25 May 2004
I've been gathering fragments for a summary of the present state of my personal computing world, and almost daily I find more instances of things that have changed or are on the edge of some alteration.
Item, which sums up the problem magnificently, from Matt Jones, guestblogging at Warren Ellis' die puny humans:
It's time to remap everything.
Drill the digital ground and you'll see that the surface strata of interface has not moved as quickly as what lies beneath.
The shape has changed. We've moved from the discrete, fixed computing of the mainframe, mini and pc to the fluid, agile, grid.
The stuff has changed. We send emotional bits and digital pheremones as much as we send practical packets.
The scale has changed. The corpus has swollen while the skin stayed the same. We stored data the equivalent of 37,000 times the library of congress on our hard drives in 2002, and shunted 3 times that much around the net.
And as below, so above.
The context of computing is vastly different from the west coast labs that windows, icons, menus and pointers originated in. It's mobile, urban, rural, outdoors, underground, personal, intimate, immediate.
Time to shed the metaphorskin of the last 40 years. We won't carry a desktop into the street, a trashcan in our pocket. We'll remap technology to the environment, to our bodies , our relationships, our places and culture, instead of the other way round.
Tangible, embodied interfaces will make the world the interface, instead of our interfaces carving our attention from the world. Worth doing, and worth starting now.
Time to remap everything.
Well, I pretty much agree. At the moment I'm using a combination of the following in my day-to-day work with computers:
More and more of interest is happening in the blogosphere, though it's not yet clear how (and whether) to leverage that into pedagogy, beyond the personal level. At the moment, I'm contemplating the use of blogs as a main component of the fall 2004 iteration Anth230, though whether as personal or small-group tools I'm still not sure.
I aspire to have everything in my digital world interlinked, so that it really is an effective management environment for my various enterprises.
Becoming aware that one lives digitally, and then acting upon that realization... that's quite a step for a person to make. It's clearer when one isn't relying on networked lab computers (i.e., when working from office and/or laptop machines that "belong" to oneself, and that [can] store one's activities.
I'm quite struck by David Levy's Scrolling Forward, in which I've found a succession of things I didn't anticipate when I got it from the library. He's very clear about some things that others miss:
The simple fact is, we humans have found a way to delegate the ability to speak to inanimate objects, and have become deeply dependent on them for an endless array of services... (33)Levy pointed me toward Suzanne Briet, 1894-1989: "Madame Documentation" (Michael Buckland), and Qu'est-ce que la documentation? (Translated by, Ronald E. Day, Wayne State University and Laurent Martinet, Paris)
Are text files and spreadsheets and Web pages talking things? Of course they are. They speak through text and sound, through still and moving images --the same basic communicative repertoire we had before computers appeared on the scene. The fact that these signs and symbols are being realized in technically novel ways --Java, HTML, global Internet connections, and so on-- is a red herring. We are simply learning to throw our voice into new materials. (34-35)
Seeing documents in this way --as talking things, as beings exhibiting patterns of stasis and chage-- should only increase our respect for their significance and power. Each one is a surrogate, a little sorcerer's apprentice, to whom a piece of work has been delegated. Each one speaks out, tells a story, makes itself known... (38)
Briet's most unusual example was that of an antelope. In the wild, she claimed, it isn't a document, but once captured and placed in a zoo, it becomes evidence and is thus transformed into a document. (Levy 32-33)
Tiling one's interests, and moving among them, attentive to serendipitous juncture... This is a strategy that's now second nature to us. Levy describes a mid-70s Xerox PARC presentation of what we'd now recognize as a "multitasking" screen environment with overlapping windows, which drew from one auditor an expression of outrage: "Why in the world would you want to be interrupted --and distracted-- by e-mail while programming? ...a conflict between two different ways of working and two different understandings of how technology should be used to support that work." (102)
Levy cites Francis Miksa (1996) THE CULTURAL LEGACY OF THE "MODERN LIBRARY" FOR THE FUTURE and quotes these passages (very 1996 in sensibilities...):
Information in electronic form and accessible through networking raises the distinct possibility that enormous numbers of individuals will be able to have their own libraries. In this scenario, a library will likely consist of a personal computer with some electronic (and, for a long time, some paper) documents stored locally and hundreds, perhaps even thousands of others accessible through links on the net. Think of it--a library seemingly contained in a small box. Further, given this capability to collect and store electronic information, the focus of the collection will also change because it will be possible to shape such collections and their access mechanisms precisely for the needs of the individual or the cohesive group of individuals who require them.
Only a little reflection will show that this new kind of library is not only a denial of the modern library's public space and general target population orientation. It actually represents something of a return to the library era that preceded the modern library when a library generally represented the private space of an individual or of a small group. Frankly, this reversion makes eminent sense to me for, ultimately, is not an excellent library one which is as personal in its selections and access mechanisms as the personal nature of the information seeking that prompted it?
In the new library era, it seems likely that a librarian will function primarily as an enabler, as a person who can help others create their own personal space libraries, or families make their own family-space library systems with individual modes for family members, or businesses any one or more necessary personalized information systems.