War and Peace: Reflection on Literature in the Digital Age -Part 2

The reward of reading War and Peace was much more than being able say I got through it.  The reward of reading is always the experience of deep thought.  Having viewed both a movie version and a made-for-TV version, I had an idea of the overall story, but a reader not only has the creative privilege of designing the sets, the costumes, and actors, the reader gets to contemplate the philosophical concepts embedded throughout. And War and Peace certainly is chock full of philosophical meanderings.  What does it mean to exist as a human?  What is power and what is free will?  What are truth, beauty or love?  Did God design it all? This book is so much more than the story.

The story of War and Peace is basically a love story, which surprised me! Although there are vivid battle scenes of the War of 1812, descriptions of society a hundred years before Downton Abbey (and the production values I created in my mind were ever so lovely), and financial ruin during times of duress, the overarching theme is love.  The characters desperately seek the meaning of life through encounters with power, money problems, death, and the contemplation of free will. Spoiler ALERT! Love, it turns out, is the ultimate meaning. The Beatles were right! Love is all you need.

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But it really isn’t that simple.  Stating that love is the answer is like showing a picture of water and talking about how water is necessary for life.  You have to drink it to experience it.  You have to go through the journey for yourself. The experience of reading War and Peace is a far cry from the type of reading we get on the web as we scroll frantically through tidbits of thought. The experience has become a part of me, unlike the countless photos, memes, and comments delivered throughout every day through “disposable” media.

A book is a container of thought. Mental nourishment is as important as physical nourishment.  Your grandmother knew that you are what you eat. Now I am sounding like a librarian!  Everyone should read.

Well, that too isn’t really that simple.  I agree with Nicholas Carr’s suggestion (the reason I read War and Peace as stated in Part 1) that our brains are changing due to our constant connection to the Internet.  I recognize it in my own life and the lives of those around me- always leaving the present moment to check in online with our devices.  Maybe I should summarize by saying, all you need is love, a good book, and an effort to unplug occasionally. War and Peace exemplified all three and, in Part 3, I just may share an example or two.

 

War and Peace: Reflection on Literature in the Digital Age -Part 1

I just finished reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace.  For real.  I guess last night when I read the final page, it was a bit like reaching the top of the print version of Mount Everest. Having accomplished this literary feat, I certainly have enough material floating around in my head to reflect upon in more than one blog post. You may never read this novel, but feel free to join me and reflect on what it meant, what it means, and what it may mean in the future.

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The first question is: Why?

Why read War and Peace, the historical fiction novel written way back in 1869, which is often referenced whenever we speak of something super long and boring?

I simply decided to read War and Peace before it is too late.  I will explain.

Back in 2011, I happened upon Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains and his insights validated my own feelings that I was losing a grip on how to deeply focus.  We still read as much as we ever did, but in little snippets of skimming blogs and posts and scrolling through content on our mobile devices.

Several references about our lack of ability to read and absorb long passages of text were made by Nicholas Carr.  Bruce Friedman, a medical school faculty pathologist at the University of Michigan, is quoted in The Shallows, stating, “I can’t read War and Peace anymore.  I’ve lost the ability to do that.  Even a blog post of more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb. I skim it. (Carr, 2011, p.7)”  (Are you still with me? You have passed the three or four paragraph mark. I dare you to finish this blog post.  And you don’t have to read War and Peace- I promise.)

Carr also quotes Clay Shirky, digital media scholar at NYU, suggesting in a 2008 blog post, “No one reads War and Peace.  It’s too long, and not so interesting (Carr, 2011, p.111).” He goes on to explain long novels of the past are not worth the time invested and “were just a side-effect of living in an environment of impoverished access”.

Today, we have access to live information on a global scale at our fingertips and in our pockets.  We can view millions and millions of youtube videos, instagram photos, tweets, and memes created by people all over the globe. Are we really “information rich”? Carr raised this question with the warning that thoughtful people may “…slip comfortably into the permanent state of distractedness that defines online life” (p. 112). In 2011, I took that warning very seriously and I still do.

So, I read War and Peace.  And it was truly worth the effort.

Stay tuned for Part 2 – if you finished this post- and I’ll reflect on what it’s all about.

