The other day I was in the local coffee establishment and it was a fairly typical scene. People were enjoying their beverages, some were reading the newspaper, and there were a group of ladies talking. However, all of a sudden the ladies exhibited some behavior that I thought was more typical of my friends and me. They all got up, walked 5 feet to the adjacent bank’s two public use internet computers (yeah, interesting by itself), looked something up, and gathered around the monitor to discuss.
This really was reminiscent of how conversations often play out around my house. A topic is raised, ideas are exchanged, facts are called into question, someone gets the laptop or goes to the desktop to verify. Then everyone is called to the computer to see/hear the latest funny/gross/interesting video/song/trailer. I realize that I’m not too unique in this regard, but I had never seen this phenomena from the outside before. It served to illustrate that we should never assess people’s tech skills and competencies without seeing them in action!
Some questions: Could these ladies have continued their conversation without connectivity? How much did their search add to their discussion? On a larger scale, to what extent will our conversations become dependent (or to what extent are they dependent) on the web? Is this a bad thing, or is it a coping strategy? Or both? Or neither?^1^
Take a look at Will Richardson’s post The Joys of Shallow Thinking. I had an, “Ohhh, so that’s what I’m doing” moment while reading it. I clear out my Bloglines account a few times per day, but I don’t read every post. Instead, I scan and generally open anything interesting in a new tab. I then take a look at the tabs, and file appropriate things away for possible retrieval.^2^ Really, I’m applying some of my on-the-job skills to my personal life by creating a personal web-based (and sometimes in print) reference library. Again, there’s less of an emphasis on what I know (though I do know a few things), and more of an emphasis on knowing how to learn more when it is needed. I think I’d like to be doing a bit more ‘deep reading’ but this ‘shallow reading’ is sure convenient and also good for cocktail parties.
This is all related to the concept of continuous partial attention, which (now taking this back into the library) is a great way to think about a reference librarian’s relationship with the reference and circulating collection, databases, and the web. We have awareness of information coming from all of these place, and we select, process and combine data from sometimes disparate sources to best meet information needs.
^1^ Imagine what it will be like wwhen people are relying on fully realized three dimensional worlds to have conversations! Sounds fun and scary.
^2^Flock’s del.icio.us integration is making this really easy, by the way.