digital information technologies and the librarian

The MSc Library Science course I’m taking comprises classes on “Digital Information Technologies and Applications”. It’s substantially about the Internet, and its uses and implications to librarians and libraries—being blogging one of them.

Blogging is one of the many tools of personalisation available in the World Wide Web; it enables expression of a self, of a company, of a community, through text, images, and videos, to a wider online public. This very website is a blog; this blog takes form of a website through WordPress, one of the most popular platforms available for blog-making—as it offers the possibility of hosting your own blog/website for free. Premium (the Web’s favourite ‘paid’ word-softener) features are available.

Microblog is a term used to define websites and applications that allow quick & easy sharing of text and image through your personal profile with others’ profiles. Facebook, Twitter & Instagram can be considered microblogs. Compared to a blog such as this one, these microblogging platforms, or social media, or social network services, provide less personalisation of interface and more interaction between users. You are more an user of the platform than an owner of a website/blog; however, you can have your social media profile stolen from you, as digital information about & by you is also you, if we think of Floridi’s inforgs.

Many libraries keep their own microblogs/social media profiles: this is the British Library on Twitter; this is the New York Public Library on Facebook; and this is the Bibliothèque nationale de France on Instagram.

It’s all about the sharing of information, communication: keywords of great interest to the librarian. After all, doesn’t the library (physical or digital) consist of documents that communicate some sort of information?

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Along with all new exciting possibilities, Digital Information Technologies may pose many problems as well, especially concerns about ethics, which include ownership (‘your’ Flickr photos belong to whom?); digital literacy (what use if you can’t use?) and digital divide (a new form of inequality); computer ‘misuse’ and cybercrime, such as viruses, hacking, and information war; privacy, security, identity, and surveillance; artificial intelligence and agency in digital entities; algorithms and their opaqueness, secrecy, and false neutrality. These issues and many more make many (including myself) question the democratic value often attributed to the Web and the opportunities it offers to users.

It may all look a bit scary. But actually using and exploring critically the many dimensions of the Web, including social media, is important for one to become aware of the very diverse ways in which people are communicating today. It is important to participate having in mind these ethical implications of digital technologies:

The ‘internet’ may not be the answer, but the questions the term raises are nonetheless crucial. The questions of how society designs technologies while also organising social relations … remains a crucial intellectual and political problem. The ‘internet’ may not be the solution to the problem of democracy, but a democratic future will still need to consider, among other things, questions about technological systems of human interconnection and related political, legal and economic questions.
—Thomas Streeter. 2016. Internet. In: Peters, B. ed. Digital Keywords: A Vocabulary of Information Society & Culture. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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And apart all these concerns, the Internet also brought with it a deluge of information. Historically, librarians know the feeling of being overwhelmed by information enabled by a new technology: in the fifteenth century, right after the invention of Gutenberg’s mechanical movable type printing, a torrent of printed matter, specially books, took over cities and homes and shelves. How to make sense of all that information? How to organise all this documentation? Does everything matter, or should there be some selection—besides, where will we find space to keep all these books? Collecting, organising, and cataloguing have been developed tremendously, if not by will, then by need.

The Internet provided us with an unimaginable capacity to collect and spread information, and new forms of organising and cataloguing have emerged and keep emerging. Librarians worry about issues like How to filter good from bad information?, How do we catalogue and organise a set of websites?, How can we better use the tools of the Internet to facilitate access to and understanding of information, in the many ways it presents itself?

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Can you imagine cataloguing the Web in one of these? Librarian must always keep up with new technologies to be able to make sense of the world  —Photo by Megan Amaral, CC2.0

A good understanding of the different information resources available online today is key knowledge of a librarian today. The notion that there are many distinct ways of finding information in their very nature: the type of information one needs should correspond to the way of finding it. Should I look for this bit of information on Google? Or maybe use my local library catalogue? Or the huge British Library catalogue, maybe? What about specialist, high-detailed and high-structured databases? HOW do I choose, HOW do I use each of them, and maybe most important: WHAT is the difference?

