Showing posts with label Digital Divide. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Digital Divide. Show all posts

February 8, 2013

Going To An eLibrary


I've always loved libraries--the stacks of books and periodicals--all that information (almost like being a kid in a candy store)--and the quiet space to enjoy it. 

But in the digital age, where people are reading books and magazines on e-readers, news on smartphones, downloading videos with Netflix and watching shorts on YouTube--what is the new place for libraries?

Libraries will always provide a peaceful place for reading, thinking, and writing whether with hardcopy or digital media, but libraries need to meet peoples information needs, incorporate the latest technologies, and fit with the times. 

The Wall Street Journal  (7 February 2013) describes a new library in Texas that "holds no books"--it is all-digital--you "check out books by downloading them" to your own device or a borrowed one. 

While many people still like holding a physical books or paper to read--I know I do, especially when it involves anything more than browsing online--Generation Y is comfortable for the most part getting it all digitally--and then you can electronically highlight, annotate, and share as well. 

Some libraries are offering a mixture of paper and digital--actually "more than three-quarters of U.S. public libraries feature some digital books, and 39% offer e-readers for patrons to borrow."
One of the things holding back the all digital conversion are publishers who don't want to lose print sales, and so they won't offer all new titles electronically or they charge more for it than for paper copies. 

I envision that once we have 100% broadband penetration--where everyone in the country has Internet access--then we all can purchase or borrow the books, periodicals, music, and videos online from anywhere--in other words; libraries will become vastly virtual, instead of predominantly physical structures. 

With more information online than at any library in the world, information growing exponentially, and with online resources available 24x7 (versus set hours for a brick and mortar library), it would be hard for any physical library to keep pace in the digital age. 

Aside from physical libraries for traditional use, we need easy to use elibraries, where all information resources are available all the time, where students or those that can't pay can get it for free or at an appropriate discount--and where help is just a click away. 

Of course, many of us also don't mind a hybrid solution, like being able to go online and borrow or purchase a physical edition--maybe they can just drop ship it overnight or same day is even better. ;-)

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Ellen Forsyth)

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May 12, 2012

It's Not iStuff, It's Your iFuture

There is an editorial in the Wall Street Journal (11 May 2012) called "Make It a Summer Without iStuff."

It is written by David Gelernter, Professor of Computer Science at the prestigious Yale University and I was much dismayed to read it.

With all due respect, Gelernter makes the case--and a poor one at that--for keeping kids away from technology.

He calls technology devices and the Internet, "the perfect anti-concentration weapon...turning a child's life into a comedy of interruptions."

Gelernter states pejoratively that the "whole point of modern iToys...is not doing anything except turning into a click vegetable."

Moreover, Gelernter goes too far treating technology and the Internet as a waste of time, toys, and even as dangerous vices--"like liquor, fast cars, and sleeping pills"--that must be kept away from children.

Further, Gelernter indiscriminately calls en masse "children with computers...little digital Henry VIIIs," throwing temper tantrums when their problems cannot be solved by technology. 

While I agree with Gelernter that at the extreme, technology can be used to as a escape from real, everyday life--such as for people who make their primary interaction with others through social networking or for those who sit virtually round-the-clock playing video games.

And when technology is treated as a surrogate for real life experiences and problem solving, rather than a robust tool for us to live fuller lives, then it becomes an enabler for a much diminished, faux life and possibly even a pure addiction. 

However, Gelernter misses the best that technology has to offer our children--in terms of working smarter in everything we do. 

No longer is education a matter of memorizing textbooks and spitting back facts on exams in a purely academic fashion, but now being smart is knowing where to find answers quickly--how to search, access, and analyze information and apply it to real world problems. 

Information technology and communications are enablers for us do more with less--and kids growing up as computer natives provide the best chance for all of us to innovate and stay competitive globally. 

Rather then helping our nation bridge the digital divide and increase access to the latest technologies and advance our children's familiarity with all things science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), Gelernter wants to throw us back in time to the per-digital age.

With the ever rapid pace with which technology is evolving, Gelernter's abolishing technology for children needlessly sets them back in their technology prowess and acumen, while others around the world are pressing aggressively ahead. 

Gelernter may want his kids to be computer illiterate, but I want mine to be computer proficient.  

iStuff are not toys, they are not inherently dangerous vices, and they are not a waste of our children's time, they are their future--if we only teach and encourage them to use the technology well, balanced, and for the good. 

(Source Photo: here with attribution to "Extra Ketchup," Michael Surran)


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June 11, 2011

The Internet: A Right and a Responsibility

Poverty_computer

Good Online is reporting (10 June 2011) that the “U.N. Declares Internet Access a Human Right.”

According to the U.N. report, “The Internet has become a key means by which individuals exercise their right to freedom of expression.”

