privacy has only a small influence on actual online behavior.

It is important, though, for people to take this idea a step further and think about who controls technology and how that influences our view of it.

In “Search for the Great Community”, John Dewey suggests that technology has the potential to be an asset, but if society isn’t mature enough, some members are able to manipulate it. Technology that is not transparent, or “masked technology”, is what enables it to be controlled by a small percentage of the population.

Although Dewey is referring specifically to the Industrial Revolution, this idea of manipulation still holds true today. Technology, in my generation, is something that has been spoken about as a saviour; an all-inclusive way for people to connect and something that could be used as a check on those in power. In reality, technology is far from all-inclusive. It is controlled by corporations and those in power, who are able to track, control, and manipulate the way we use it.

As a result, many people tend to use it without fully understanding how it works or why it is necessary. Each new product comes with great benefits attached, but as a society, we’ve become less and less qualified to evaluate them. Our dependence on technology, coupled with our lack of understanding of it, increases with every generation.

For example, teenagers today have grown up knowing only of life with technology. Almost every aspect of their lives involves a screen. According to Pew Research Center, 78 percent of teens (12-17) now have a cell phone, and almost half of them (47 percent) own smartphones.2 Twenty-three percent of teens have a tablet computer. There are few moments in their day that don’t involve technology.

How is this affecting society?

The point that Louis C.K. brings up is a take on Dewey’s idea of habits. Habits, which are formed under the influence of the customs of the group, “bind us to orderly and established ways of action because they generate ease, skill and interest in things which we have grown used to.”3 These habits affect every action someone takes, and there becomes a fear of anything different.

Perhaps our society has developed the habit of blindly using technology, of just doing things because we can.

And habits are hard to break.

 

 

 

 

 

Aspects of the Digital Challenge

By jakelaurenti

What will people in the future think of us?

This is a question that every generation wonders about, but can never know the answer to. According to this commercial, our generation will be known for bright colors and loud, electric music. But the fact is, we can never know exactly what the past was like, and no one in the future will know exactly what life is like now.

Since the beginning of time, however, humans have tried to get around this truth by compulsively saving and leaving behind stories, objects, and/or photos, hoping to leave a legacy along with them. In fact, these records have become regarded as being of great importance. They are organized, called archives, and are seen as glimpses into the past.

Whether one views an archive as simply a storehouse, a true portrayal of past events, or an inherently biased set of records, the power archives have in current society is undeniable. Archives are seen and used as credible sources and “wield power over the shape and direction of historical scholarship, collective memory and national identity.” 1

Now we have arrived at a transitional point. Advances in information technology will begin to change what archives collect and, in turn, their role in society. Questions regarding who is responsible for preserving the past, whether we should be trying to save everything, and how we define historical evidence are all becoming increasingly important. As Roy Rosenzweig points out, “One of the most vexing and interesting features of the digital era is the way that it unsettles traditional arrangements and forces us to ask basic questions that have been there all along.” 2

Complicating this process is that there is currently no consensus among archivists as to how to handle digitization. The archival world will soon reach a tipping point: decisions will have to be made, and they will have a major affect on how archives are perceived and used in the future.

The Patricia D. Klingenstein Library at the New-York Historical Society, although not entirely pressured by the digital movement, is dealing with some of the challenges it brings.

A Special Collections library, it includes printed, manuscript and architectural collections. Although it has been digitizing since 1998, and has several collections freely available over the Internet, its incorporation of technology is an ongoing process. It is a process that directly affects the Library’s two main purposes: access and preservation.

As part of the Library’s move toward digitization, it has started using a program called Aeon, an online request system designed for Special Collections and archives. Specifically, it is used by Special Collections that don’t circulate. Patrons are registered into the system when they first visit the library and can then request items directly through an online catalog through a personalized account. This system allows the Library to monitor each request, keep track of what items are being used, prepare for events, and more easily manage transactions. Statistics kept by the program can also help with obtaining funding.

