Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Digitally Present?

In reading my email from this past week, I noted one article about a survey that blogger Meredith Farkas conducted of people in the “blogosphere.” According to her survey, “Library bloggers are more likely to be women, 40 years old or younger, living in a large urban area in the Midwest or Northeast, who possess an MLS but no other advanced degree, and work in a medium or large academic or large public library.” (AL Direct, 9/5/2007). Having grown up in the 60’s & 70’s, I always thought that anything “geeky,” i.e. related to computers and technology, would be dominated by males. Perhaps it is the more expressive nature of the blog as a medium that appeals to women. If anyone is reading my blog, do you have any thoughts on why blogging is so popular with women?
Most of the other demographics did not surprise me very much. Access to the Internet is better and cheaper in the large, urban areas, and the larger libraries, both academic and public, have the funding base to afford the staffing levels that will allow this activity. I was slightly surprised that the 31-40 year age range was the largest. Being new to this aspect of computer technology, I thought that bloggers would come from the next-younger group, the twenty-somethings. In Jenny Levine’s blog, The Shifted Librarian, she created a library-related version of Beloit College’s Mindset List for the class of 2011. In it, she offers “a few broad strokes” for reexamination of library services. Her comment that the newest college students “think in 160-character chunks” is telling, and a wake-up call to all of us who aspire to make knowledge and information freely available. If these young people are as terse in their thinking as in their communications, then when they seek out our services (online or in-person), will they bypass resources that are thoughtful and well reasoned in favor of quick and easy answers? And how thoughtful and well reasoned are their responses to life’s challenges? Finally, how can we, as librarians, stretch and tease-out the deeper parts of these people, the ones we will have to rely upon in our old age?
When I was in high school in the late 1970's, we were all required to read the book 1984 by George Orwell. In it, "Big Brother," the government that watched everyone, was aggressively destroying language by cutting it to the bare minimum. Who needs a government to do this when our gadgets will teach us to do it, all in the name of keeping in touch? In the September 2007 issue of ALA's American Libraries, Joseph Janes writes "Your location doesn't matter as much as your presence." In phone conversations one can be "present" for another, and the recipient can tell because of our tone of voice, our silences, and other non-verbal forms of communication. We can infer the same level of presence in electronic communications, but we cannot be as sure that the friend(s) on the other end are listening as intently as we would like. Is digital "presence" as truly intimate as physical "presence?" Only as much as a postcard is like a hike through the giant redwoods of California.


Bonnie said...

In reference to why possibly more women librarians blog, my guest would be that there is simply more women librarians in their 40s than men librarians.

Mary Alice Ball said...

Todd, you raise so many wonderful questions in this post. I don't know about the gender of blogging and I am not sure how rigorous Farkas's survey research was. I'm already sick of blogging (Can I make this admission and still ask you to blog? YES). I think my problem is that it seems like a variation of contemplating one's navel. Way too ego-centric.

At this point I've forgotten your other questions but remember the point about 1984 and what our gadgets are doing for us. It really does amaze me how willing people are to give up their personal information in order to get a free online gift or the like. Government isn't what we have to worry about, it's the marketing industry and the companies that utilize them.