Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Cult of the Amateur

Those enamored by the arguments of Chris Anderson in his The Long Tail might want to take a glance at Andrew Keen, The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture (New York: Doubleday/Currency, 2007). Andrew Keen attacks the idea of the rise of the amateur in the Internet era, seeing the failure of experts and the failure of newspapers, magazines, and every organization and professional with some stake in the maintenance of societal and cultural values. Keen argues, with our fixation on amateurs forming our news and all other information, that we are getting “superficial observations of the world around us rather than deep analysis, shrill opinion rather than considered judgment” (p. 16). Keen opposes the elevation of the amateur, fearing that the “voice of a high school kid has equal value to that of an Ivy League scholar or a trained professional” (p. 42). To make his point, Keen considers the difference between the professional journalist and all those amateurs building news site on the Web: “When an article runs under the banner of a respected newspaper, we know that it has been weighed by a team of seasoned editors with years of training, assigned to a qualified reporter, researched, fact-checked, edited, proofread, and backed by a trusted news organization vouching for its truthfulness and accuracy. Take those filters away, and we, the general public, are faced with the impossible task of sifting through and evaluating an endless sea of the muddled musings of amateurs” (p. 55). Keen tries to shift the attention from playing with new technologies to preserving the systems of expertise that we have built over the generations, worried that it will be difficult to rebuild it. Keen believes we need to “use technology in a way that encourages innovation, open communication, and progress, while simultaneously preserving professional standards of truth, decency, and creativity” (p. 205). I certainly don’t agree with all of his arguments, especially as I am writing a book about the rise of a new kind of amateur archivist, but it does represent another voice reacting to Anderson.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Monday, June 25, 2007

Gender and IT

If you're interested in this subject, you might want to look at the latest issue of the journal Information, Communication and Society. Here is the URL. If you are on a Pitt campus computer, you can download the articles.

"Never e-mail anyone under 30 ..."

You might enjoy this blog post ...

Librarians, Video Games, and Digital Stuff

Scott Jaschik, “When ‘Digital Natives’ Go to the Library,” Inside Higher Education, June 25, 2007,

College and university librarians got some unconventional advice Saturday: Play more video games.

At a packed session for academic librarians attending the annual meeting of the American Library Association, in Washington, the topic was how to help students who have learned many of their information gathering and analysis skills from video games apply that knowledge in the library. Speakers said that gaming skills are in many ways representative of a broader cultural divide between today’s college students and the librarians who hope to teach them.

In an era when most students would have to go to a museum to see an old-fashioned card catalog, there’s no doubt that libraries have embraced technology. But speakers said that there was a larger split between students — who are “digital natives,” in one popular way of classifying people based on their experience with technology — and librarians, who are more likely to be “digital immigrants.” They may have learned the language, but it’s a second language.

George M. Needham, vice president for member services of the Online Computer Library Center, stressed that he wasn’t suggesting that college libraries “tear up the stacks to put in arcades,” but that they rethink many assumptions.
“The librarian as information priest is as dead as Elvis,” Needham said. The whole “gestalt” of the academic library has been set up like a church, he said, with various parts of a reading room acting like “the stations of the cross,” all leading up to the “alter of the reference desk,” where “you make supplication and if you are found worthy, you will be helped.”

So if this hierarchical model doesn’t reach today’s students, what will?
James Paul Gee, a linguist who is the Tashia Morgridge Professor of Reading at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the author of Why Video Games Are Good for Your Soul, argued that librarians need to adapt their techniques to digital natives. A digital native would never read an instruction manual with a new game before simply trying the game out, Gee said. Similarly, students shouldn’t be expected to read long explanations of tools they may use before they start experimenting with them.

“We should never read before we play,” Gee said.
Likewise, tools students will use should be designed with this in mind, Gee said, just the way video games are designed. With video games, “you can play while you are inept,” he said. There is also an assumption that players of games are rewarded for “exploring,” even if they don’t achieve the goal they have set out to achieve. “Lowered consequences of failure” is a key value to embrace, he said.
Needham said that in this environment, librarians should focus on “in demand training,” helping students when they hit an obstacle, not before they start. Even then, he said, librarians shouldn’t say that they are providing formal training, but should say things like “let me show you a short cut,” the kind of language students use with one another all the time.

