A prediction… NOT!!!

January 4, 2007

Normally, I try to refrain from brazen allusions to cultural artifacts of my generation… the so-called “X’ers.” However, the bon mot made famous by Wayne’s World seems suitable for describing a column written by fellow X’er Siva Vaidhyanathan, an associate professor of Culture and Communication at New York University.

I first heard of Dr. Vaidhyanathan when I attended the Texas Library Association conference in 2004. I saw him give a presentation called “Anarchist in the Library” (based on a book by the same title), which described the different ways that “information oligarchs” and “information anarchists” appropriate various modes of communication for their own purposes, and how use of information by “anarchists” can prompt legal overreactions by “oligarchs” wishing to protect intellectual property. (You can find more on these ideas in this posting by Vaidhyanathan from a few years ago.) My little newsletter summary touched on the broad concepts of his presentation, as it could do no justice to the nuances described by Vaidhyanathan.

Regarding his present column where he doesn’t predict anything, I will say that I agree with much of what Vaidhyanathan says. In fact, some of the same ideas drove me to begin my blog in the first place.

I thought that I was the only one who had not thought much about MySpace and Facebook until fairly recently. (About a year ago… which may not be so recent nowadays.) However, when asked by a phone interviewer to predict what would happen with social netoworking five years from now, Vaidhyanathan told him the following:

    “If we were having this conversation 18 months ago, I doubt we would even mention MySpace or YouTube,” I said. “I doubt the phrase ‘social networking’ would even come up, despite the fact that millions of people have been electronically networking since the rise of e-mail and instant messaging.”

In his column, Vaidhyanathan tells how people have asked him for various predictions related to technology. However, as he points out, he would be very rich if he could do so. Vaidhyanathan also mentions that various technology visionaries and gurus may be very smart people (and that some of them make tons of money, besides), but that they do not express doubt about the validity of their predictions.

Actually, I think the lack of doubt is what really bothers me when I hear the proclamations of various big names in the fields of librarianship and information science. They get up in front of librarians and other information professionals, make grand proclamations, scold librarians for being “out of touch,” and probably leave many of us feeling more shaken than confident. Either that, or we have a situation similar to that described by a colleague of mine: We learn about visionary things, think Well, that’s nice, and return to our “hamster wheels.”

Even when these visionaries do tell us what we can do to keep librarianship “relevant,” many of us don’t have the time or funding to do anything über-visionary. For a skeptical opinion piece about the “visionary” phenomenon, read To the Frustrated Trendsetters by The Annoyed Librarian.

If an expert like Dr. Vaidhyanathan refuses to predict what will become “the next big thing” in communication and technology, how can librarians even begin to follow the admonishments of visionaries? Retreating to what we used to do is certainly not a solution. However, looking at the historical role of our profession should give us a few clues, and a lot more flexibility than simply trying to outguess technological trends. (I suppose others have said something similar, but I think this is a good starting point.)

Looking at this posting, you might conclude that it’s little more than one X’er agreeing with another, throwing up our hands, and saying “whatever” while taking a sentimental journey towards Nirvana.

All I have to say is… NOT!!!


2 Responses to “A prediction… NOT!!!”

  1. Jason Says:

    I just thought of something absurd… I mention something in my posting about librarians being scolded. Talk about overturning stereotypes.

    “In a world gone mad, we will not be scolding the monkey! The monkey will be scolding us!”

    (With apologies to Kevin Smith.)

  2. Thanks very much! This is very kind.

    Happy New Year!


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