Tech trends, belatedly

I wrote these some time ago, in preparation for the OLA SuperConference and as part of a Trends & Quick Takes Special for the February Cites & Insights (not out yet–maybe in a week or less?). I didn’t post them here because I wrote them for C&I; I did, however, include them in a Technology Trends article for the PALINET Leadership Network.

I’m posting them here for two reasons:

  1. First, because it may be a while before C&I comes out (various disruptions, not to worry)
  2. Second, because Steve Lawson posted a really terrific “Top Tech Trend” item that has some overlap with mine–and after I noted that on FriendFeed (a comment that was intended to be along the lines of “great minds rest in the same gutter,” or whatever the saying is), he added a link to the post that suggests that he’d seen me offering similar ideas. And, you know, the more I think about it, the more I think that’s probably not true–that Steve monitored the same trends I did, had the same sense about them, and came up with his commentary wholly independently. (OK, maybe we chatted about it on LSW Meebo, back when I was showing up there once in a while. Maybe not.)

I think Steve’s post, regarding the “social software deathwatch,” is relevant and interesting in ways that my little set of trends may not be. But, for what it’s worth, here’s what I have to say. Think of it as a preview of one small portion of one essay in the February 2009 C&I.

My own take

In the Midwinter 2009 issue, I quoted from my 2004 mini-essay on the “top technology trend,” quoting Cory Doctorow and Boing Boing. Repeating part of the beginning of Doctorow’s entry: “The last twenty years were about technology. The next twenty years are about policy…” I believe that’s still true-and maybe the economic reality that emerged last year and will be with us for some time to come demonstrates that better than everything. Technology helped get us into this mess; I don’t see any way that technology will get us out of it.

Beyond that, I see these trends as vital for thinking about libraries, technology and life:

  • Limits: They exist. Your financial resources are limited; you can’t keep borrowing against tomorrow indefinitely. Deny them as we might, limits–natural resources, time, attention–don’t simply disappear. Denying limits and hiding them under various odd assumptions can lead to disasters of various sorts.
  • Business models: They matter. When you’re considering how various services for your own work and your library’s work will work, think about business models. To what extent are you relying on free services that don’t appear to have any source of revenue? What happens to your service if those services disappear? Do you have any rational basis to believe that they’ll continue to exist, grow and be developed without clear revenue sources? Your library has a business model, typically that of a community service: People pay in advance in order to fund a common good.
  • Trusting the cloud: Set aside the jargon–the cloud’s just software and services on someone else’s servers. “Trusting the cloud” has three key aspects, one particularly important where library functions are concerned: Trusting that the services will remain (see “business models”); trusting that your data will be safe; and trusting that confidentiality will be preserved. I’m not arguing that you shouldn’t use the cloud; I am arguing that you should think several times before relying entirely on the cloud.
  • Valuing existing users and services: Yes, you need to see how you can serve emerging needs of your community (your community)–but times of limits make your existing services more valuable than ever. Don’t ignore your existing users in order to court a minority of people living the digital lifestyle; find some balance. And if you find that some portion of the digerati really do have all the money to satisfy their instant-everything demands and have no intention of using your services–well, in fact, you can’t please everybody, and there’s a limit to how hard you should try.
  • Real communities: What technologies and balances serve your users in your community? The answer’s considerably different for a town in which 99% of residents are wealthy and have high-speed broadband and smart phones (if such a town exists) than it is for a city where many people aren’t online at all (except at the library), many more have only dialup at home, and $100 a month for a smart phone data service is an outrageous expense. Where’s your community–and how does your library serve your users effectively?
  • Taking back the language: That’s a group heading for a number of language-related issues. It means understanding that “Essentially free” means somebody somewhere is paying a lot of money. It means thinking to yourself “what you mean we?” when someone pronounces something that “we” or “we all” do or think. (The full phrase, from a brilliant song by Oscar Brown, Jr. regarding the Lone Ranger and Tonto, is slightly politically incorrect–although, you know, a majority of those using unfounded “we”isms are indeed white men.) It means flagging “inevitable” as a typically nonsensical substitute for argument. It means honoring skepticism while trying to avoid cynicism.

So there you have it. And do read Lawson’s commentary; it’s excellent. (Now to close this and add portions of his commentary to my Trends article–and, tomorrow or the next day, larger portions to the PLN article.)

One Response to “Tech trends, belatedly”

  1. Steve Lawson says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Walt. As I said in a comment a few minutes ago on my own post, I’m sure I did hear you mention the “business models” and “cloud” trends in a pretty casual online setting. I wasn’t really worried that I had stolen your ideas, but I’m very happy to take a bit of space to acknowledge that we were thinking along the same lines.