TMI: Too Much Information

You may think “TMI” is an acronym for innuendo or a trivial amusing anecdotal incident. I would like to use it in a different context, one that points out the fact that Too Much Information is now the state in which we live.
Do you ever feel like you have reached your limit of information intake?
It is over the top…too many social networks, apps, upgrades, blogs, cloud content sites, and on and on.
Just today, I read about a school in California that has a NO Technology policy which reminded me of the Amish way of life. (I dare you to NOT click the hyperlink!) Would it be possible to turn off all of our technology applications? Could we live and teach the next generation with pencils, chalkboards, and a garden outside our window?
A few points to consider:

1. Innovation– New media technology trends are growing exponentially at this very moment. How can we give the next generation all the tools they need? For the past 5 years, I have been learning at the “speed of light!” My own children are grown and I have an interest in new media as I see my career as a school librarian totally disintegrating around me. Not to worry- I have moved on into the “e” world and so has my library, but the physical space of the library will never be the same. I have diligently embraced innovation and yet, I must admit, there is no way to keep up.
2.Prediction-I follow some futurists who predict both wonderful future trends and frightening ones (see Sherry Turkle and Nicholas Carr). How can we manage to utilize best practices when they change every single day? Academic publishing is extremely slow, yet the world is changing quickly. This topsy-turvey dilemma causes a problem of contradictions. The information hierarchy has flipped in the past 5 years. I keep saying that “the hierarchy of information has toppled” and education will never be the same.
Crowd-sourcing and user-generated content (wikipedia and youtube) are at the top of the hierarchy and the experts who have spent years studying a topic are not. How can we predict the ramifications of this toppled hierarchy? Certainly, there are both positive and negative effects.

3. Protection- Can we block the next generation from this ensaught of cyberspace, new media, and ever-changing technology? Could we be like the Amish and strive for a calmer lifestyle, modeled after an historical period prior to the hectic state in which we live? Or, would it be a disservice to deprive them of the latest technology?

4.Balance– Can we have it both ways? Can we learn to balance a high tech virtual world with a healthy physical world? The next generation has no choice but to live with technological advancement. You may agree that turning it off would be forcing our youth to live in an outdated mode. Not that I don’t appreciate the slow pace of times past! I have always said (ask my husband) that I should have been born a few hundred years ago…I love the pioneers! But the world is not taking place in the year 1825…it is the 21st century. Is a balance between the old (tradition) and the new (innovation) possible?

Our Challenge: our responsibility as librarians, educators, parents, and good citizens, is to prepare our youth for the future in the 21st century- but the skills needed are changing before our eyes! How can we prepare our youth for a future that requires skills never before seen, skills we do not posses or understand? Perhaps the answer lies within the toppled hierarchy. Perhaps the answer lies in what used to be a library- a collection of the best of mankind. The best of mankind (humankind or the collective heroic deeds accomplished throughout history) is now crowd-sourced and user-generated. Our role as information providers is to point the way toward what is meaningful. Ironically, that has always been the goal; however, since the “topple” the structure appears chaotic or blurry.

One thing remains clear- people are still people. The human brain is still the most amazing and complex thing in our universe. Two things are natural to the human brain: learning and reflection. The brain is built to learn and the brain automatically reflects learning through memories, knowledge and emotion. In this new age, on the otherside of the toppled hierarchy, each individual has the opportunity to learn, to reflect, and to contribute.
Let’s hope the contribution is more than a photo of a pizza from lunch uploaded to the latest social network tool.

Wait- maybe there have always been tons of pizza pictures surrounding, drowning each exquisite poem. Maybe we have always had to be on the lookout for a glimpse of something worthwhile amidst the clutter of the mundane.

Google’s BIG arrow points the way

“Google owns the planet.” That’s what I have been saying for the past few years. And I have been a huge fan because I love the simple, clean, white, (where are the ads hiding?) interface.

If Apple has taught us anything at all (and I do believe it has taught us much)…it is that competition is good (thanks Microsoft) and that a monopoly only minimizes quality. So- I have been rooting for other search engines, but have always found Google to be best.

I admit, I have been unable to keep my New Year’s Resolution for 2011 (stop bashing Facebook) because sometimes one must admit failure. So…I have REALLY been rooting for Google Circles. Facebook could use the competition.

The world(s)—((let’s make it plural since we live in both digital and physical and, while we are at it, let’s double the parentheses because two worlds require doubling everything))—is changing at the most rapid speed of all TIME. None of us can keep up. That’s obvious.

Today, Google surprised me with a big arrow, pointing to ME. Who could miss it? When your style is simplistic, change is noticeable.

