by Joe Sciacca LTLS Consultant
Each year at the ALA Conference there is a program on the Top Tech Trends. A panel of experts give their thoughts on current and future trends to watch relating to technology and libraries.
John Blyberg raised the issue of increased focus on Digital Humanities, including Google Books, concordances, and the tracking of narrative themes in text archives. He noted the increased attention to tracking the carbon footprint of our computing environment and observed that while computers use much less power when they are in "sleep" mode, they actually use more when transitioning to screen saver mode than they do when booting up. He also suggested that we may see efforts to harvest and re-use the heat generated by out computers.
Joan Fry Williams spoke about Narrative Sense-making, or the drive to construct narrative which is sometimes lost when our systems seem best designed to just spew forth massive amounts of disconnected data factoids. Sense-making is the effort to find the long line in a mass of data, and re-constructing narrative threads. She also spoke about the concept of "learning snacks", or packaged learning experiences that include data, training, and mining of information in data silos.
Clifford Lynch also noted the increasing importance of digital humanities, helping people to reconstruct 2000 years of history. He predicted that bandwidth will begin to return as a problematic factor that may hamper development of access to resources. The rise of cloud computing and the rapid increase in use of audio, video and other bandwidth-heavy applications are placing a strain on current bandwidth levels. He noted as evidence of this bandwidth constraint that Amazon recently announced that the software for their network storage service "S3" will be sent to the customer via FedEx on a physical drive rather than pushed out as a download.
John Blyberg was concerned about the future of journalism and its impact on libraries. We are seeing a loss of traditional newspapers, and along with that, a loss of the news validation performed by journalists. Libraries have an interest in a smooth transition from print news to online news paid for by micro payments. He also took note of a phenomenon he called "rapid trending" where people swarm around hot topics and send them off in unexpected directions, for good or evil. This was recently seen during the Iran election aftermath when news about the election on Twitter quickly gave way to extreme voices. Our communications tools are so rapid that they can lead to mob-like action just as a real crowd might.
Roy Tenant framed his trends with the metaphor of Flow, Cloud, and Rain. He sees that we are communicating in a fast-moving flow of information. It is not easy to see trends or reconstruct a narrative when the communication is disjointed. He asked, for example, how we will preserve the Twitter flow for future scholarly research. He noted that some e-journals now publish new articles when they are ready rather than waiting to "publish" a complete issue. He also made an interesting observation about cloud computing. Remembering back to the early days of computers, we used mainframes and connected to them via dumb terminals. All the computing power was in the mainframe. With cloud computing, we are seeing a return to that model, with the applications increasingly running on the network rather than on the PC. The long term implication here is the decline of importance the local server room, and the possible re-allocation of IT staff to public service roles as we strategically reshift resources.