The Web may cause an unstoppable information deluge, but it also enables tools for organising and indexing physical, pre-digital matter as well. Library catalogues were once amazing wooden boxes full of little drawers containing cataloging cards, one for each book or document. ‘Hyperlinking’ was analogue, with cards ‘redirecting’ the searcher to other drawers and other cards, and a new indexing system demanded a duplication of everything: you would need to make a copy of every card and build a new set of little drawers if you wanted not only to provide search by Author, but also search by Subject, for example. You get the nightmare. But the cards system is actually a much more complex and flexible way if indexing than having everything written down on a notebook, and it is even considered a precursor of Internet in terms of cataloguing and linking capabilities.

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A Catalogue Card. It was once a visionary invention. Note the early attempts of interaction by users, ‘comment-like’ interventions to the system. Photo by Eric, CC2.0

Online catalogues are the standard for libraries today. Search by Author, Keyword, terms in the Title or Abstract or Content; possibilities are great. Search within search; get citation references; find related items. The ability to link data enables an amazing network to be developed; a real digital Web. And if you have your own library, you can use LibraryThing to catalogue your books, find and produce accurate metadata about them, and connect with other users of the platform.

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Digital Information Technologies are everywhere in the librarian’s work. It relates to communication; community building and enhancing; finding and disseminating knowledge. It can’t be ignored, but also, it must be mastered. I’ll end this post with some of the librarian skills from R. David Lakes’s list found in The New Librarianship Field Guide (and formulated from The Salzburg Curriculum) which bare strong ties with Digital Information Technologies issues and studies:

Engaging and evolving with technologies: Librarians must constantly evaluate new technologies to determine which are most useful to their communities;
Reaching out: Librarians must reach out to, and learn with, their communities;
Imparting technology skills to communities across generations: Librarians must find ways to reach across the divides of access, age, knowledge, environment, and motivation in their communities;
Creating and maintaining an effective virtual presence: Librarians must keep up with technologies in order to maintain an effective virtual presence within their communities regardless of space and time;
Collect: A collection should reflect a constant dialogue with the community. What is important and unimportant? To whom is it important? When is it important? How can librarians build and share ideas?
Communication: You must understand how and when to communicate, and that different communities will associate different terms and meanings to things.
Innovation: Librarians must constantly look for ways to improve the systems that serve their communities, adapting ideas from across industries and communities.

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References:

Lankes, R.D. 2016. The new librarianship field guide. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
Peters, B. ed. 2016. Digital Keywords: A Vocabulary of Information Society & Culture. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

being radical about google

googlization

this post is part scholarly reflection, part impulsive flare.

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“Google’s mission is to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

Isn’t that cute?

Only if it wasn’t what libraries’ mission has been for centuries.

So here we have a very-much-for-profit company’s mission vs. a not-for-profit-and-quite-broken institution’s mission. What happens when the company extends a hand for help to the institution achieve its goal, money-rich as it is?

A clash. To the Library, it requires a review of concepts. A revision of roles and goals. A critique of business-mediated “access” to information. A reflection on what information is for. A cry for real access.

—Or does it, really?
It seems librarians are ceasing having serious, academic, ethics-based discussions about Google, and just submitted to adapt to it, to use a common term found in the literature.

A good example is the acceptance of Google Books.

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“By leveraging the capability of Google to provide one of our services, libraries can focus greater attention on the broader goal of improving the quality of research and education. […] All we really know is, if we [librarians] could have, we would have invented it [Google]. This is evident in our ability to quickly incorporate it into our library services and to respond positively to their requests to partner in beta tests and content digitization.”

Here, Phipps and Maloney (2005) jump from liking the fact that Google provides quick answers to simple straight-forward questions, thus freeing the librarian to pursue other more complex work within the library, to accepting “requests to partner in beta tests and content digitization”. Quite an Olympic jump! How being good at providing quick answers to simple questions qualifies you to perform content digitization responsibly—an obvious reference to the early days of Google Books? And how time-consuming a service of providing quick answer to simple questions (they are talking about country’s-capitals kind of question) was in a library anyway, for a librarian to feel so liberated for not having to perform it thanks to Google? What are we trading? This was 2005, however; they still had the benefit of doubt, and excuse to be hopeful.