My first thought was about marketing. The one who gets the money market is usually the winner. But something inside me resists the quick payoff mentality. My husband of many years (the love of my life) emphasizes economics as the underlying factor of most goals and the foundation of most achievements. As an educator, my focus is always on the next generation and how decisions will impact them.
Oh, the dilemmas we face every day. Are we “selling out” or are we “risking all” for the future? As I near reaching my goal of earning a PhD, a part of me dreams of sending my resume to Google (and I would strive to be the best employee ever) and a part of me wants to turn up the Pearl Jam song Indifference (really loud). I keep coming back to it… opposites.

My Father’s Wisdom

This week, my Dad celebrated his 85th birthday and I was so happy to have spent it with him in Seattle. We had another fabulous conversation (see my earlier blog post) about the exponential changes taking place in the information age. Born in 1926, my Dad can remember a world that is nothing like our world today. Old sayings like, “the more things change, the more they stay the same” or “there’s nothing new under the sun” may still apply to universal human situations; however, the revolutionary changes we are seeing in technology are, in my father’s words, “sometimes frightening”. Perhaps there now IS something new under the sun! Or, perhaps now- the more things change, the more they change again!

I think what impressed me most about our conversation was the wisdom in my father’s eyes. Even though times are uncertain and unlike any before, his acceptance of a higher power brings a calmness to the stormy sea of chaos.

On the flight back home, I was reading The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood. James Gleick points out that technology has caused discomfort throughout the history of communication. For example, when people began sending messages by telegraph in the 1840’s, they worried about privacy. “Compared to handwritten letters, folded and sealed with wax, the whole affair seemed public and insecure– the messages passing along those mysterious conduits, the electric wires” (Gleick, 2011, p. 145). So, both statements seem true– everything has changed yet everything seems the same. Each generation wonders what this world is coming to! We all grow into parents who worry about the future for our children.

I enjoy learning in this new age of information with all the new exciting new media formats. Yet, I also worry. My worries include entering The Shallows (next book on my list- which deals with what the Internet is doing to our brains) and investigating literature about the singularity. When I get to the scary parts, I shall remember the wisdom in my father’s eyes and his acceptance of a higher power.

Graduation in a Virtual World

My virtual world graduation from the University of Washington 2010 was just as real as can be. I documented the milestone with a mixed reality machinima. A year later, at the UW Virtual World Graduation for the Class of 2011, I once again recorded machinima shots. As I was recording, the speaker for the graduation class mentioned me by name and it became clear to me how virtual worlds cross time and space. The speaker (Stylianos), who lives halfway around the world in Greece, had been influenced by my machinima the year before! Through watching my Youtube video (then contacting me), he was intrigued with the UW virtual worlds course. He signed up for the intense coursework, even though it meant staying up all night once a week or getting up well before dawn.

The idea that I most want to express here is the revolutionary concept of meeting those with similar ideas and goals across time and space. Never before in our human history has this been possible. Chance encounters ruled our destinies in the past. Wait…chance encounters may still rule. Opportunities are always at the door and that has always been true. The ability to open our eyes to the possibilities is the significant factor.

I wrote a poem once about the seasons… and here’s a line that fits:

Over and over again
The seasons arrive at your door
Open your eyes and you’ll see
What you’ve never seen before.

My father’s intelligence is not artificial

My father is a member of the greatest generation and I have always known him to be a man of high intelligence and integrity. When my Dad said he would do something, you could consider it done. He’s now in his 80’s and one of my favorite mental pictures of him is sitting in his chair working crossword puzzles. He’s a champ at crosswords! I suppose those mental challenges have helped keep his intelligence keen and sharp.

My Dad has followed my journey into technological advancement with interest and I have seen a spark in his eyes as he contemplates how rapidly technology has revolutionized our world. He mastered computer basics easily and uses email and digital photos. Without jumping to conclusions or refusing to consider the possibilities, he even embraced my stories of virtual world tours and presentations.

Recently, in a conversation about search engines and user-generated content (such as wikipedia), he paused for several minutes. I could see in his expression that he was considering future possibilities of artificial intelligence and nano-technology. Then my Dad spoke. “I suppose, before long, people will not need to think.”

We both looked at each other and understood something about the human mind. Something about the joy of discovery…the creative genius of figuring something out on our own, using our own brain. Having every answer at our fingertips may rob of us that joy. Completing a crossword puzzle with the help of google defeats the purpose.

All my life, I have heard that man was created in God’s image. If God is the great Creator, he made us as tiny creators who enjoy thinking and learning, discovering and producing art, story, music, inventions, and everything else we can come up with. The joy that exudes from the soul can never be artificially recreated. I am in awe of my father’s intelligence.