Others of Needham’s suggestions (on which the librarians were taking furious notes):
• Avoid implying to students that there is a single, correct way of doing things.
• Offer online services not just through e-mail, but through instant messaging and text messaging, which many students prefer.
• Hold LAN parties, after hours, in libraries. (These are parties where many people bring their computers to play computer games, especially those involving teams, together.)
• Schedule support services on a 24/7/365 basis, not the hours currently in use at many college libraries, which were “set in 1963.”
• Remember that students are much less sensitive about privacy issues than earlier generations were and are much more likely to share passwords or access to databases.
• Look for ways to involve digital natives in designing library services and even providing them. “Expertise is more important than credentials,” he said, even credentials such as library science degrees.
• Play more video games.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Mass Culture 2.0

An entertaining, critical essay about Michael Gorman's diatribes about digital culture can be had in Scott McLemee's "Mass Culture 2.0" in Inside Higher Education June 20, 2007. Here are the last few paragraphs, just to give you the flavor of the essay:

The tone of Gorman’s remedial lecture implies that educators now devote the better part of their day to teaching students to shove pencils up their nose while Googling for pornography. I do not believe this to be the case. (It would be bad, of course, if it were.)

But the idea that new forms of media require training in new kinds of literacy hardly counts as an evasion of the obligation to cultivate critical intelligence. Today the work of acquiring knowledge on a given subject often includes the burden of evaluating digital material. Gorman may pine for the good old days — back when literacy and critical intelligence were capacities to be exercised only upon artifacts made of paper and ink. So be it. But let’s not pretend that such nostalgia is anything but escapism at best.

What really bothers the neo-Luddite quasi-Mandarin is not the rise of digitality, as such. The problem actually comes from “the diminished sacredness of authority,” as Edward Shils once put it, “the reduction in the awe it evokes and in the charisma attributed to it.”

But it’s not that all cultural authority or critical intelligence, as such, are vanishing. Rather, new kinds are taking shape. The resulting situation is difficult and sometimes unpleasant. But it is not exactly new. Such wrenching moments have come repeatedly over the past 500 years, and muddling through the turmoil does not seem to be getting any easier.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Is the Internet Dumbing us Down?

This review of the book "The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture" on MSNBC is interesting, especially in view of the discussions on Wikipedia that has occurred on this blog and elsewhere.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Digital Publishing

This is an interesting article about academic publishing and its continuing transition to dogital publishing.

Changes and Challenges in Publishing World Dominate Talk at University-Press Association's Meeting
Chronicle of Higher Education
Monday, June 18, 2007


A surprise request for proposals from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a forthcoming report on university publishing in the digital age, and conjecture about who will be the next director of the University of Chicago Press: Those were lively subjects of discussion at the annual meeting of the Association of American University Presses, which concluded here on Sunday. Some 575 university-press representatives turned out for the conference, according to Peter J. Givler, the association's executive director.

Paula Barker Duffy, who retires as the director of the University of Chicago Press on July 1, was not among those present. But the identity of her successor was the subject of eager speculation, with an announcement expected as soon as next week. SUNY Press was also reported to be in the final stages of its search for a new director, along with the University Press of New England, Mr. Givler said.

A Tantalizing Pitch

The late-arriving offer from the Mellon Foundation concerns support for collaborative, monograph-centered projects in underserved areas of the humanities.

On Thursday afternoon, the conference's first day, press directors and higher-level editors gathered to hash out the specifics of the offer, which was extended in May in a letter to the directors of all U.S.-based university presses. In the letter, Harriet Zuckerman, senior vice president of the foundation, laid out "a new initiative aimed at encouraging the publication of excellent scholarly monographs (typically first books by younger scholars in the humanities) which are important but fail to attract sufficient numbers of buyers to make publication feasible."

Ms. Zuckerman's letter invites university presses to submit "collaborative proposals" for monograph projects that would "create new opportunities for publication in underserved and emerging areas of humanistic scholarship." And it expresses the foundation's desire to "expand and encourage cooperation among university presses so that the risks (and rewards) of publishing monographs in designated fields and subfields can be shared."

"We have been told that informal cooperation already exists to some extent with respect to publication in certain underserved fields," Ms. Zuckerman wrote. "It would make sense, we think, to build upon such cooperative arrangements by assisting presses in sharing such costly tasks as soliciting and reviewing manuscripts, editorial development, marketing, and special expenditures contingent upon the nature of the work (e.g., those requiring illustrations)."

Initial proposals are due by Wednesday and final versions by August 1. The foundation expects to select five to seven proposals and to provide them with an unspecified amount of financial support for three years.

With that vague but tempting offer on the table, press directors and editors buttonholed one another throughout the weekend to swap ideas about what might catch Mellon's eye. Almost everyone appeared eager to take advantage of the chance to dip into the foundation's deep pockets. But they expressed frustration at how little time they were given to come up with ideas, uncertainty about what Mellon really wanted, and skepticism about the foundation's broader intentions.

Ken Wissoker, editorial director of Duke University Press, wondered whether Mellon might be attempting a social-engineering experiment, with university-press culture as its subject. Leading a discussion on the subject, Douglas Armato, director of the University of Minnesota Press, summed up some publishers' concerns that the offer didn't really suit the culture of university presses and that it might reduce them to "mud-wrestling for monographs."

