The New York Times is running an interesting series called “Your Brain on Computers,” which investigates the impact of technology on everyday life. According to the NY Times, the series aims to examine “how a deluge of data can affect the way people think and behave.” So far, the series comprises three articles:
Of interest as well are some of the sidebar information:
As you can probably tell by the headlines, many of these articles paint heavy use of technology as a potential danger. For example, in Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price, Matt Richel writes:
While many people say multitasking makes them more productive, research shows otherwise. Heavy multitaskers actually have more trouble focusing and shutting out irrelevant information, scientists say, and they experience more stress.
And scientists are discovering that even after the multitasking ends, fractured thinking and lack of focus persist. In other words, this is also your brain off computers.
I would imagine most readers of this blog have a more positive experience with technology than presented in these articles. Do the research and anecdotes reflect your experiences with technology?
<update>Steven Pinker, in his article, Mind Over Mass Media also from the New York Times, is not responding directly to the Your Brain on Computers series, but he certainly is addressing very similar issues and presents a seemingly contradictory point of view:
Critics of new media sometimes use science itself to press their case, citing research that shows how “experience can change the brain.” But cognitive neuroscientists roll their eyes at such talk. Yes, every time we learn a fact or skill the wiring of the brain changes; it’s not as if the information is stored in the pancreas. But the existence of neural plasticity does not mean the brain is a blob of clay pounded into shape by experience.
Perhaps it’s safe to say the jury is still out on these issues.
For most of us smartphones have become indispensable in how we communicate, consume, and connect with information and people. But guess what, it’s not happening through voice calls. Recently CTIA, the wireless industry association released that the average number of voice minutes per U.S. user has fallen for the last two years, and that the average time taken for local calls was just 1.81 minutes in 2009, versus 2.27 in 2008. It shows that the number of text messages sent by the average U.S. user spiked 50% in 2009 from the previous year. What this says to me is that the mobile future is here, but is your library ready for it?
With this change, your services should also to be accessible. You can do this in a number of ways. You can do this by having a mobile interface which is especially designed for viewing on mobile devices or just have a mobile OPAC. Here is an example from the Auburn University Library in Auburn, AL. Some libraries have taken it a step further and created mobile applications through iTunes that do everything from searching the catalog, to your hours, locations, and directions to branches via Google Maps like the District of Columbia Public Library. Others are creating mobile library tours where patrons can either download video or audio to their mobile device or library loaned equipment. The best part is some of these are in different languages.
Another avenue is SMS (short message service). Through this you can see if the book you requested is available, get due date reminders, request a loan, renew your materials, get your fines, check the availability of a book, hours of the library, alerts to programs, and reference services. Lastly, you can have mobile collections through services like Overdrive via their Apple or Droid applications, instruction through podcasts, and language services.
To remain relevant in this mobile age you need to try and have at least one if not all of these services depending upon your location, size of population served, and patron technology level. The future is in your hand, it’s your choice to respond.