“It is the end of preservation as we know it. But the future of preservation in the age of Google is precisely where it has always been: transforming artifacts into useful new forms and extending their useful life.”

Really, is it? This is from 2010 “Preservation in the Age of Google: Digitization, Digital Preservation, and Dilemmas”, by Paul Conway. After having very wisely pointed out that preservation must “help guarantee that more value is added through the digitization process than is lost thought the transformation of original resources to a new medium”, and having thoroughly discussed various dilemmas of digital preservation today, he then simply, suddenly hands out everything to Google. A big problem here: considering Google’s digitization (business-driven) as just another form of digitization, assuming it’s “transforming artifacts into useful new forms”—is it? And how does that come about?—and that it is “extending their useful life”—is it? How? Being very positive, maybe he wasn’t referring to Google when talking about the “age of Google”, in the end…?

A third and last example is Robert Darnton‘s article “The Research Library in the Digital Age” of 2008. In it he lists EIGHT concerns he has about Google Books initiative (then, Google Book Search), very disturbing ones, that point structural and practical problems of the enterprise. But then concludes saying “long live Google”, as all the problems of Google Books will make it unfit to replace the physical research library, so no need to worry! Well, exactly because Google Books has so many profound problems that it is extremely worrying for libraries. Isn’t the initiative claiming to be extending the distribution capabilities of the library? Doesn’t the initiative count with full cooperation of major libraries? So it can’t be considered outside the scope of the library, as if it was something separate, a Google’s issue alone. It isn’t. It’s about the library’s commitment with proper distribution, quality and complete material, thoughtful preservation, and the possibility of unmediated access. None of these present in Google Books. So why comply with it?

Besides, the public sees Google Books as a complement of the library, to the point of asking if we need a physical library anyway, now that we have Google Books.

This is not help. This is disservice.

Fortunately, a number of people are aware of it, and provided great critiques based on philosophy and ethics:

In “Google Books, Libraries, and Self-Respect: Information Justice beyond Distributions”A. L. Hoffmann reflects on the concepts of social justice and self-respect in the context of the library vs. Google Books debate. She argues that if Google does further the cause of social justice when it comes to information, it does so in a very limited way, “along narrowly distributive lines”; that compared to libraries, Google’s digitization initiative actually “exposes and exacerbates injustices with regard to information, technology, and institutions” that go beyond the distribution issue. She demonstrates that the quality of Google’s book scans, the politics of its online search, and Google’s conception of information undermines the company’s claim of social justice.

She took as reference the important and insightful 2000’s article by L. Introna and H. Nissenbaun, “Shaping the Web: Why the Politics of Search Engines Matters”, in which the authors highlight the search engine design as a political matter, and not a merely technical one. They argue that bias established by market mechanisms in search engines end up contradicting the very principle of the Web as a public good; that the “public good of the Web lies not merely in its functioning as a repository for seekers to finding things, but as a forum for those with something to offer”. According to this framework, both Google Search and Google Books (a search just made more specific) hurt the prospect of the Web as public good by applying opaque market-driven algorithms to its functioning.

And then there is 2012 Siva Vaidhyanathan‘s book, “The Googlization of everything: and why we should worry”, in which the historian explores the ethical impacts of having the Web and its knowledge content in the hand of a for-(big!)-profit company. I’m only 20% through but can’t recommend more.

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In practical terms and in real life, Real Access to Proper Information is not a Right. So rare it is to find, it turned out to become a banner of combat, and a dangerous one—so much that gets people killed.

battle of ideas

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This weekend the Barbican Centre was home of the Battle of Ideas 2016. Talks by relevant people of many areas, followed by debate and questions posed by the audience. Great stuff to Library and Information Science to reflect about, as this edition of the event brought some amazing people to talk about technology and ethics, millenials and education, science and society. Here are issues raised by panelists, audience, and me on five of the debates I attended that should interest Library and Information people—and all the other humans that like to think about the world we are living in, really.

