Quote That: The Google Effect

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The “Google effect” describes the implications of a social and technological landscape where algorithms increasingly service access to collective knowledge, encapsulate our memories, and make decisions for us. We are now becoming ever more reliant upon the technologies’ powers of reasoning and less reliant upon our own. Hence, we quickly become less vigilant and increasingly passive in our judgment of the world around us.

-Ted Hunt, Googling Gives Us Answers, But Deprives Us of Intelligence

Loneliness, Worksheets, and Why I Prefer Lectures

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There comes a time at a library desk when the librarian is alone. This was written at one of those times over spring break. I can see three people and we’re all alone together in our research worlds. Mine doubles back on itself: researching loneliness. My wife is at home and is also alone. Surrounded by voices of others filtered through the mediums of language, printed word, and the internet, I’ve spent the day musing over why it is I have a near-instant reaction against the delivery of information literacy through worksheets. They seem efficient and assess-able. They measure so perfectly each student’s understanding and progress and it is depressing and unfun. So obviously it is a problem with technology?

There are plenty of secondary reasons for this distress, but it seems to me that the underlying cause is everywhere the same: human beings, the ultrasocial mammals, whose brains are wired to respond to other people, are being peeled apart. Economic and technological change play a major role, but so does ideology. Though our wellbeing is inextricably linked to the lives of others, everywhere we are told that we will prosper through competitive self-interest and extreme individualism.

-George Monbiot, Neoliberalism is Creating Loneliness 

The technology of the worksheet is not so insidious, but if there ever was a mechanism for creating loneliness in a crowd, then dropping a sheet of paper with instructions in front of a student at a computer isolates them. They diligently get straight to work. I wonder if they know that people wrote the things they dig out of the library databases if they can hear voices in their heads and conjure up pictures of the authors, the way they do on the radio. Sometimes I make them stare at each other for a couple minutes to loosen them up and remind them of how what they read is written. It seems taken for granted that the reader has a relationship to the writer, however remote. The database has sacrificed our connections, as has the written word and all the rest. I didn’t think about it at the time, but the following assessment of a student’s life rings true:

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“It’s still a scary place for a lot of students. Your first year coming here, you can feel really isolated,” said Kevin Settee, the student association’s president. “You’re in classrooms, then you have to go home and study, and you’ve got to do your research and write your papers, and usually a lot of that happens in isolation.… It can get lonely.”

-Teghan Baeaudette, Nearly 70% of University Students Battle Loneliness During School Year

If there is one place an instruction librarian could intervene, it would be in a one-shot. Which is why worksheets just don’t seem to make sense. But as someone who holds active learning and critical information literacy dear, what sense is a lecture? Thankfully, Miya Tokumitsu was able to bail me out in my feral search for a cogent answer:

The weekly lecture, or pair of lectures, draws students together at the same time and place, providing a set of ideas to digest while reading supplementary material and breaking into smaller discussion sections. Classrooms are communities, and typically lectures are the only occasion for the entire group to convene physically. Remove the impetus to gather — either by insinuating that recorded lectures are just as effective or by making the lecture optional — and the benefits of community disappear.

-Miya Tokumitsu, In Defense of the Lecture

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Markus Spiske / Flickr

After reading that, I felt a little better. I’ve spent more time designing seminars on-the-fly. I spend more time arguing for the usefulness of all of the obscure and interlocking systems the library provides. The mechanics of these things are not the most complicated issue that today’s students face. They are mildly complex, and our partners and vendors have worked to make them more user-friendly. But the whys of them, the reasons for their seams, overlaps and splits are never explained, user manuals exist but they tend to be books on how to do research. So I’ll take that hour to two and make it the most awkward and useful that I can.

 

Quote That: The Importance of Surfaces

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(Self) Consciousness is a surface-screen that produces the effect of depth: of a dimension beneath it. And yet, this dimension is accessible only from the standpoint of surface, as a kind of surface effect: if we reach behind the screen, the very effect of “depth” of person” dissolves. -Slavoj Žižek, Organs Without Bodies, p.118

Silence, Cheating Death, and Other Problems in Research

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We always mistake the library for the world. It frustrates us that they cannot find the thing they want to say, that nobody has asked and answered the question we want to ask, that our knowledge does not map 1:1 our experience. This desire has extended to reproduce life itself. Futurists like Martine Rothblatt are doing their best to make information map onto life to make it replace a life:

In Martine’s vision, at the end of Bina’s physical life, when her body gives out, there would still be a Bina — Bina48, a robot designed to interact with the world just like the original, right down to her sense of humor. –CBS News

This is a possibility that fits the definition of a life:

Information creates the potential for an immanent activation that activates the body’s coming to be this or that and its de-forming into a field of relation, an ecology of body-becoming. –Erin Manning, Always More Than One, p.20

Propelled by the force of in-formation, life is the tendings and habits and attunments, the appetition, that activate the singularity of this or that unfolding process. –Erin Manning, Always More Than One, p.21

To put it this way a life is not necessarily organic, and information presupposes the body. The idea that a life is just what is mentioned above is a fair one, albeit obscure, where we can talk about the life of a business and the life of a pebble but what is at stake is not just the transference of a life, but the transference of a consciousness, which is somewhat hard to prove. As the philosopher Riccardo Manzotti puts it:

Information could provide a sort of recipe to build, in the best scenario, a faithful replica of a past event, thing, or organism. DNA exploits the same principle. Even when there isn’t any variation–as is the case with clones–the new individuals are not the same as the past ones: they are new individuals that have many similarities with their original. –Riccardo Manzotti, Information Won’t Make Us Immortal

This is doubly so, as Bina48 will likely insist on being conscious and act that way. The ghost in that machine will likely find ways to express its Bina-ness, but it will never be Bina’s consciousness the way Bina’s was. This comes down to the entire problem of information: it only provides the force to activate the singularity of an unfolding process, but it is never enough to dictate an unfolding process itself. Even as we store it, at its core digital information will always be communicating, and most importantly, it will never be silent. For a host of other in-formations, Bina48’s silences will never be Bina’s once she’s gone. This is because information is always an expression, a force, never a lack. Digital information can always say yes or no at the bit level but it cannot say neither.

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Writing, like all information, has the same problem. it cannot dictate the unfolding itself. Derrida points out in Writing and Difference that:

There is an essential lapse between significations which is npt the simple and positive fraudulence of a word, nor even the nocturnal memory of all language, to misconstrue that language is a rupture with totality itself. Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, p.71

Writing is isolated, and cannot express the meaning of silence. For the same reason, we cannot map a library to the world 1:1.

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Quote That: A Reason to be Wary

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Four errors concerning this molecular and and supple segmentarity are to be avoided. The first is axiological and consists in believing that a little suppleness is enough to make things “better.” But microfascisms are what make fascism so dangerous, and fine segmentations are as harmful as the most rigid of segments. -Deleuze & Guttari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi.