Check out the RewindVintageMuseum Those of us in the digital age, with analogue roots, are a unique generation. We remember a different time, when mobile technology meant a transistor radio. A time before the marriage of the words media and digital. As media technology developed so we possessed it greedily. Stored away in lofts and attics we probably still do, unable to let go because of the memories it contains. Our first LPs, compilation cassettes, family video tapes and boxes of photograph albums. As analogue evolved into digital, this memorabilia has become archaic. It represents a life that has moved on. We have the media but can no longer access the message.
Digital media is one dimensional. You can’t get attached to a mp3 track. It isn’t significant like an album cover. There’s no personal investment. A download won’t increase in value or become collectable. Those days are gone.
What will be the memorabilia of the future? An empty digital photo frame? We laugh at the Betamax VCR but it’s got no intrinsic value; like walkmans and ipods it was functional; with that function removed, it’s junk. Like old fridges and washing machines, it begs the question of what to do with redundant technology. Future focus may be on content rather than means of transmission. Single, not multiple, devices could answer problems with waste. Individuality would derive from the customisation of virtual portals, My Space style, meaning we wouldn’t just access digital data, we’d have to learn to work with it too.
A Digital Britain needs to recycle more efficiently. Especially electronics and their packaging. So much of what we throw away this Christmas will end up in landfill. That’s not sustainable practice. The invisibility of virtual delivery has to be something to celebrate; inevitably the next step will be to reduce the means by which we access it.
A French court has fined Google for reproducing books without paying for the right to do so. The US Authors Guild have also sued Google for copyright infringement. The compensation settlement covers books published in the US, UK and Australia but is not yet in force. It’s taken three years for the case in France to be resolved. How many more are waiting? Google has taken the approach of do it first, worry later. The aim to scan every out of copyright/out of print book in existence is not going smoothly. Second hand, Independent and antiquarian book sellers, those of them that are still left in business, will be watching events with interest.
In reply to THES Librarians desperate for e-books
Generic comments like “They [e-books] don’t get stolen, they don’t get their pages ripped out and they are always available when people want them.” demonstrate the ME-Model – a computer user with Mouse and Eyes who often fails to think about those with neither. Availability is not the same as access and even if Digital Britain’s aim for equal broadband access is realised then this access will always be more equal for some than for others.
The technology used to digitise is only half the story. E-books require an appropriate means of reading them. All too often access is obstructed by the very same technologies used in their creation. Chickens and eggs come to mind. We operate in a sighted world where designers assume the user is seeing rather than listening. With effective screen reading software, digital data has the potential to widen participation and crack open some of the barriers to knowledge acquisition. In reality the technology that enables also disables. There can be nothing more frustrating than knowing the text may well be “available anywhere and anytime” but it can only be seen and not heard.
I take the point raised in a comment on a previous post about digitisation and have been wondering if there’s a chicken and egg situation here. Which came first? The digital data or the means to distribute it? Let me give an example of where I’m coming from when I say digital data is increasing the digital divide.
A Yahoo user group has uploaded a pdf file (single format, no Adobe Reader, another issue) and sent out a group email with a link to the document. To access it the blind user has to go through a process of identifying the link, saving the link, then opening the link, which only then takes them to the login page for the group but that involves logging into Yahoo. A blind person has problems joining a Yahoo group in the first place because that involves a captcha and they can’t see it – or hear it – so someone else has to set it up for them – but when they’re on their own they don’t know their login details – as sighted people we can’t always remember our login details – and they can’t read them – and you can’t multi task with this screen reader so even if you had them stored on an email then to get back to that, then back to the Yahoo login page, would be a lengthy process (and in our fast mouse-click world an incredibly tortuous one). They want to read this file; the email has made it sound interesting and relevant and the whole nature of the group is about self help and empowerment but they can’t access it. The result is ever increasing levels of frustration at being excluded and being dependent on others. I agree that digitisation should be increasing access to the written word, like the printing press revolutionised access to text; but on an individual level that was only so long as you could read the appropriate language. We operate independently in a sighted world but visual impairment (VI) takes away that independence and while digitisation should be widening participation, the reality for VI is that access is hidden behind multiple layers of technology and you can’t separate the two. Chicken or Egg? Which was my point in saying “increasing digitisation of text is also increasing the digital divide and putting in place yet more barriers to participation”.
Blogs are fast moving and transient worlds. I didn’t agree with Martin Weller’s post about online academic identity – but by the time I’d reflected on a response he had also agreed it was too simplistic a definition – although for different reasons to mine. “Rather than suggesting your online and academic identities were one and the same” Martin writes, (here) “Your online academic identity will be a subset of your online identities.” Now the ways in which virtual environments allow us to play with and explore alternative identities have fascinated me since the days of MUDS and MOOS. If I were on Mastermind my specialist subject would be gender – a fundamental identity characteristic yet possibly the one we think about the least. So multiple online identities – along with awareness of danger and good management of risk – is where I’m at and I wondered if the risk of linking academic and online identity is that it both privileges and marginalises. Also when related to education it comes close to Fischer’s suggestion that the technologically illiterate teacher should be equated with a failure to read and write. Technology is only that simple to the technologists themselves.
The danger with conflating academic and digital identities is the assumption that one size fits all. We are currently awash with reports that promote digital environments; Digital Britain , the Edgeless University, The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age and assumptions that connection is the way forward. None acknowledge the difficulties of digital universalism. Sometimes I feel that in 10 years time I will still be saying ‘don’t forget diversity!’ I support virtual environments for the opportunities to widen participation across all aspects of life but many people need additional time, inclination, resources and assistance in access. In conclusion:
* I’m less concerned about the kudos attached to having an online presence.
* I’m slightly more concerned about negativity being attached to those who chose not to have one.
* I’m concerned most of all about those who are unable to participate in the first place.
The collected letters, notebooks etc of Siegfried Sassoon are for sale – http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_8117000/8117156.stm
I don’t know how monetary value (£1.25 million) is established but I do wonder how much technology is destroying work for future archivists. Recently in the British Library for the Henry VIII Man and Monarchy exhibition I looked at the floor to ceiling bookcases housing the Kings Library and wondered what we are sacrificing to have the speed and ease of electronic communication – if anything at all. Should we celebrate or challenge the digitisation of the book? Is the demise of the craft of book binding on a par with baking daily bread on hot stones; is achieving an outcome faster always an improvement to be applauded? Political response to the Luddites was the Frame Breaking Act whereby those guilty of challenging progress could be sentenced to death. What is the Internet equivalent in terms of resistance and sanctions? Occasionally the work network is down; a useful reminder of the extent to which our lives are online – as we tidy our desks and make coffee and feel redundant without our digital connections.
Technology may mean less to preserve in the future. Turning the Pages uses technology to preserve the work of the past and makes it more widely available by digitising some of the rarest books in the world. The digitisation of the works of Siegfried Sassoon would make them accessible to a wider audience. Art needs to be visible. Sassoon’s notebooks from WW1 have additional value for their first hand experience of the madness of war and the later problems of psychological damage and rehabilitation. For this alone they should be preserved and made available. We can all learn from the creative work of others.
But does instant Internet access to the product of human labour devalue it? Are we losing sight of the difference between the real and the replication? Seeing a digital image of a page from the Book of Kells is not enough; we need to know about the hours spent crafting a single letter, the conditions under which it was produced; the cold stone floors, the poor light, the preciousness of the gold and coloured pigments. Poetry is a product of the environment; Sasssoon was a man of his times. The digital page is only ever a part of the story and a danger of digitisation is the increasing separation from the human element – as well as the lack of letters and notebooks and other documents that still retain the human dimension and touch for future generations to reflect on.
If you’ve ever tried to use an e-book you’ll know there are serious limitations; you need a reader, preferably portable; you can’t easily flick through the pages to go back to a specific sentence or idea, you can’t annotate the pages. E-books are increasingly being adopted across the sector and hyped as a cost effective solution to issues of space and availability. But let’s not forget that e-books are a visual medium and increasing digitisation of text is also increasing the digital divide and putting in place yet more barriers to participation.
Under the DDA public bodies are meant to enusre reasonable adjustments (so those with disabilities are not discriminated against compared to those without the same disability) in terms of access to services including libraries and information resources. But academic e-book publishers have no such requirements. As libraries increase their subscriptions to electronic resources so they are moving away from their duty to ensure equality. This issue was raised in a recent post on the JISC Mail Disabilities and Technology forum for Tech-Dis [TECH-DIS@JISCMAIL.AC.UK] where Simon Ball, Senior TechDis Advisor, describes improving the accessibility of ‘e-book and e-journal delivery software’ as a ‘priority area’. With no disrespect to TechDis, the words ‘horse’, ‘ stable’ and ‘door’ inevitably come to mind. It’s good to see that they are working directly with the RNIB on this. Rapid adoption of e-books across the sector reinforces the invisibility of accessibility legislation and how addressing the issues continues to be a ‘bolt-on’ exercise rather than integral to new developments.
As a society we seem to be increasingly failing our more vulnerable members. The recent statement by the PM (following the publication of the Digital Britain report), that that a fast internet connection is now seen by most of the public as “an essential service, as indispensable as electricity, gas and water” and the proposal to tax telephone lines to provide it, is a classic example of running before walking. Weakness in provision of the fundamentals is then compounded by public institutions such as the British Library whose digitisation of newspapers project has resulted in commercial ‘pay-as-you-go’ access to the nations history. Instead of climbing up towards greater integration and awareness of the need to cater for diversity, the needs of the socially vulnerable seem to be sliding back down into invisibility.