 

 

Retiring into Virtual Reality

What does a librarian do after working for 25 years in a beautiful school library?  One cannot simply walk away from information literacy.  The future of mankind depends upon it!

For nearly a decade, this blog has focused on the intersection of information literacy and global digital participatory culture (where students now live).  Futurists, such as Thomas Frey, often make fascinating predictions; however, nobody really knows what libraries and digital culture will look like in ten years.  One prediction is the rise in virtual reality tools like Oculus Rift, which I was able to experience this week thanks to my colleague from the University of Washington, Suzette Lewis and her talented computer programmer son, Matthew.

 

Valibrarian tries Oculus Rift

Suzette and Matthew are working on a research project in Oculus Rift to explore how 3D immersion with a headset and body motions differs from “flat computer screen” 3D worlds.  I was invited, along with another graduate from the University of Washington’s Certificate in Virtual Worlds, to preview the project and found it simply amazing, although I was surprised the motion of movement in Oculus Rift made me dizzy!  What!? I love roller coasters but his was totally different.  Since I was motivated to master the movements, I was moving my arms wildly and found myself falling off a high platform into water.  The graphics (created by Matthew in Unity) were amazingly realistic.

Moving in Oculus Rift

What does virtual reality have to do with information literacy and education? Consider how technology has impacted learning in the past five years.  My school library was transformed from a primarily print-based environment to a digital world of iPads and apps in just two years.  This rapid change is likely to continue in all areas of life- particularly social life as mobile devices continue to promise “connectivity” with our friends and family.  Facebook has teamed up with Oculus Rift to make shared virtual events (concerts, a child’s birthday party, or anything one can imagine) possible.  The educational potential might allow students to experience history, math, literature, art, or any other area of academics through virtual reality.

Having worked in virtual worlds for over 8 years, this concept is certainly not new to me.  In fact, immersive learning experiences (such as the Anne Frank MOOC or the Summer in Berlin Simulation) are already possible in virtual worlds without a headset.  The difference is the use of body movements rather than a keyboard and mouse.  The potential for experiences of a variety of purposes is obvious; however, one might consider the actual concept of “reality”. What actually is reality?  Is reality what is happening around us in the concrete world or what is happening within the mind?

Just as in the physical world, we have choices to make every day.  Where do we want to spend our time and place our attention?  What books do we want to read and what other media formats do we pursue?  VR will bring more possibilities which will exemplify the personal responsibility required of digital citizens. Yes, it comes down to information literacy once again.

 

Leaving the Library (a poem)

Leaving the Library

Three metaphors abide inside this space:
Life’s blood, a garden, and a treasure box.
Like blood, these books bring life within this place;
Thought circulating hands, pages, talks.
As stories link our present, future, past
Connecting everything and everyone
A tiny thread, a membrane holds steadfast
The wall twixt knowledge and oblivion.
Old dusty books are dead ’til opened up
Awakening the life within the seed
And *words devoid of thought an empty cup
No nourishment, as plant is choked by weed
A garden cultivated over years
The harvest? readers, wide-eyed wonder, awe
And meaning grasped through giggles, glints of tears.
The paradox? Imagine Shangri-La
Discovery of universal truth
Treasures of the future and days long gone
Shared, pondered, passed from aged hands to youth
Time forges. The librarian moves on.

 

By Valerie Hill upon retirement from 20 years in a library
*Lev Vygotsky

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We are All Librarians Now

We are all photographers. Download some apps and use Instagram.

We are all moviemakers. Kindergarteners use iMovie.

We are all journalists. Get a blog and a content curation tool.

We are all librarians. Organize it, people!

But it isn’t as easy as we thought…not even for me (a 20+yr career librarian).

Today, as I curated content on Scoopit (so easy- just click the button), an article on MOOCs didn’t post into my MOOC topic but posted in a different topic. Ask yourself- Who has time to go back and fix that?

With a free content curation account, I have three topics: The Future of Libraries, A Librarian’s MOOC Scrapscoop, and Transliteracy: Physical, Augmented and Virtual Worlds. Suggestions for my topics come up (depending on the search terms I place in each). Why would my click on an article suggested for MOOCs appear in my Future of Libraries topic stream? Who knows or is even the least bit interested? But I am reminded of the careful details necessary for cataloging information. Every detail matters so that the correct information is given to the information seeker who deserves accuracy.

