While I was making homemade chicken soup for my husband-with-the-head-cold this evening, I had a brief epiphany about how I interact with technology. (The rhythm and quietly organized but nearly thought-free action of preparing food leads to some of my best reflection time. I dunno. I just roll with it. In any case…) Some librarians (insert “people” for librarians, and it’s just as accurate, I think) struggle with and sometimes refuse to do new things with technology, saying “it’s just one more new thing to learn”. I sort of sigh when I hear that as a reason to not go forward with a project, because it’s a response that’s hard to combat, and it’s a response that I truly don’t have any empathy for. Sympathy, yes. Empathy, no. That’s just not how I think.
The example that really made this crystallize for me was my daily online start-up routine. Somehow, while chopping carrots, I started thinking about MyYahoo, which I never use anymore, but which used to be the tool by which I kept up on news and events online. It’s joined a legion of other Things I Used To Do:
- I used to use bookmarks, and favorites, sorted into folders and lists and categories, on several different computers, to remember where I’d been and what I liked.
- Then I used MyYahoo to aggregate early RSS-fed content from news agencies.
- Then I made a list of links on the sidebar of my first Blogger blog, to hold blogs and “fun stuff” I liked to visit each day.
- Then I switched to Firefox, and started using the toolbar links feature.
- Then I got a shinier blog on SquareSpace, with lots of easy and fun features, and made a shinier list of daily visit links.
- Then I tried out using a Bloglines account, and was hooked.
- Then I thought I’d use a wiki to store information for regular visits.
- Then I learned that Firefox can have tabs that auto-open when I start the application.
And where am I now? Most mornings, I open my browser (Firefox) and it opens to 14 different tabs, each representing a portion of what I look at each morning, including my blog, my husband’s blog, my Bloglines account, my del.icio.us network, Facebook, the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Educause news page, my Flickr contacts page, Twitter, my email accounts, the local NPR affiliate, iGoogle, and my library’s homepage. There are a dozen overlapping but not wholly inclusive links on my toolbar, as well, which I use regularly, and several of those tabs — Twitter, Flickr, Bloglines, iGoogle, etc — are aggregators of content, just as Firefox tabs are aggregating content for me. Aggregation piled on aggregation.
We’ve come a long way from bookmarks.
I still use bookmarks, though — just for very specific kinds of things, and dependent on which computer I’m using. Portable online content management tools are far more useful for most things, since I’m mobile across machines, but work stuff stays on the work machine with no issue. And I still have that personal wiki — but it’s purpose has morphed a dozen or so times, and it’s not a daily visit. I don’t keep active and personally monitored linkrolls on blogs anymore — I use software to aggregate them and feed them into the sidebar. And iGoogle has replaced MyYahoo, though I rarely use iGoogle for much other than telling me when I have email on the same page as a search box, a crossword, and the local weather. It all overlaps, changing constantly as web sites come and go, new services emerge, old features are eclipsed, my needs change, my mood changes…
So when someone suggests that I use a new wiki regularly, or that I follow a new/different website’s content, or that we move our recordkeeping to a new platform, or any of the dozen other things that happen seemingly daily, I don’t really even blink. I just add it to my list of “stuff to keep up with”, and find a way to integrate it into my existing structures. And if it doesn’t integrate well, sometimes I drop it. If it doesn’t integrate well, and it’s very important, I modify my structures to accommodate it.
But that’s only easy for me because of who I am, how I use the internet, and how I’ve learned to use the internet. My entire understanding of the online world (and, in many ways, my professional work, since the two are inextricably linked) is based on the idea that the internet changes every 20 minutes or so, and that what I knew and did yesterday might be utterly upstaged by what’s coming up in half an hour. And because the internet has always been that way for me, I’m completely comfortable with it.
It’s not that way for everyone (and I’m not making age-related assertions, here. This is not about a generation gap, or a gender gap, or any other easily classified gap. It’s, I think, about people, and learning styles, and comfort zones, and context, and experience). And that’s one of the reasons why a new wiki or a new software platform or using a different browser or adding a new search algorithm is uncomfortable for some people and not for others.
I probably shouldn’t have needed a cooking revelation to realize that, but, well, sometimes I can be a little dense.
The question, now, is how to find common ground? How to find good, user-friendly, service-oriented, responsive solutions that we can all use? And where’s the path that takes us there? Solving is much harder than realizing.