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Papyrus – Cypberspace

From Papyrus to Cyberspace – Books are Technology

The codex, in the hand, bound by a spine, is a handy little thing. According to O’Donnell, it facilitates non-linear access of text, when compared to its predecessor, the manuscript. A similar benefit can be found in the non-linear world of computer text.

The question was asked whether books would become obsolete with the advent of computer technology, as the manuscript did with the advent of this new technology. Will hypertext and e-readers eliminate the need for a book in the hand? O’Donnell thinks not, and I would agree, with some qualifiers. The costs and benefits are inherent in the nature of the books that will be printed vs. produced electronically.

Based on conversations and observations, books of certain ‘worthiness’ will continue to be coveted and collected by all members of society, even those hardened technology users. Books of the ‘read and leave’ variety will need to change to e-formats because they will be consumed and then deleted. (Where will that leave textbooks?) Those of the quality of Mark Twain, well, those will take up treasured space on library shelves for a long time.

A second concern expressed in the talk referred to the need to go through memory, language, experience, and articulation to solve problems. In other words, problem solving is hard work. Thinking and problem solving is hard work. The fear that computer technologies with instant response, instant answers will make people less likely to dig deep, work hard, rely on the ‘word processor between their ears’ is a real one. Educators need to work to challenge the notion that computers can solve all the problems. O’Donnell and Egan indicated that experience, thought and expression become even more important as technology changes the complexity of societal issues.

Egan provided a visual image for me in his analogy of technological revolutionary change as happening more like an onionskin, with complicated gains and loses being peeled away as the technology is integrated. As an example, each small decision by a library to purchase a specific electronic journal collection or paper copy of journals adds layers to the ‘evolutionary’ change that the library takes. It made me reflect on each technological decision I have made in the past to bring technology to classrooms, teaching practice and professional dialogue. I see it now as a layering of my own experiences, thoughts and expressions brought to the problem of what to purchase, how to integrate it, where it was most needed, etc.

The statement ‘we are victims of 100 yrs. of monologue’ caught my attention but it was used in terms of mass media. This victimization has also occurred in education. Education has been a one way delivery system of expert, text based information down to student. That has now changed dramatically with the advent of a proliferation of readily available information (both trash and treasure). The comment “watch what happens when we rediscover how to talk to one another and have a mass dialogue” was made before the advent of Twitter and Facebook. This form of global dialogue may be one of the new frontiers O’Donnell refers to.

The final thought, as it impacts education, writing and text came from O’Donnell’s comment “new forms of print create unpredictable change in human roles and human geography”. This statement makes me wonder where the frontiers of social media will take educators – what roles will we need to change and how? What will the human geography of educational systems look like once this frontier becomes the new civilization?

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