Nobody cares anymore! (I think or I worry.)
The convenience of one click content curation tops the years I spent learning in library school. And what tops that? How many “likes” did you get? This type of thinking encourages disposable media.

Thanks for listening to my rant. I need to talk to an old newspaper guy who remembers what the world once was. I would like to live in a world where people care about accuracy and authority more than what they personally have to say at the moment.

Poem Challenge

Twitter poem challenge
Twitter poem challenge

——————————————–

Life: a journey of change mixed in a bowl
A bowl of flour stirred and gently kneaded
Turning to cement, milestones stop the clock
Like words capturing the day and the night
Milestones, glimpses of meaning in the lamp
Day follows night follows day on we go

We stare like a deer in awe of the light
In awe of the glimpse- the lamp in the dark
We gasp at the glimpse, gone ever so soon
Grasping at the bowl, the flour, the cement
Kneading and needing we must form the dough
We must find the meaning and make our mark

Leave some gift behind before we can grieve
This fleeting moment, never lost- believe

Ready Player One: a Sci-Fi Virtual World Futuristic Novel

Cline, E. (2011). Ready player one. New York: Crown Publishers.

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What a romp! With tons of references to 80s culture and the historical background of videogames, Ernest Cline’s READY PLAYER ONE captures the feeling of virtual reality. Anyone who has spent time in virtual worlds as an avatar will easily envision Parzival (Wade Watts) and cheer him on his quest for Halliday’s egg through virtual and physical peril. The novel will soon be seen on the big screen, with the screenwriter for the Xmen at the helm.

Young adult readers will appreciate the theme of collaborative teamwork as Parzival’s friends outwit the corporate geeks called “the Sixers”. Some of the futuristic innovations, such as the flicksync (where a player is inside a simulation of a movie) or the simulation of specific towns and buildings may be not that far away with virtual reality applications like Oculus Rift.

Yet these same tech savvy young people may get a warning about the openness of digital life and digital footprints. When Parzival enters a high level of the game, his friends begin giving him tips for his maneuvers. He interrupts with, “How could you possibly know all this?”
“Because we can see them,” Shoto said. “Everyone logged into the OASIS right now can see them. They can see you, too.” Cline, 2011 p354

Live videofeed and live simultaneous virtual experiences are already a part of our lives. The setting for READY PLAYER ONE puts us in a future where more of life is spent in virtual space than in physical space and most people prefer it that way. The year is 2044. Only time will tell. Meanwhile, young people are rushing toward life in digital culture and some of us (even those of us with experience in virtual worlds) hope an appreciation for the beauty of this physical earth lives on. It’s enough to make me want to “go green!”

Information Literacy in Minecraft

The library as a makerspace is really nothing new! Students have been building and creating in libraries for as long as I can remember. But, today there are new digital tools that provide exciting opportunities for creativity. Instead of simply reading about a topic (not that reading isn’t awesome), students can enter virtual spaces together to learn and interact with content.

For example, 5th grade students in my school library are embedding digital citizenship (an important concern for 21st century learners) into a virtual environment in Minecraft. The project is entirely designed and built by the students and includes a library with other buildings and spaces for hiding clues. Younger students will enter the game, search for clues and answer questions to earn their digital citizen award. The students’ roles include game designer, project manager, coder “red stone electrician”, builders, writers, and testers.

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Why Minecraft? View the slides below for some background on how information literacy is changing and how students can create in new ways.

The Ethridge Minecraft Club met after school in the Ethridge library. Younger students will soon be challenged to earn digital citizenship by entering the Ethridge Minecraft Digital Citizenship Game.

(Pictured from left to right: Travis, Emmanuel, Matthew, Julian, Drew, George, Annabelle, Ella, and Dr. Hill)

Information Infatuation: Big Data is Big Daddy

The concept of algorithms providing us all with instant information access is fairly common since we all rely daily on Google. For the past few years, I have come across predictions about Big Data changing our lives from experts in the field of information technology, such as The Horizon Report.