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Big Data: Does Size Matter?

I have to say this one was my favourite. First, Timandra Harkness talked about her book, which borrowed its name to the session: in it she makes her point that maybe the size of big data doesn’t matter that much; what matters most is that now loads of different types of data can be put together very easily, and then say something new. Isn’t that great? Well, it can be great, but all this data put together can also be used to make predictions and detect trends that are actually based purely on the past (data and statistics)—and doesn’t this practice reinforce all sorts of prejudices and misinterpretations from the present (e.g. identifying a black young male as a “high risk person” when it comes to predictions about committing crimes)? Timandra sees a danger in there, and so do I.

Some of the other issues discussed (I can’t claim to be quoting people precisely as I wasn’t recording, but I’m pretty confident I got the meanings quite right):

Timandra Harkness:
• It’s default now to collect data, and it happens so seamlessly; you don’t need to know how it works!
• Aren’t we willing to trust each other anymore, so we prefer to outsource decisions to machines?

Zulfikar Abbany:
• Machines don’t make ‘neutral’ decisions. Technology is not neutral! Computers are binary, while humans are full of grey areas in their decision-making process… We don’t function on a yes/no, on/off, up/down way.
• Yes, we have an obsession with numbers, but what do they actually mean?

Will Moy:
• Big data and algorithms are all about redistribution of power; there is a power shift going on right now, and every time it happens in society it’s very significant.
• Algorithms are not transparent; we need an ethics and politics of algorithms.

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What Should Post-Millenials Know?

I had mixed feelings about this session: even though it ended up not being about what I thought it would be (and what was announced it would be, really), I enjoyed the diversion, and very good talks came out of it.

In the event brochure that was handed out, this absolutely intriguing question appears as an issue to be discussed on this session: Are there particular insights or ideas that we have a responsibility to pass on, or should we trust the kids to Google the answers? I don’t think the panelists touched on this, and very little was said about technology in education and learning, and its relationship with knowledge. Anyway, the three speakers were pretty awesome; broader issues related to education were raised, including: Do school years do any good to children, and if they don’t, should we just start ditching school, as people have been ditching universities? But if they do, then what is it? Isn’t the school an ideal place for generational transactions between teachers and students? And a very precise observation by Dr Jennie Bristow: If you teach history properly, you are teaching critical thinking. Ah, loved this one! My Twitter did, too.

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Teaching to the text: Textbooks or Technology?

Apparently, there has been a comeback of textbooks as medium for learning in schools, and these are new textbooks being written and produced more carefully than the ones that have been around for the last decades (regarded as very low-quality material, really). This comeback raises several questions related to teaching & learning methods, and this very interesting panel addressed some of them:

• Why there are so many terrible textbooks around in the UK? What can we learn from the notably good textbooks from places like Hong Kong, Singapore, and Finland? What makes a good textbook?

• Why did some attempts to include digital tools in learning, such as one-iPad-per-student practices, fail to deliver positive results in schools? One possible answer, as Colin Hughes suggested, is that students don’t want to study on the same device that they use for entertainment and to interact with friends. They don’t want to mix the media;

• We must identify what textbooks are particularly good at, just as what technology is particularly good at, when it comes to classroom activities; each medium has its strengths, and it seems that the best is to combine both textbook & technology;

• If the (bad) quality of recent textbooks have pushed them out of the classrooms, and if we agree that good textbooks are the answer for the many current education problems, then what next? The debate pointed to the important role of publishers and teachers to the production of successful, great quality teaching material;

• Is technology in the classroom engaging or distracting?

• And a last, short one: does Google teach?

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Have we lost the art of conversation?

This was a quick and very dynamic, conversation-like session; panelists presented quite different views about what makes a good conversation and more:

Eliza Filby:
• We should talk about the death of listening: everyone has a voice these days, but no one seems to have ears. So how can we even have a conversation? Does it reflect the individualism of our times?

