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A Little Bit of Luddite in Me

September 7, 2010

Whenever I balk at some new technology, I get odd looks from my colleagues at the library.

“Marti’s one of the youngest people working here,” I’m sure they’re thinking, “She’s tech savvy and loves gadgets – how can she not be chomping at <insert bit here>?!”

The truth is, for as much of a digital colonist* as I am, I am still, in may ways, a Luddite.  I still write checks to pay a fair number of my bills because I feel like it’s done when I put the envelope in the mailbox.  That finality (even for a recurring event) just isn’t there for me when clicking a “submit” button on a web page.

Unlike Don Hall (2010), who made his Facebook profile this past May and was thrilled with the ability to reconnect with old friends, I remember waiting ever so patiently for my alma mater to be added to the list of recognized educational institutions so that I could get an account.  I remember the news articles about college students being addicted to Facebook and how the consequences effected their grades.  I remember the fears and realities of “Facebook stalking.”  So I can relate to Mrs. Hall’s fears regarding pictures of their family. True, as Hall writes, “You have no control over what people post.”  But at least with Facebook, you can remove your name from a photo to prevent people from finding it based solely on a search for your name.  Facebook’s history in regard to its privacy policy is long and wrought with controversy, and as tin-foil-hatted as some may seem when it comes to personal information on the internet, there are some real reasons to be concerned.  Yes, there is no changing the general direction in which we are headed, but we can keep ourselves from hurtling along down the path so we don’t wind up in a ditch.

But now that Facebook has changed so much regarding the bell-curve demographics of its users as well as those users’s primary reason for using the site, other issues come to light.  Sure, there is still a degree of “Facebook stalking” out there, but with the controversy surrounding Facebook’s complex privacy settings heavily watched by both the blogosphere and mainstream news, more and more people are exercising their right to customize their settings and effectively “opt-out” of the default settings.

Privacy is one of the issues that Stephens (2007) lightly touches on in the article “The Ongoing Web Revolution”, but the trust referred to is only in regard to how libraries trust users and staff (p. 11).  Libraries trust staff to respect the privacy of users when posting to blogs, etc.  They also trust the users to not post inappropriate comments to the organization’s Facebook page, or whatever social networking site they may be using.

But what about the trust the user has to have for the organization, or, if we pull out to a wider perspective, the developer of the technology?  I for one am not on board for an augmented reality application that allows a user to hold their phone up to my street and see the most recent Facebook status updates of everyone who happens to live there.  Users need to be able to trust libraries and content providers just as much as libraries and content providers need to trust users.  It’s a two-way street.

So when I attend an “emerging technologies” session at a conference/webinar,  I am almost always among those who squint at the screen and mumble about the whys and wherefores of new technology. Yes, it’s possible. Yes, we have the technology to do X, Y, and Z – but do we really want to do it? Should we? What can be gained from it?  Just because something is shiny and new doesn’t mean it’s going to or should be embraced by the global network of users that make up the internet.

I mean, just look at Google Wave.

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* I refer to myself as a digital colonist because, unlike my 14 year-old, digital native sister, computers/cell phones/the internet has not always been a reality for me.  I grew up along with this technology – I didn’t inherit it.  That being said, the term was originally coined (at least to my knowledge) by my darling husband and fellow voyager to this new digital landscape on the digital Mayflower.

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Hall, D. (2010). Don’t move to a Luddite commune. Learning & Leading with Technology 37(7), 13.

Stephens, M. (2007). The ongoing web revolution. Library Technology Reports, 43(5), 10-14.

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