But he and Mr. Givler pointed to some "very attractive" features of the proposal as well, such as its focus on monographs and its appeal to smaller and midsized presses. Mellon has a reputation for going after big game, but "this is not just a proposal aimed at the top tier of presses," Mr. Givler said. It reflects "a new will at the foundation to support the work of smaller presses." If presses don't answer the call, he cautioned, "that's going to have future implications."

Throughout the weekend, press directors and editors kept up a steady stream of conversations about possible collaborations. Mr. Armato, for instance, and Alan G. Thomas, editorial director for humanities and sciences at the University of Chicago Press, raised the idea of a partnership in the history of photography. That's "an area where we compete vigorously for books but encounter a lot of barriers," including the high cost of permissions, Mr. Armato said. Several other presses expressed interest in that area as well.

Early modern studies, Latin American studies, and the history of science also came up several times as supposedly "underserved" areas that might offer good collaborative possibilities -- though publishers disagreed about what really counts as underserved.

Rice University Press, newly reborn as a digital-only enterprise (The Chronicle, July 14, 2006), and Stanford University Press had already agreed to try some joint ventures drawing on Rice's digital platform and Stanford's more traditional strengths. They've now decided to pitch some of those projects to Mellon as well, according to Alan Harvey, Stanford's associate director and editor in chief.

Digital Dilemmas

Mr. Givler, Mr. Armato, and others praised the Mellon proposal's focus on monograph projects without an obvious digital component. But throughout the conference, panelists and speakers continued to wrestle with many versions of the now-standard questions: What does it mean to publish books in a digital age? What about journals, open access, fair use, libraries? What business models and partnerships really stand a chance of working?

In a plenary talk about his experience helping get the new Rice operation off the ground, Charles Henry, vice provost and university librarian at Rice and president of the Council on Library and Information Resources, said that the humanities' insistence on the book as "the coin of the realm" had been one of the biggest stumbling blocks. "A lot of people whom I counted as friends and colleagues have been upset, hostile, even angry," he told the audience. "There's been tremendous resistance, in my experience, to publishing digitally."

"I still don't understand the head-in-the-sand view that the book is the absolute definitive artifact," said Mr. Harvey, whose press will be working with Rice on some joint ventures regardless of what happens with Mellon.

"We're sharing information for the academic community, and we happen to do it in book form," Mr. Harvey said. "Let's work with that content rather than trying to shoehorn everyone into producing that content through books." But he made it clear that Stanford is "still a book publisher, and we're going to carry on publishing books."

Penelope J. Kaiserlian, who is finishing up her stint as the association's president, gave a lunchtime talk on Friday in which she pointed to "a year of relative tranquillity and modest prosperity for most of our members." Ms. Kaiserlian is director of the University of Virginia Press. She underscored the significance of several major reports touching on the scholarly publishing world that came out over the past year, including the Modern Language Association's look at tenure and promotion and the "tyranny of the monograph" in that process (The Chronicle, December 7, 2006), the American Council of Learned Societies report on cyberinfrastructure in the humanities (The Chronicle, July 27, 2006), and a Mellon-supported report on the state of art-history publishing (The Chronicle, August 4, 2006).

Another Provocative Report Awaited

In an interview, Ms. Kaiserlian's successor, Sanford G. Thatcher, director of Penn State University Press, pointed to another report, set for publication next month, that he expects will make waves among university-press personnel.

That report, "Putting the University Back Into the University Press," was supported by two nonprofit groups -- JSTOR and Ithaka, and was put together by Laura Brown, a former president of Oxford University Press USA.

JSTOR maintains a digital archive of scholarly articles that universities and other subscribers can tap for a fee. Ithaka promotes the use of information technology in higher education.

Aimed at administrators and librarians as well as at press directors, Ms. Brown's report -- which is being called the Ithaka report -- should be out in early July. Draft portions have been circulating already. Among other things, the report is said to investigate whether a JSTOR model might work for monographs. And it has already raised interest, and eyebrows, among press editors.

"The impression the Ithaka report gives is that you have to be large-scale to succeed," Mr. Thatcher said. But it also invites presses to "rethink how they're going to make this jump into the digital age" and to think harder about how they fit into their university's research activities.

Taken with the Mellon call for proposals, Mr. Thatcher said, "the Ithaka report is a wake-up call."

Friday, June 15, 2007

The rebound of the telecom industry

This article in BusinessWeek is a must-read to understand what is going on in the infrastructure side of i-Schools ...

Friday, June 01, 2007

Another article for SIS 2K

Here is an article in NYTimes (may require free registration) that talks about compression and source coding for audio files and how it impacts audiophiles ;-). There are samples of Norah Jones at differentr bit rates. Definitely something for the SIS2K course.