Digitally Gracious

Etiquette, some say, has become less of a priority in our fast-paced society. Table manners are rarely taught, since most families eat on the run. We have microwaves, instant downloads of movies (no more driving to Blockbuster to pick one out), instant music choices (itunes and Pandora), and even instant ebook downloads. Educators are struggling to keep up with the technological world in which students now live. The slower pace of yesteryear (or was that just a decade ago) provided the luxury of thinking before we spoke, of eating together and actually conversing, of revising hand-written notes and letters, and learning how to build relationships through graciousness.

Currently, I am reading Sherry Turkle’s new book entitled Alone Together. Turkle writes, “Technology ties us up as it promises to free us up” (p. 32). Turkle cautions us about the future by describing a generation raised on “virtual pet toys” which often values the virtual as much, or more, than the physical. A virtual pet may require attention but real emotion is absent. Are we teaching young people the importance of thinking about others, not just themselves? Could it be that emphasis on technology applications is overtaking emphasis on human interaction?

In my National Writing Project training, a mentor compared grammar to good manners. The point of using grammar is not correctness– but clarity for the reader. Grammar shows good manners, so the reader does not have to struggle for meaning. Grammar is gracious. Is technology also changing grammar? English teachers tell me that, yes indeed, it is! Students prefer texting to email or talking. Explaining the registers of language and the importance of using good grammar and vocabulary is a huge challenge for teachers. Sometimes, it doesn’t even seem relevent. Will students need to have good penmanship in ten years and will they have the attention span to read the lengthy descriptive passages of a 19th century novel? Patience and perseverence require graciousness.

Times are changing and I am not one to stand in the way of change and hold on to antiquated modes. Language is a living, changing thing. It is inevitable that our words and our grammar change with the times. But consider this question… If we accept the changes in linguistics, the changes in information and communication modes, must we also give up good manners? Whatever technology innovations become widely adopted, can we humans remember that it is people behind them? Can we remember to care more about people than the inanimate tools we create? Can we find a way to be digitally gracious?

The Stacks

I used to wander through the library as a child and I remember the  feeling of awe and wonder.  “What is inside those big thick books?”  “What is in this section called Philosophy?”

Of course, I had my favorites- the 800’s literature and poetry and the YA fiction section.

I stumbled onto Edgar Allen Poe and Keats and always walked through the stacks… wondering.

Now…with digital content and online search engines,there are no stacks. I get back wepages that directly correspond to my search terms and keywords. Sure- there are sites like stumbleupon, but I still retrieve hits that relate to my personal search terms. Have we lost serendipity?

Are we evolving into what I termed earlier as “similarization” and narrow mindedness?

Oh, how I will miss the stacks.

Similarization: Toward a Narrow Mind

I remember the first time I realized that Amazon knew my interests (If you like this book, you may like…).    Wow! I thought, Amazon knows me!  As time moved on, I found other online sites that recognized my interests.  I have found twitter a great tool for creating a personal learning network.  Lately, I have seen many people similar to me pop up, along with the suggestion of “who to follow.”  What a great way to share ideas and build a community across distance.

And the same idea leads me to consider RSS newsfeeds and blogs.  But, consider this-  if each of us continues to click on the follow button when something is similar to our way of thinking, don’t we move more and more toward narrowmindedness?  One of my favorite child developmental psychologists, Lev Vygotsky, believed that we learn in collision with others.  We learn best by meeting a challenging point of view, not by narrowing our outlooks and surrounding ourselves with our own point of view.

Where will this lead?  Who knows?!  But- please- disagree with me and teach me something.  The more I learn, the more I realize how little I know.

QR Codes for Information Delivery

I recently saw (for the first time) a QR code on the back of a book in a book store. Using the I-nigma app on my phone, I scanned the QR code and viewed the author’s website. Potential for QR codes is growing–t-shirts and other items might have QR codes.

I created a bookmark for teachers in the school library using the I-nigma QR code creator. The bookmark shared my blog, our collaborative wiki, and our Schooltube site.

At our last family gathering, I shared QR codes linked to youtube family videos on greeting cards. The teenagers thought it was cool to scan the QR codes and view home videos. With an onslaught of information on the web, QR codes may be a useful tool to conveniently share particular sites with an audience.

This new app is a reminder of the new tech tools we encounter daily, many with similar purposes and some completely trivial.  My goal is to search for meaningful purposes, unique applications, and an awareness of the waves these new trends bring in this “sea of chaos.”