Julia Hobsbawm:
• Conversation is supposed to be intimate. If we regard it as something intimate, we can understand that technology can’t fully succeed in permitting conversation between people;
• The scale & speed of things in our world today don’t match with the ideal conditions for conversations;
• Oversharing is different from intimacy;
• Can you talk to anyone?

Richard Mason:
• We may feel connected, but we are really deeply lonely;
• Social media puts a lot of pressure on people about what to say, what to share; this constant fear is a challenge to establishing conversations;

And just a couple more observations:

• Can you recall a very good Whatsapp conversation? What about an in-person very good conversation?
• What makes a good conversation, the exchanging of information or the intimacy achieved? Does the content really matter, or is it more about reciprocity, listening and understanding?

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Why, Robot? Can we teach A.I. to be ethical?

Driverless cars are here, and the things around us are getting more intelligent everyday. With the pervasiveness of the Internet of Things and the Internet of Us, it’s past time we worry about all the ethical issues Artificial Intelligence raises.

Trying to keep it brief, I would like just to point out some of the comments made by Daniel Glaser. One issue that really intrigued me was his observation about the lack of diversity in the Silicon Valley workforce as a source of ethical concern. If only white young males are designing, configuring, and applying algorithms, we can expect quite misogynist digital technology solutions to be on offer for us. They think that a computer winning a chess game is the ultimate intellectually-complex accomplishment to a machine; and what about having to dress two kids up, serve them breakfast on time to go to school, while thinking about the shopping list and that new project going on at the company, wouldn’t that be not only more complex, but also more human, more useful intelligent task for a computer to be able to sort out?

Glaser also suggested that while ethical concerns come after the design of digital technologies, we won’t be able to come up with genuinely intelligent machines. We must create an ethical way of building intelligence, and not creating intelligence and then trying to impose some sort of ethics in it. When the first layer—the ethical one—is solved, then robots can maybe be smarter than they are today.

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Reference

big-data

Harkness, T. Big Data: Does Size Matter? Bloomsbury, London, 2016.

answering the question I tried to ask Herzog

I asked a question to Herzog. But I got no reply.

Actually, that’s because I didn’t really asked him a question. Following instructions of the event host, I asked a question through Twitter, using a hashtag, that was supposed to be asked on my behalf. Amidst thousands of other tweets with the same hashtag, my question is now lost in the World Wide Web, unanswered.

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This was on the UK premiere of Herzog’s film Lo & Behold: Reveries of the Connected World; I watched it at the Barbican Centre, and after the film there was a Q&A session with Herzog himself. Only he was somewhere else, in another theatre, and his interview was being live-streamed to other theatres, including mine. People that were in the same room as he was were able to ask questions in person, while all I could do was send a helpless, lonely tweet:

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Look at it! Unanswered, unretweeted, unliked. And most important of all: unquestioned. Just a drifting reverie of the connected world.

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The film itself, yes, as any other Herzog’s films, is lovely, not because the geniality of the discussion about the Internet, but because he proves that discussing the Internet is discussing us. Humans.

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It turns out that he eventually did answer my question, or at least helped me answer my own question.

In the film, we witness the Internet instilling on people all kinds of emotions and sensations—love, fear and pain, amazement, sadness, awe, inspiration—, and also providing the tool for people to actually make all kinds of things—tracking stars, hacking banks, going to Mars, playing games, creating robots, shaming, bullying, getting rich, getting better, being lonely.

But the Internet doesn’t teach us how to use it, and it doesn’t tell us what to do with it. The how and the what are up to us, humans, to figure out. The film makes this point very clear, and I can’t agree more.

So, back to my question. When answering somebody else’s question about something I honestly cannot remember, Herzog noted “that are some things out there that shouldn’t be abandoned”, meaning crucial practices that existed since before the Internet. He pointed out that it’s still important (and even more now) to do good “old-fashioned thinking, and old-fashioned reading“, so we are able to “create our own filters” essencial to operate in the connected world.

