Digital Technology: It’s Just a Tool

Let’s not make more of it than it is.

 

This is the second of my point / counterpoint posts. Read the first post here.

 

When we think about digital illiteracy, we picture people who lack familiarity or skill with technology, people who lack knowledge or comfort with digital information resources. We think about luddites—some willing, some unwilling.

But there’s a kind of digital illiteracy that exists at the other end of the spectrum: technolust. People who adopt new technologies and digital resources too enthusiastically.

An uncritical acceptance of digital technology fails to understand it in a way as profound as any luddite.

Digital technology provides us with tools. A proper understanding of our tools doesn’t just mean knowing what they can do—it also means knowing what they can’t do, and what we shouldn’t try to make them do.

Understanding our tools means knowing their limitations as well as their strengths.

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Luddite Librarians

Digital technology is part of our job now, whether we like it or not.

 

This post is the first of two that I plan to present as a point / counterpoint kind of thing. Read the second post here.

 

Every library, it seems, has a handful of staff members who just won’t get onboard with new technology and new digital services. Some of them even make it a point of pride—they see themselves as stalwarts, holdouts against unnecessary change.

Some say they’re too set in their ways and technology changes too fast to keep up with it. Some flat out don’t trust new technology or digital information resources.

As a profession, we grimace and shrug and resign ourselves to the fact that some of our coworkers are going to be like that.

But consider it from a different angle:

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Libraries Are…

Semi-related follow-up to my last post.

Libraries are uniquely qualified to recognize both the value of current popular titles and also the enduring benefits modern readers can realize when they take the time to explore our ongoing literary heritage.

Libraries celebrate education and entertainment both as necessities of a life well lived.

Libraries are on the front lines of diversifying the stories available to our communities, undertaking the essential work of expanding our cultural consciousness and mutual understanding.

Libraries are where you find yourself and also discover the unknown.

Libraries are where we learn what it means to be human, in all our myriad aspects.

The Transformative Power of Reading

I have a social media friend—you know the type: you’re barely even acquaintances in real life but you have enough mutual friends to be friends online. We’ve been social media friends for some years now.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been watching her life transformed by the power of reading. That sounds cheesy and dramatic, I know, but it’s literally true.

My social media friend is currently in her early 30s. She’s Hispanic Latina, born into a fairly poor family, raised in a fairly poor neighborhood, with all the disadvantages inherent to such a background in this country. She had her first child when she was still in high school and married the father when she turned 18. They had a couple more kids over the next few years. She didn’t go to college. She went straight from high school to being a working mother, raising her children and holding down a series of part-time, low skilled, hourly wage jobs. A few years ago, she and her husband got divorced, so she took her kids and moved back in with her parents.

She decided to change the course of her life and she enrolled in a community college to get a degree in nursing. This is where her current transformation begins…

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This Is Why Books Are Dangerous

I recently finished reading The Meaning of the Library: A Cultural History, edited by Alice Crawford (Princeton University Press, 2015). Several passages from the concluding essay, “The Modern Library and Global Democracy” by James H. Billington, stood out:

Books are our guardians of memory, tutors in language, pathways to reason, and our golden gate to the royal road of imagination. Books take us to new places where boundaries are not set by someone else … . Books help us to pose the unimagined question and to accept the unwelcome answer. Books convince rather than coerce. They are oases of coherence where things are put together rather than just taken apart. Good books take us away from the bumper cars of emotion and polemics in the media into trains of thought that can lead us into place we might not otherwise ever discover. (p. 263)

This is why some people are afraid of books. This is why some people see certain books as a threat. Books are transformative, books empower—books encourage independence of thought. This is why some people seek to control them.

Libraries are antidotes to fanaticism. They are temples of pluralism, where books that contradict one another sit peacefully side by side on the shelves just as intellectual antagonists work peacefully next to each other … . (p. 263)

This is why some people are afraid of libraries. This is why some people see libraries as a threat. This is why some people seek to control them. Pluralism is anathema to control and dominance.

My favorite quote, though, and the best conclusion we can come to, is this:

Reading can balance our noisy, hurry-up, present-minded world with what Keats called “silence and slow time.” Whatever else you do in life, do not fail to experience the simple pleasure of being alone with a good book on a rainy day. (p. 265)

Book Review: Me and the Devil by Nick Tosches

Me and the Devil by Nick Tosches
Me and the Devil by Nick Tosches
Little, Brown and Company 2012

I’m a great admirer of Nick Tosches. More than any other living author, for me he defines erudition. He is, without doubt, one of the great prose stylists of the English language. His artistry and craftsmanship, the astounding depth and breadth of his intellect, is unparalleled.

But Me and the Devil is disappointing. It still has all the style and intellect I expect from Mr. Tosches—his typical hallmarks are as much in evidence in this work as in any of his others.

But I walked away from this book asking the one question I’ve never asked about any of his work before:

What was the point of all this?

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Book Review: The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss
The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss
DAW 2014

Patrick Rothfuss introduces The Slow Regard of Silent Things with a warning that it’s not a proper story. It doesn’t do the things a story is supposed to do.

And it’s wonderful. It’s unlike most anything else I’ve read and I treasured every word of it.

This isn’t a story so much as it’s a contemplation. Reading it isn’t an act of reading so much as it’s a meditation.

Even more so than in the novels of his Kingkiller Chronicle, this novella displays Mr. Rothfuss’ delight in language. He plays with words here in a way that’s both elegant and giddy. The book is lyrical, bursting with alliteration, homophones, and rhyme, but it never comes off as contrived or self-conscious. Rather, his language is a search to find just the right words for each thing that needs to be said.

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