Technology and Changing the Way People Work

Why should we look at the theory of technology change in our culture? I think
the answer to this question can begin with a brief look at how technology has
changed the way some people work. In our culture, work is a powerful force.
For many people is defines to them (and to others) who they are. For others,
it is a necesarry evil that takes up a huge chunk of their life. In many cases,
work culture has been challenged and changed by new technology before many other
aspects of our societal culture.


One thing I can share is some examples from a profession that has felt the wrenching
changes of new technology sooner than many others. The world of librarians was
slowly turned upside down in the past ten years by the introduction of pervasive
electronic catalogues to replace card catalogues and then the slow but sure
inroads of electronic indexes, serials, and texts to replace their print counterparts.


Libraries have been in existence for at least 2000 years. They have been developed
in the form we know them in the last 500 years and the development was most
intense for the past 100 years. Although computerized systems came to libraries
over 30 years ago, they were almost always used to track the circulation of
books and did not affect the catalogues at that time. The first automated catalogues
appeared about 20 years ago and were limited to the large and wealthy academic
libraries for the first 10 years of their development.


Imagine a whole generation of highly trained professionals, specializing in
the operation of extremely arcane systems guided by rulebooks of over 600 pages
and controlled vocabularies that run to several thousand pages. The
systems they operate have taken several hundred years to develop and are meant
to keep track of the entire printed record of humankind. That printed record
itself has developed over more than two thousand years. These professionals
have particular names (that replace the common names) for these items . Books
are monographs; Magazines and journals are serials. They can even keep track
of pamphlets, sound recordings, videos and something called “ephemera”.
Now imagine this same group of professionals discovering, in the space of about
10 years, that new tools have replaced almost all of the old tools that they
have been operating. The library itself has not been replaced, nor have these
professionals, but all of their tools look different, act different, and often
require different skills to operate.


You can imagine that some of these professionals didn’t like what was happening.
I could tell you many stories from the trenches
about how these changes affected this group of people.


The research that has resulted in the Digital Cobbler started from the idea
that if so many people are repelled by the change brought by new digital tech
then maybe they aren’t being introduced to this new tech in the way that’s best
for them. This research then taught me to look at technology differently and
that, in fact, we need as many different perspectives as possible to harness
digital tools that are at our disposal.


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