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I guess we can get from that how to answer my question: as the Internet doesn’t come with an instructions manual, and as it is absolutely pervasive, and as we came to rely on it instead of just being connected to it in many spheres… Doesn’t it became critical that we take a step outside to be able to see through the very human tools of thinking and reading what seems to be transforming into an ever less human world?

Could this be an agenda for libraries in the 21st century: helping nurturing humans?, or helping rehumanize people, perhaps?

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Reference

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Lo And Behold: Reveries Of The Connected World. Dir. Werner Herzog. Magnolia, 2016. Film.

resistance is futile

In the case of robotic weapons, it is becoming increasingly unclear who, or what, is accountable and responsible for the actions performed by complex, hybrid, man-machine systems on the battlefield.
(Floridi, L., Taddeo, M., 2014, p. vii).

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“You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.

Or should Google Star Trek Earth Track® state:

You will be annihilated. Resistance is futile.

MQ-1 Predator
U.S. Air Force photo/Lt Col Leslie Pratt, Public Domain Image

This is a General Atomics MQ-1 Predator, an UAV (“unmanned aerial vehicle”). Put simply, a drone. As so many other technologies of our time, it was created to serve military purposes. It is equipped with a powerful “eye”: cameras closely monitored from afar. Eventually, as it found its way to the real meaning for its existence, the Predator was armed with AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. The story and the ethics of this unmanned & armed hunter-killer is discussed masterfully (and very critically) by Grégoire Chamayou in Drone Theory. He describes it as a “story of an eye converted into a gun”, a portray depicted by a US Army general:

—We’ve moved from using UAVs primarily in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance roles […] to a true hunter-killer role with the Reaper [an evolved Predator].

intelligence roles“, he said. And isn’t intelligence another word for information? It seems like we from Library & Information Science are not so distant from these issues (we are talking warfare here!) than we might think. Did I miss something, or “intelligence roles” configured a bridge between a high-tech device and annihilation—going from a flying computer to managing information, then to bombing—, when it comes to the evolution of the military drone?

In his book, Chamayou presents and discusses many fascinating questions related to the use of these kind of intelligent weapons in war and that should concern us, including:

•  What happens to the very concept of war and combat, when armed drones convert them into ‘a campaign of what is, quite simply, slaughter‘? Isn’t the use of the armed drone an  attempt to abolish the principle of direct reciprocity, and if it is, doesn’t it impact the foundations of Just War and military virtue—as the state turns its soldiers into assassins by completely removing them from the hostile environment? How is it possible that a Predator or a Reaper are considered by some a humane arm?

•  As the opposition combatants (can we even call them that, if there is no proper battlefield?) become targets to be under constant vigilance and eventually shot with a missile, what happens to the whole community they are a part of? ‘The buzz of a distant propeller is a constant reminder of imminent death‘. Aren’t drone attacks responsible for a war without victory?

•  And what happens to the mental state of the soldier who becomes a drone pilot—who drives to work to watch, chase and kill people by computer command, to later go back home to play football with his son—as he is not engaged in military service at a battlefield in the traditional sense? Does he need to be more like a robot to be able to make that daily, radical switch between war & peace—that is, less critical, and less able to rebel, even able to not think?

As we can see, there are infinite important issues related to IW, Information Warfare; no wonder why Luciano Floridi stopped to reflect on these issues, too. In 2014 he joined Mariarosaria Taddeo to edit The Ethics of Information Warfare, a volume of twelve essays written by different authors on the many questions IW pose today. In one of the essays, Armed Robots and Military Virtue, Shannon Vallor seems to agree with Chamayou when she states that

[..], the widespread deployment of armed military robots may have ethically deleterious effects on human soldiers and civilians independently of whether optimistic utilitarian predictions of reduced casualties and collateral damage are realized. [my emphasis]