However, for every benefit that technology offers, ongoing issues remain. For instance, NYHS continues to maintain a large card catalog for manuscripts. Each card contains a rather extensive description of the archival material, regardless of the document’s length. Researchers can look through the cards, which have more detail than the online catalog, to find precisely the resources they need. The information and detail on these cards is fascinating, but the library hasn’t yet found a way to put them online. Ideas such as scanning each individual card or simply typing them up have been discussed, but time and expense are just two of the obstacles currently preventing such a venture. For now, the card catalog remains the only way to access this information.

IMG_1268 IMG_1275

Furthermore, NYHS is in a consortium with NYU and other libraries in New York City. This entails access to each institution’s collections via an online catalog and finding aids. NYU is also responsible for any IT work, programming, and formatting of the online database. This helps with consistency, but leads to other issues: for example, while NYHS has certain ideas and needs because they are Special Collections, NYU has a more general library and, thus, sometimes has conflicting desires for how technology should be used.

Another issue has to do with the cost of processing collections. NYHS, and the other libraries within the consortium, use a program called Archivists Tool Kit. Currently, though, there is a pressing debate over Archive Space, which will soon replace Tool Kit. There is a fee structure associated with Archive Space, which has many people in the Archive community up in arms. Tool Kit has no such fee and, as a result, some members within the consortium are resistant to the change.

Such additional expense is a major issue associated with technology. Programs are not static and when a collection is digitized, it isn’t a onetime cost. Often, IT people must be hired to help install, upgrade and troubleshoot these programs. In this sense, a fee structure with automated upgrades may actually be cost effective.

Continuous changes in technology directly affect archival processing and how archivists allocate their time. With each new program, there is need to reformat previously digitized collections. Because NYHS is within a consortium with NYU, when NYU chooses to switch, it will be imperative for NYHS to switch, as well, in order to keep their digital collections updated.

These day-to-day issues are all related to the elephant in the room: born-digital archives. Which of these materials should be archived? How will they be archived? NYHS hasn’t been directly affected by this issue yet, but it is something that is rapidly approaching and is in the back of their minds.

Dealing with born-digital archives leads to problems with storage, software, and preservation, and will eventually redefine the archival community. As technology continues rapidly to advance, things like floppy discs and VHS tapes become obsolete. Furthermore, unlike non-digital archives, like books, there is no way of knowing if a VHS tape is broken unless you can test it, for which a VHS player would be needed.

Raising these issues is merely scratching the surface, and there seems to be a sense of pessimism in the archival world as to how they will be dealt with. The smaller issues NYHS is currently dealing with prove the point that a consensus must be reached among archives and libraries before a solution is possible.

Otherwise, our generation will be known for having an abundance of technology, and for not knowing how to use it.

 

  1. Footnote Schwartz, Joan M., Terry Cook. “Archives, Records, and Power: The Making of Modern Memory.” Archival Science 2 (2002) 1-19. Print.
  2. Footnote Rosenzweig, R. (2003). “Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era” The American Historical Review 108(3)

Librarians and the Need to Prove Their Worth

By jakelaurenti

Imagine that you are the principal of your old high school.  It is a tough economic time, and you’re preparing for major budget cuts and less funding.  Your school is allowed two of the following positions: Music Teacher, Art Teacher, Librarian, Nurse, and Physical Education Teacher.

 

Who would you choose?

 

Why?

 

Principals are faced with such decisions every year.  While some still recognize the value of skilled and experienced librarians, many have few doubts about getting rid of them.  Parents rally to raise money for such extracurricular activities as marching bands or sports teams, but are rarely willing to do the same for libraries.  The result: school libraries are closing and librarians are being laid off.  At James Logan High School in California, “the 4000 students…are starting the school year without access to the aisles of books and computers sitting in a darkened room, unused.”[i]

However, principals and parents aren’t solely to blame.  This issue extends beyond the realm of school librarians.  Regardless of the type of library, hours are being cut or librarians are being let go altogether.  Law firms and corporations view librarians as expendable in times of economic crisis.  Can you blame them either?  In a capitalist society, how can a profession that doesn’t provide direct financial benefits be seen as an asset?

