Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Ah, The Serendipity of New Literacy

The Boston Globe published a piece this week that profiled a study whose findings assert that "the boom in online research may actually have a "narrowing" effect on scholarship". The article can be accessed here. This seems like a pretty broad claim and, from my reading of the article, the study does not necessarily differentiate between research practices, expectation, and trends within different disciplines. One central point in the article was that serendipity had been extricated from the research process.

Granted, I'm partial given my ties to an Information and Library Science School, but I do also teach in an English Department. One of the benefits, or curses, of my status as disciplinary interloper is that I'm on varied listservs. A recent post on one of my "English" listservs was the following:

Libraries are also making serendipity difficult. They do this with online catalogues
which make the casual viewing of records more difficult. They do this by returning to
sequestered stacks where books are retrieved by electronic means and not open to random
browsing. *serendipity: an "inefficient search strategy" according to a reference librarian I spoke to in 1982. I had just mentioned that I recommended that my students find an area of the open stacks where books about their research topic had been found and begin reading
indexes in books nearby for related terms.

I just can't get behind this sentiment, although a lot of other subscribers to the listserv could. My first reaction was that "Oh, this is disappointing but not surprising." Then I thought, "Hey, this is a certain sign that something is truly at stake." So, seriously, what value is serendipity as nostalgically constructed? Certainly there is technological serendipity which, of course, requires literacy in navigating emergent structures and repositories of information (e.g., digital libraries). Could it be that this post to the listserv is not a lament of lost serendipity, but a lament of lost or irrelevant literacy instead? Seems like it.


maybe a more accurate post on the listserv could've been (courtesy REM)

Storm into the boardroom of the conquering elite.
Did you recognize the madman who is shouting in the streets?
Destroy the things that I don't understand
Destroy the things that I don't understand.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Technology as Magic

This Daily Show piece reminds me of Arthur C. Clarke's three "laws" of prediction (namely #3):
  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Magic indeed...check it out.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Google Reader Re-re-articulates Literacy

Google Reader now translates most any blog in most any language. Here's a story on TechCrunch about it. Critics are remarking that the translation is pretty tight...folks are impressed.

I'm struck by this and what implications it will have for notions and practices of literacy. It's early on in the game, but without necessity what will be the motivation and utility of mastery of non-native languages? Obviously, I am not going to argue that such projects and literacies will become non-essential and a mere boutique fancy. However, with any technological advancement like this, the notion of what makes one "literate" (technically and philosophically) does shift a bit.

One recent parallel might be that of GPS usage and literacy compared to old school expertise in cartography (of course GOOG is a key player here too). An argument could be made that such impressive technological developments and dissemination actually encourage literacy, albeit not literacy as it was conceived pre-technological breakthrough. If this is indeed the case, then the pressing analysis is whether or not such flattening, opening up, and general accessibility to "knowledge" and "literacy" is happening in a way that empowers and enables versus negatively reinscribes...does this techno-utopian emergence mean a new paradigm of possibility?

At least for the moment, it seems much more exciting than sitting through those semesters of German class. Hmm, maybe that's the point. Wait, is that good or bad?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

This video has been around for awhile, but it's still worth a (re)view. Richard Miller's imagining of the "New Humanities" hinges on the commitment that the real function of the humanities is to foster incisive creativity across disciplinary space...creativity that addresses the textures (and textualities) of our everyday life. Too many times humanities departments fail to do this and, in my opinion, ensure their accelerated path toward irrelevance. I like his exposition particularly because he insists on disciplinary heteroglosia shot through multimedia composition. Creative social practices anyone?