Sunday, June 18, 2006
The Travails of Technology
I'd like to blame the past few years of my secluded existence of research in the basements of libraries as the reason for my lack of current tech-savviness. However, the reality is that I have simply neglected the world of technology and it has hurt me. I admit that I feel as if I am left in the dark, and have tried to cover up my ignorance with self-assurances that I'd catch up (it can't be that hard right?)
Interestingly, my present situation is reminiscent of the period before I had bought my first computer. The world had passed me by, and I realized I was clueless about computers. I scrambled to catch up, learning everything from DOS programming to breaking apart and piecing back together PC hardware. I read religiously all the latest PC literature (PC Gamer was my favourite), shopped frequently at Dopplers (that short but legendary predecessor of "Futureshop") and kept up to date on all things computer-related. (I was even briefly an audio/stereophile during my studies in Electronics 11 & 12). The point is, ever since I bought my first PC, an IBM 486SX 33Mhz, I was proudly confident that I'd never fall behind in technology again.
It wasn't until I started my LIS program did I realize just how far I have fallen behind. The farther I traversed in the technological wilderness, the greater the appreciate I have for information specialists. While much of their education focused on the basics of information management, much of the "real" learning is outside of the classroom, particularly with technology, which changes at blazing speeds. If Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat represents the analysis of globalization in the early 21st century, I'd like to present my own views of the early 21st century: in particular, technology.
While Friedman has 10 ten forces that flattened the world, I have 10 forces (plus 1) which I believe have characterized technology in the early 21st century.
(1) Flashdrive - I must admit, I didn't buy a flashdrive until only very recently, when I really needed one. However, the reality is, I didn't even know (or cared) about the existence of flashdrives also until only very recently. Until now, I have still been walking in the shadows of the 3.5-inch floppy disk and 740 MB CD-RW (and also email). I never really considered any alternatives to these technologies. But the question remains, how long will flash memory linger before the next technology emerges to succeed it? Is the USB Flashdrive simply another cashgrab convenience for PC manufacturers? Or is a necessary technology?
(2) RSS - Really Simple Syndication, (or Rich Site Summary) is a form of web syndication used by news websites and weblogs. The first time I heard of it and really paid attention to its existence was in an LIS class, when someone made a facetious comment about putting an RSS feed to his webpage. I had no idea what the student, and at that moment, I was a bit worried whether it should be something I shouldn't be ignorant about. And the more I read, the more RSS comes up in everyday tech-speak. I'm glad to say that I have finally set up my own RSS feeds to My Yahoo! and am maximizing its uses. However, the question is, can RSS be considered a novel technology? Or is it merely an updated form of "Bookmarks." When I first encountered RSS, I smirked at its simplicity. Is it just a lazier method for surfers to bookmark all of their favourite links to one page? Can one not just simply click on a bookmarked link, and find the appropriate information him or herself?
(3) iPod - I must be one of the few people left which does not have an iPod - at least it feels like it. It seems as if people everywhere are carrying these tiny multicoloured machines. I am certain that there will be a day that I buy an iPod, since it's "probably" a more convenient way to listen to music and also because I obtain all my current CD's from MP3's, at the back of my mind, I question whether the iPod is any different from a CD Discman. I've grown to love the feel of taking out and putting back in a physical entity; until I get used to it, listening to mere digital bytes feels somewhat "un-audio" (perhaps reminiscent to the audiophile who still cherishes the vinyl). Which leads me to the question: just how many listening devices will I need to buy for other people's birthdays and xmas'? How long will the MP3 player last among long line of deceased products, i.e. the record, 8-track, audio cassette, CD)?
(4) Google - I am embarrassed to admit that I have never thought too much of "Google" until this year. It's been around since 1999. However, I've always preferred Yahoo.com as my preferred search engine, mostly because of nostalgic reasons (it was the "first" popular search engine), and secondly because of ignorance. Up until this fall, I have still regarded Yahoo as my preferred destination for online information retrieval. In fact, I never really thought too kindly to the overly simple interface of Google. (It's just a lazy blank screen around a search box! Until I realized that was its main purpose. . .) However, my question is, can Google last? Is it more than just a search engine for information retrieval? Or is it multimedia corporation? It seems that it is leaning towards the latter. However, I have seen the rises and falls of the Alta Vista's and Lyco's; time can only tell whether Google will follow suit. I remember I was an avid proponent of Northernlights.com, which for a while was ranked as the #1 search engine by many. Now, it's sadly lost its original domain www.northernlights.com.
(5) IP Address - An Internet Protocol Address is a unique number that devices use in order to identify and communicate with each other on a computer network. In the mult-complex world of the world wide web, it is really the only piece of information uniquely distinguishes one computer from another. If used properly, authorities can help solve online crimes simply by tracking down the user's IP address. With this said, I am still puzzled by its exact nature. What I do know is that it can be a user's worst nightmare if handled carelessly, such as adding a wireless router to an existing network.