It depends how one defines “librarian.”

According to Merriam-Webster, a librarian is “a specialist in the care or management of a library: a place in which literary, musical, artistic, or reference materials are kept for use but not for sale.”  Whether or not one acknowledges that the term has evolved over time, it’s difficult to comprehend what a librarian does from this definition.  It’s static and outdated, and if this is the public’s perception of what librarians are, the field will begin to disappear.

The only people who can adequately provide a definition are librarians themselves.  To be considered an indispensable part of society, librarians have to establish that they have a skill set that cannot be duplicated, substituted, or outsourced.  Using this skill set as the basis, librarians will be able to defend their contribution to the workplace, even if it is not an obvious financial one.  Until they do so, librarians will continue to be perceived as replaceable and will have no way to articulate an argument against this view.

The fact is librarians do possess a skill set: “the organization, representation and retrieval of knowledge and information.”[ii]  However, establishing this is only the first step. As Jack Anderson claims, it doesn’t matter “whether a librarian has mastered particular techniques or principles, because the latter do not demonstrate that they themselves can make a difference in society.”[iii]  Librarians now need to explain why this skill should matter to the public in a way the public can understand and digest.  Over the past few years, librarians have begun to do this and, in turn, successfully defend their worth.

Ironically, their arguments all start with the very skill librarians possess: research and retrieval of information.  Within school systems, librarians are conducting studies on their impact and articulating their findings to the public. Much of the focus is on the relation of school librarians to student achievement.  “In a 2010 study conducted in Colorado, more children scored ‘proficient’ or ‘advanced’ in reading in schools with a full-time, credentialed librarian than those without.”[iv]

This link between library programs and student achievement is well-documented, but there is also an effort to change the outdated stereotypes of librarians.  Flexibility is a term often used to explain librarians’ work in recent articles.  “Today’s librarian is less a stern guardian of the collection and more like a curator, eager to share resources she has found and the skills it takes to distinguish good information from bad.” [v] This new portrayal of librarians involves them in more than merely helping students check out books.  It instead emphasizes their working directly with students in both libraries and classrooms.  In addition, library programs are shown to help expose students below the poverty line to new technology they would otherwise not have access to.

These arguments and statistics, if explained to a principal in these terms, will help change his/her perception of the value of a librarian and may lead to second thoughts during budget cuts.

The logic is the same regardless of the type of librarian.  There are many arguments against having a law librarian, especially in the Internet age when information is so readily available.  John Lamb articulates this in his article, “Does It Pay to Hire a Law Firm Librarian?” He expresses the need for librarians to change in light of these technological advancements, or risk becoming irrelevant.

However, more interesting than his article was the response of law librarians, detailing their value.  The arguments are well articulated and include a theme of uniqueness to the abilities of librarians.  They are shown to possess the skills which help create relationships with clients, write research memos, and not only conduct research, but do it efficiently.  “In fact, our recommendation is that an attorney contact us if they spend more than 15 minutes researching without finding their answer.  Implementing this rule reduces the amount of potential write-offs to a mere 0.2 hours.”[vi]  These points all direct attention to the bottom line: the net value of a librarian position. They find that an attorney performing the duties of a librarian would result in $12,000 of billable time lost per week, which equals $624,000 lost annually.  This, as opposed to $65,000 for a librarian’s annual salary.

Librarians may be seen as liabilities in times of financial crisis, but the onus is on them to advocate for the profession and “earn the status of being indispensable.” [vii] They have the skills; they just need to translate them into an argument.

 


[i] http://www.sfgate.com/education/article/School-libraries-hit-hard-by-budget-cuts-3854938.php

[ii] http://lisnews.org/node/30540

[iii] Andersen, Jack. “Information Criticism: What is It?” (2005)

[iv] http://www.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3757441

[v] http://www.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3757441

[vi] http://www.abajournal.com/legalrebels/article/more_on_law_firm_librarians/

[vii] Andersen, Jack. “Information Criticism: What is It?” (2005)

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