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But this information warfare debate isn’t supposed to make us shy away from information & the Internet entirely; no one is calling for a return to a complete offlife. It’s actually a call for understanding. Besides, it’s extremely difficult and undesirable that we run away from “the Internet”; much longer posts than this could be written on all the wonders of the World Wide Web and the benefits it brings to societies. But because good&evil are so hardly discernible in the infosphere (even more so in war), we should be specially critical and conscientious when navigating through it—and when building it, as Library & Information scientists. To use Michael Lynch’s words in The Internet of Us: Knowing more and Understanding less in the Age of Big Data:

We should not fear information technology per se, or the “Internet” in the expanding Internet of Us. It is the “us” part—or our uses of technology—that we must mind. We are becoming more powerful knowers. We just must also strive to be more responsible, understanding ones.

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And finally, when it comes to the implications of the internet:

—Let me just sit back here for moment while this search engine does this research for me.
—Let me just sit back here for a moment while this drone fights this war for me.

what differences are you able to spot?

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References

drone-theory     information-warfare     the-internet-of-us
Chamayou, G., 2015, Drone Theory, Penguin, London.
Floridi, L., Taddeo, M. & SpringerLink eBook Collection 2014, The Ethics of Information Warfare, Springer International Publishing, Cham.
Lynch, M. P., 2016, The Internet of us: knowing more and understanding less in the age of big data, Liveright, New York.

première: our extreme present

“Your blog is now one in seven billion blogs”

Well, not really. It is more like one in 200 million. But what Basar, Coupland, and Obrist probably meant when they stated this in The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to The Extreme Present is that we lose our individuality when we are online; in the Internet, we become more like everyone else:

“Reading is an activity that fosters a strong sense of individualism and it created the 20th century.
The Internet instead fosters a sense of being one unit among seven billion.”

The book paints an astonishing picture of our future present, with information and big data playing a central role in shaking things up. With photos, collages, and manifesto-like text, the authors discuss:

• the amazing amount of energy required to keep our electronic life running: “transporting data now uses 50% more energy than world aviation”
• our new ways of experiencing time&space: ” ‘How old are you?’ ‘I’m seven iPhones old’ “
• the “post-analog condition” we are living in: reflections on information behaviour and about the implications of being connected 24/7
• identity, individuality & (the sense of) collectivism, anonymity

And many passages turn out to be amazingly simple (and often depressing) definitions of ourselves; descriptions we can easily relate to:

“Knowing everything turns out to be slightly boring”

Oh, yes! Is there a better reason for the existence of all those unread books on our shelves? Some of them that will never actually be read, at least not by us, although we feel quite attached to the looks of their spines?

But why should we from Library&Information Science care about this extreme present we are living in, and about our post-analog condition?

• because digital technology and the Internet have profoundly changed librarians, library users, and libraries. In fact, librarians have always been welcoming to new technologies and found ways of incorporating them to the library; let’s not forget that in history many librarians were actually the ones creating and developing these technologies. Understanding the way we are living this post-analog reality is important to guarantee that we keep being relevant. As R. Rubin put it in Foundations of Library and Information Science, “the challenge of all professionals is to stay current in a world in flux”.
• because if we don’t own it, we’ll be owned. New technologies and the Internet are a matter of comprehend it or drown. If we library&information people don’t worry about these issues, well, there are many others who surely do: corporations and governments. We should’t let the market or shady policies decide which way our digital society goes. And we shouldn’t let ourselves down thinking our discipline doesn’t matter because of Google: it matters even more because of it. As Rubin described, when librarians noticed that their library’s computers were often used to access social media websites, they asked themselves “Could the library create its own social presence?”. When it comes to the Internet world, understanding enables action.
• because isn’t reflecting on what and how to preserve and document in this new “post-analog condition” a task for the library&information science professional?

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References

obrist_book-cover     foundations

Basar, Coupland, Obrist, 2015, The age of earthquakes, A guide to the extreme present, First edn, Penguin, London.
Rubin, R., 1949 2016, Foundations of library and information science, Fourth edn, Facet Publishing, London.