(6) Blogs - They are websites ("weblogs") where regular entries are made (such as in a journal or diary) and presented in reverse chronological order. Although I am a huge proponent of blogs, it was not until very recently that I opened an account and realized its exceptional usefulness. However, with this said, I sometimes question the popularity of the blog, and also wonder how long it will endure. I first got introduced to the world of blogs, and really learned its nuances, when I completed an assignment on blogs. The more I read up on its history and its functions, and the more I blog, the greater the deja vu feel that I have of Geocities, Xoom.com, Angelfire.com, which are free webhosting services ever so popular in the late 1990's and early 2000's. I remember fondly in highschool and my undergraduate days when I would post most of my thoughts online, not unlike what most users of bloggers do nowadays as well. Its popularity has died down considerably (along with Yahoo, incidentally). Which leads me to my next point: are blogs simply an updated version of Geocities in a simplied form, minus the basic programming and graphics options? Or is it a start of something new, of how communication will eventually evolve among the online community? Of the new Internet 2.0?
(7) Podcasting - Podcasting is the method of distributing multimedia files, such as audio programs or music videos, over the Internet using either the RSS or Atom syndication formats, for playback on mobile devices and personal computers. Podcasting is among the technologies which I have had the least experience with. However, my first impression is that they eerily resemble the realaudio or mediaplayer videos which often complement the content on webpages. However, without enough experience with podcasting, I cannot really argue whether they are a continuation or are indeed an entirely different format. (Perhaps they fall in the middle?) What is certain is that they have a great deal of potential for change, both as a format and its usage.
(8) Bluetooth - The first experience I had with this technology was when a friend of mine was transferring photos she had taken from our trip to another friend sitting beside her. As they were waiting for the photos being uploaded, I was silently wondering what bluetooth meant, and what exactly was happening in that invisible exchange of digital technology. Quite simply, Bluetooth is not a technology, it is an industry specification. Bluetooth is an advanced wireless radio signal, very much like the ones used for wireless modems and networks. However, Bluetooth is a radio standard primarily designed for low power consumption, with a short range (power class dependent: 1 meter, 10 meters, 100 meters) and with a low-cost transceiver microchip in each device.
(9) Digi-cams - I was one of the first among my associates to have access to a digital camera when I purchased a Samsung Digital Camera Cellphone (the price still stings as I think about it). But I proudly took pictures of wherever I went to. Nowadays, the irony is that almost everyone has a digi-cam because nearly every new cellphone comes with one, while I have reverted to using an ancient cellphone which doesn't (the reason is that my digi-phone got broken). Nonetheless, digital photography is the current preferred format of photography; and sadly, the old darkroom photo-finishing appears to be near its end. While I'll miss the wonderful days of almost fainting from the chemicals and knocking into people in the darkroom, the fact is digital photography is a new and refined method of producing better photographs. Like the digital audio, it can refurnish the past by making them clearer and last longer through digital archiving. However, the fact remains that although digital photography is superior, it can never replace the nostalgic price of clicking and hearing the shutter of the analog camera.
(10) Bit torrent - Peer-to-Peer (P2P) has had a long history in online technology. In fact, without it, there can be no iPod and MP3. Unfortunately for the music industry and to a certain extent, the movie industry, much of the material transferred among P2P users is free, and any notions of otherwise is frowned upon by the P2P community.
Napster was the first widely-used peer-to-peer music sharing service, and it made a major impact on how people, especially university students, used the Internet. Despite a major lawsuit forcing its shutdown in 2002, it seems as if its demise only triggered a rebellion againstthe establishment as there are increasingly more P2P programs readily available for download, from all different regions of the world. The "new" Napster on the block is Bit Torrent; it has produced a multitude of offshoots such as Bitcomet (my personal favourite). But regardless of the legalities and its aims and objectives, the question also remains whether P2P will survive the next onslaught of new technologies. I remember fondly dialing up on my 56K modem, eagerly anticipating finishing my download of a 3.5MB song in an hour via an internet site, only to move onto downloading entire disc-sets in half that time. How long will another newer, faster, and cheaper product or service come along?
(11) This entry would be ironically bare without the very information which I obtained it from. Wikipedia is increasingly becoming a verb such as "googling," and if not for its lengthy name, it would be christened a verb even sooner. Simply put, Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia. It is open for all online visitors (with the IP address copied and tracked down) to edit its content. Wikipedia is written collaboratively by volunteers, allowing articles to be changed by anyone with access to the website. Wikipedia has redefined the way that information is published, and is part of the trend of "open access" publishing. Personally, I find the information invaluable, and I hope that it will continue to evolve along with the internet.