Related to my previous posts about the necessity of libraries to update digital search and research functions to fall more in line with the power of databases such as Amazon and Google Books, the New York Public Library announced that it will be partnering with a tech startup (Zola Books) to provide catalog users with Amazon-style recommendations. According to the Zola Books blog, the recommendations won’t be tied to user’s preferences or search histories, but will be generated by an algorithm that “matches users to books based on dozens of attributes and filters out irrelevant titles.” You can try the recommendation engine at http://nypl.bibliocommons.com/.
Zola Books Blog, “Books You Might Like!”
TheVerge.com, “The New York Public Library will now recommend similar books when searching”
Libraries used to be the repository of new media and technology. I remember back in the mid-90’s when the school or public library had the best Internet connection, the best desktop computers with CD-ROM and CD-RAM readers (the discs came in those clunky plastic cases that made them more like cartridges), and this amazing computerized database of all the library resources that replaced the card catalog. [Note: my mother is a school librarian, so I was more involved in library changes in the 80s and 90s than most people, probably.]
After the turn of the millennium, libraries seemed to lose their edge. Consumer technology became cheaper and cheaper, and the best tech was often at home or even in your pocket, not in the library. So the reasons I went to the library were the same after the tech explosion as they had been before: access to books and a peaceful atmosphere conducive to thinking, reading, and writing.
Most of the technological innovations that libraries benefitted from in the long-term were hidden from end users. That is, libraries suddenly became the repository not just of books, but of interactive, hyperlinked databases of information that wasn’t readily accessible from the open Internet. There are entire companies that make all their revenue by selling the database content libraries need to populate their computer systems. The side-effect of the new databases was the possibility of networking them together. This was especially popular among universities, since inter-library loan agreements benefited all students and faculty.
But inter-library loans and networked catalogs of materials are no longer as powerful as they once were relative to the newest consumer-facing technologies. There are two resources on the Internet that dwarf the scholarly usefulness of libraries, no matter how well-integrated into a loan system: digital book merchants, and pirated digital libraries.
Philip K. Dick’s fiction offers us a deeply psychological reading of the relationship between humans and objects, or between the notion “human” and the notion “thing”. PKD imagines the future, the present and the past in ways that make even normal scenes of everyday life – sitting down to dinner, playing in the backyard – seem alien and uncanny. “The Father-Thing” is an example of a story that can act as a kind of prototype for the science fictional “thing”. I will use Lacan’s mirror stage as well as some details from Dick’s text to show how “The Father-Thing” presents the Thing as a psychological force.
Max Brooks’s novel World War Z, while hardly containing its neoliberal imperialist fervor, manages to evolve the zombie genre in the direction of ecological awareness. The text is a series of interviews with survivors of the worldwide zombie apocalypse. The lattice of locations – beach, rain forest, deep sea submarine, Arctic tundra, desert, Antarctic wasteland, mountains, swamps – creates a topology, a three dimensional representation of the globe. This is epitomized by an interview with an astronaut who spent his time during the “zombie wars” orbiting Earth inside the International Space Station, keeping GPS satellites in working order. He provides the reader with a God’s-eye view, the “view from above.” The novel’s narrative structure maps the globe.
My wife was reading to our two year old son recently. I was washing the dishes, only half listening to the story, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett and illustrated by Ron Barrett. I realized that this peppy children’s book is a subversive allegory of over-consumption leading to drastic climate change and mass exodus, all wrapped in a delightfully goofy bedtime “story” whose ostensive purpose is to endear grandpa to the kids, and perhaps teach them a little something about the uses of visual metaphor.
I spent a couple of years developing Wandering Academic into a sprawling website that housed international school data, scores of uneven posts about education and technology, some random bits and pieces. It never had any focus so I scrapped it.
The new incarnation of Wandering Academic is an academic blog to test out ideas on materials that I plan to use for research or materials that I include in courses and syllabuses. This site will end up representing my academic life, from 2013 onward. If you find an idea on this blog particularly useful or inspiring – however unlikely that case may be – please link back to or cite Wandering Academic where appropriate. I welcome comments or suggestions. I welcome personal emails too. Get in touch.
All the ideas and opinions herein are my own, as far as owning an idea is at all possible. Let’s say: they emanate from me and I take responsibility for them.