Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Web 2.0 and the important questions

(Originally posted Tuesday, 8/28/2007 on my other, activist blog.)

I found this on AL Direct, dated August 22, 2007:

In this future scenario, you could go mall shopping with a gang of friends during a lunch break, even while you remain miles apart. In reality, you'd all be pinned to your work terminals, but on that screen you would be transported to a digital replica of the shopping center. As you walk by a sale at a virtual jeans store, Web cameras in the real store let you see how crowded it actually is, in case a popular item is selling out. Your avatar, set to your body's measurements, tries on the jeans and spins around to show them to your pals. You might buy the pants online or visit the physical store later. Either way, you'd have had a fun afternoon without leaving your cubicle.

What is so wrong with this world that we need to create a virtual one? Wouldn’t it be better to fix the one we have? While “Web 2.0” may be a useful way to delineate the qualitative changes in the way the Web is being used, scenarios like the one listed above raise red flags for me. Whether it is “Library 2.0” or “Web 2.0,” some underlying assumptions need to be examined. As with every new product or technology, the proponents tout all the things it can do, and all the benefits it will provide. The unspoken assumption is that everyone has access to these advances, and the ability to learn to use them effectively. This is simply not true: the “digital divide” is growing, perhaps even faster than the levels of economic disparity, in this country. Technology without compassion becomes just another tool for creating a gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” O’Reilly’s article suggests a number of criteria to use in evaluating whether or not something is truly “Web 2.0." I suggest that librarians, with their dedication to serving the needs of others, ask of any new advances:

  • What assumptions do the proponents of this technology make about such things as access and ability to pay?
  • Who has the most to gain from this new technology, especially in terms of power and money?
  • Who will lose money and/or power with these changes?

If we are not careful, we will continue to isolate ourselves in our cocoon of technology from the painful truths of Real Life 1.0, such as poverty, abuse, neglect, violence, corruption, and injustice.

1 comment:

Sue said...

Your final sentecne answers your earlier question re: why people choose Second Life instead of Real Life. Poverty, war, and many other big problems that one person cannot resolve makes us feel impotent. But in Second Life, you don't feel impotent. You feel powerful! You can create your world. I understand it. I'm just fearful that it will lead to an ever-growing disconnect between individuals' responsibility to a world outside of themselves. How will a sense of "tikkun olam" --healing the world--be instilled in children of technology? Out of sight, out of minf -- it's so easy to ignore what is out of sight, be it Iraq or victims of Katrina in New Orleans. How do we cultivate a sense of the sacred in children today, what with all the gadets and computer games? Look at any children's area in any library, and children are seated before a computer with eyes peeled, hardly blinking, and their little hands on those big mouse-s, with too-big headphones on their little heads. They're happy interacting with computer programs. It would be OK if it weren't absolutely gorgeous outside and they weren't sitting immovable for hours on end. Why choose commitment to the messy business of human beings and social healing when instant gratification awaits you on a screen that you control with little resistance?