But as Good points out, this is not just a “third-world concern,” since even in America those without high-speed access cannot adequately perform certain functions “and that surely this affects their ability to get informed, educated, and employed.”

The U.N. is pushing for more protections for people to “assert themselves freely online,” but Good proposes that Internet access means more than just freedom of expression, but also the right to more public Wi-Fi access, better access to technology in libraries and I would assume in schools as well.

Interestingly enough, just on Thursday, Mayor Bloomberg of NYC and AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson announced that as part of NYC’s “Road Map for the Digital City,” they were launching a five-year initiative for free Wi-Fi service at 20 NYC parks—this is seen as a “critical developmental tool” for children, families, and communities.

The Internet stands alone as a technology that is now a “human right.” Radios, televisions, and telephones—none of these have that status. Yes, we have freedom of speech, but the technologies that enable them are not seen as a human right.

Similarly, access to the printing press (i.e. the technology for printing) itself is not a human right—rather, freedom of press (i.e. expression through print) is.

Do we not communicate and express ourselves over radio, TV, telephone, and other technologies as we do over the Internet? Do we not get information from them and through them? Do we not reach out with them to others both nationally and globally as we do over Net?

The answer to all of these is of course, we do.

So what is distinct about the Internet that the mere access to it is declared a human right?

I believe it is the fact that the Internet is the first technology whose very access enables the protection of all the other human rights, since it empowers EVERYONE to hear and speak from and to the masses about what is going in—whether in the tumultuous streets of the Arab Spring to the darkest prisons silencing political dissent.

While radio and television, in their time, were important in getting information and entertainment, but they were essentially unidirectional modes of communication and these can be manipulated by the powers that be. Similarly, the telephone while important to bridging communications over vast distances was for the most part constrained between two or at most a few individuals conversing. And publishing was limited to the realm of the professionals with printing presses.

In contrast, the Internet enables each person to become their own TV producer (think YouTube), radio announcer (think iTunes), telephone operator (think Skype) or publisher (think websites, blogs, wikis, etc.).

The Internet has put tremendous power into the hands of every individual. This is now a declared right. With that right, there is a tremendous responsibility to share information and collaborate with others for the benefit of all.

Of course, as a powerful tool of expression, the Internet can also be used malevolently to express hatred, racism, bigotry, etc. and to malign other people, their thoughts or opinions. Of course, it can also be used to steal, spy, hack, and otherwise disrupt normal civilization.

So we also all have the responsibility to behave appropriately, fairly, and with dignity to each other on the Internet.

While I applaud the U.N. for declaring the Internet a human right, I would like to see this expanded to include both a right and responsibility—this to me would be more balanced and beneficial to building not only access, but also giving and tolerance.

(Photo Source: WorldVisionReport.org)


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May 30, 2009

Homeless Yet Technology Bound

I could not help being amazed with the article in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal called “On the Street and On Facebook: The Homeless Stay Wired.”

I was very struck by the seeming contradiction between near total poverty and yet being linked to one of the richest sources of information and human connection on earth.

The article is about people who are so poor and wanting that they are literally homeless—living in shelters, cars, under bridges—and yet with virtually no money for anything, they find that having a computer and an Internet connection is a necessity!

What a comment on the impact that information technology has on our lives and how it affects us every moment of every day. Three key points about the Internet and social media that stand out:

  1. They are no longer an option, but an answer to basic human needs.
  2. They provide a sense of basic equality and human dignity, as well as empowerment, even where those are otherwise lacking.
  3. Because they are so vital to people, they are serving to unlock great creativity and innovation by people to get connected.

Computers and the Internet connectivity we get with them is so important to us ALL that even homeless shelters are now rolling out computer stations—almost like an internet cafĂ© or library. For example, NYC “has 42 computers in five of the nine shelters it operates and plans to wire the other four this year” and this is happening despite the devastating financial environment out there.

So do the homeless really use the computers? You better believe it—computer demand is so great in the shelters that users are limited to 30-minute intervals.

The homeless are finding the computers important for completing everything from housing and job applications to getting loads of inexpensive entertainment whether watching videos, listening to music or just getting the daily news.

The homeless are finding innovative ways to power their computers…some are using generators outside the tent homes, others are hooking up to their car batteries or finding a deserted area with a connection to steal away from for a brief hookup.

But the computer and the connectivity are critical for everyone whether you live in a mansion or in a shelter. Information technology provides for all our basic needs in terms unlimited information and opinion, a broad range of social entertainment, and all sorts of application services, but more importantly it confers basic humanity to all that use it. As one homeless man stated: “It’s frightening to be homeless. When I’m on here [the Internet], I’m equal to everyone else.”

And this is really a global idea, because people across the world—whether in countries that are free and those that are unfortunately still not—are finding that a simple computer and Internet connection can break down the barriers of political, social, or economic repression.

Information technology once feared as the great digital divide is becoming the great human equalizer indeed.


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