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Above the Fold

A weekly newsletter for the changing world of libraries, archives and museums

February 12, 2010
Vol. 3, No. 6
ISSN: 1943-1457

In this issue:


Could Written Language Be Rendered Obsolete, and What Should We Demand in Return?  (External site)

The Futurist/Encyclopædia Britannica Blog   •  January 29, 2010

Literacy lament. Futurist senior editor Patrick Tucker suggests there may be a connection between the ballooning volume of available information and the declining literacy level of the general public. But if literacy as we know it is on the way out, "it's up to us, as the consumers and producers of technology, to insist that the would-be replacement demonstrate authentic superiority . . . We owe it to posterity to demand proof that people's communications will be more intelligent, persuasive, and constructive when they occur over digital media, and proof that digital media, and proof that illiteracy, even in an age of great technological capability, will improve people's lives."

Tucker asks provocative questions around the idea that a 6,000-year-old technology (written text) is going to be increasingly competing against gadgets that allow two brains to interact directly, or researchers to access information on the Internet without looking it up or reading it. While clearly in love with language and literature, the author seems genuine in his willingness to go along with the change, provided that the quality of communication is better with the new technologies than with the old. That, of course, is a monumental "IF." ( Massie)


Privacy, Facebook and the Future of the Internet  (External site)

ReadWriteWeb   •  January 28, 2010

Up close and very personal. The first half of the article decries Facebook's about-face on user privacy, but the last bit provides an entertaining vignette of what the world might be like when your personal device knows everything about everything.

Facebook upset many of its hundreds of millions of users in December by making some of their personal data available for anyone to read, download or analyze, unless they made a deliberate choice to opt out of its new data openness policy. This article argues that such "freed" data provides potentially very useful research material. It is also a source of intentional data that could allow the Web to support our lives in positive ways by being a step ahead of us wherever we are, taking on the burden of deciding how best to interact with our changing environment according to our own intentional profile. The scenario is plausible, and will only take a small evolutionary step in our deepening transformation into "net residents"—one no bigger than many of us have already taken in our journeys to date into social network culture. ( MacColl)


Confessions of a Book Pirate  (External site)

The Millions   •  January 25, 2010

Bibliophile gone wild. An interesting insight into what motivates this book lover to download, even scan, thousands of e-books to augment his physical library (hint: it's not about the money).

OK, so pirating books is the moral equivalent of stealing. "Perhaps if readers were more confident that the majority of the money went to the author, people would feel guiltier about depriving the author of payment," the book lover says. In his magisterial book on the history of piracy, Adrian Johns, historian of science and print culture at the University of Chicago, tracks some 400 years of confrontation between piracy and what he calls "the intellectual property defense industry." Radical transformations of relationships between creativity and commercial life swirl around who gets the money and who gets the credit. When asked about the kinds of books he rips or downloads, the book lover says it is mostly books that are hard to get or out of print. Like, say, university press books? Sounds like a library, to me. ( Schaffner)


For the Love of Culture  (External site)

The New Republic   •  January 26, 2010

Lessig's lessons. Vintage Lawrence Lessig talking about the proposed Google settlement and steps that could bring more rationality to copyright law—not just for books, but documentaries and other creative compilations.

Now I know why I couldn't buy a DVD of Eyes on the Prize, the great TV series that indelibly documented the Civil Rights movement in the U.S., after my videotape copy went bad: as calculated by Lawrence Lessig, it would cost $500,000 (including for the original producer) to clear all the rights! Why? Because of the daunting array of rights holders (composers, news media, photographers, screenwriters, interviewees, etc.) who own the intellectual pieces of any documentary film. Worse, industry practice is to forge licenses specifying highly restrictive limitations that obviate any future application of fair-use doctrine. Lessig's central thesis, inspired in part by the mind-numbing details of the Google settlement and other examples of tight control of cultural heritage content, is that such contorted legal agreements create an environment for access to culture (writ large) that's even more problematic than the U.S. copyright statute. The article is vintage Lessig: tons of key facts embroidered with dramatic stories and laid out with a clarity and logic that always leaves me a bit in awe. And, as usual, he suggests solutions. After reading this important article I even understand the Google settlement in a way that I hadn't before. ( Dooley)


The HBR List: Breakthrough Ideas for 2010  (External site)

Harvard Business Publishing   •  January-February 2010

Worth a look. This wide-ranging collection of ideas touches on medical care, pharmaceutical development, bubble detection and more, but the first one—"What Really Motivates Workers"—strikes a note for every manager (hint: it's not about the money).

The Harvard Business Review offers ten solutions to "make the world better." These ideas span medical care, pharmaceutical development, bubble detection and more, but the first idea—"What Really Motivates Workers"—goes against the conventional wisdom. They identified "progress" as the great motivator—well ahead of "recognition," the motivator most identified by managers. " . . . making progress in one's work—even incremental progress—is more frequently associated with positive emotions and high motivation than any other workday event." ( O'Neill)


When Phones Are Just Too Smart  (External site)

The New York Times   •  January 29, 2010

App fatigue. It turns out that despite the availability of some 140,000 iPhone/iTouch apps, most people use only about five to ten, and most of those are described as "your basic black pumps." 'Nuff said—maybe life is too short for bad apps.

The issue here isn't bad apps per se: the iPhone applications I use most often have substantial flaws, but I continue to rely on them because they solve specific problems reasonably well. I think the proliferation of toy-like mobile applications has less to do with bad design principles—apps in search of use cases—than the business imperative to establish a mobile presence for just about everything. The result is a circumstance all too familiar to libraries: a superabundance of specialized inventory and a desperately inadequate discovery system that fails to connect potential users to relevant content. There's a long-tail defense to be made for the fanciful applications that languish on the shelves of the iTunes store awaiting discovery by the right, and right-size, audience. Forget black pumps—feathered stilettos rule my world. ( Malpas)


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