I just finished reading Big Data by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier which provided an overview of the pros and cons of our “continuing infatuation with data” (Wall Street Journal). My biggest take-away is a phrase which was repeated throughout the book– we are no longer seeking causation as much as correlation. In other words, it doesn’t really matter why things are a certain way — just what they are! As an information professional I am struggling with that statement and several other ideas in Big Data.

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Benefits
Anyone who has ordered books through Amazon realizes that “Amazon knows what I like!” Recommendations for titles through Amazon can be amazing and enlightening. So too, other sales companies can access our preferences and bring just what we want to us –instead of making us search for things. On a snow day (teachers love those!), I spent some time searching Zappos.com for a pair boots. Shortly after that, I noticed boots kept coming up on my web searches on many different computers. Google, Amazon, Zappos, and all the web companies are already utilized big data and collecting our personal preferences. This can be a time-saving convenience.

Consequences & Disadvantages

The authors of Big Data are concerned that algorithms can predict behaviors. An example is the father who was shocked that a company was sending his teenage daughter coupons for diapers and baby products only to find out that she was indeed expecting a baby! The company had access to big data before the girl’s father was told. These predictions might also be shared with law enforcement agencies to give them a “heads up” about potential criminals. This raises questions about privacy because a person cannot be arrested for a crime that has not yet been committed.

Big data is changing mathematical statistics and may bring about the “demise of the expert” (page 139). One human being’s intuition and a lifetime of wisdom cannot compete with millions of algorithms. In fact, the idea that correlation is more important than causation could bring (in the words of the authors) the end of theory (page 70). We live in an age that values convenience more than quality and “settling for good enough” trumps our “obsessing over accuracy” (page 191). The authors believe that “big data is transforming many aspects of our lives and ways of thinking” (page 192).

As a librarian, I value personal privacy and respect for intellectual freedom. When I read about eBooks capturing massive amounts of data on readers’ preferences- how long they spend on a page and how they highlight or take notes in a book (page 114), I was appalled at how readily we give up our privacy as readers. I don’t think the average person realizes that big data has already taken much of our privacy away.

Mayer-Schonberger & Cukier state, “If big data teaches us anything, it is that just acting better, making improvements–without deeper understanding–is often good enough”. This clashes with my educator’s philosophy and pedalogical paradigm of critical thinking and information literacy. “Good enough” is not the goal in education. The goal is excellence. Perhaps this book is slanted toward commercial business rather than education, but the changes big data will bring are on a global scale and impact all fields.

Because my research has been in virtual worlds and because education is rapidly integrating technology at all age levels, I am concerned about big data’s role in participatory global digital culture (where my students now live). The authors of Big Data believe “What we are able to collect and process will always be just a tiny fraction of the information that exists in the world. It can only be a simulacrum of reality, like the shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave”. Virtual worlds can and must provide high quality “simulacrum” and settling for less is not something I am willing to hold as acceptable. Weeding out the millions of data hits that are “not so desirable” is the challenge of information literacy each of us now faces.

Mayer-Schonberger, V. and Kenneth Cukier(2013). Big Data. New York: W.W. Mariner.

In Awe of the Stacks

(Comparing Twitter to the Library Shelves)

 

Tweet are serendipitous and I am reminded of walking through the library stacks as a young girl.

 

What is all of this?  How amazing!

COLLECTIONS

 

But there is a difference-

 
 

   
 

    

 

The library stalks were part of a carefully selected collection….curated (planted by a trained gardener and carefully weeded).

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Things have changed. The gardener or “the gatekeeper” no longer keeps out the weeds and pests.

There are tons of weeds and pests online. It is increasingly difficult to find the cream of the crop- the authentic, aesthetically pleasing, accurate information that helps individuals learn and grow toward knowledge and wisdom in the 21st century.

 

I am not in awe of these stacks.
 

Cress_keyboard-3_sprouting_other_side

 

But, I know I can still learn and be in awe of the people in my PLN.  Yes, just like the stacks…tweets are serendipitous.  Those I follow will lead toward what I need to learn.

 

I must learn to garden for myself.

 

 
Photos labeled for reuse with creativecommons licensing.