Hello 2018

Welcome. This blog has existed occasionally since 2005, which you can tell from all the broken links. Back then being critical of technology wasn’t so popular. Now it is and everything is on fire (as the kids say, I think).

The header illustration is from a Spanish artist’s site that I can no longer find. 🙁

Keep on innovating everyone.

Mark Slouka on the humanities vs. “mathandscience”

There’s a good, contrarian piece in the September Harper’s by Mark Slouka called “Dehumanized: When math and science rule the school.” It’s certainly not the first plea for the continuing importance of the humanities in a society that no longer values them, but it’s a well argued one, I’d say.

(It’s print or subscription only, thus no link.)

Sorry for not blogging much lately. I blame Twitter, partly, for leaving me with less blogging energy. (Find me there as @karthur.)

Kranzberg’s Laws of Technology and History

In his CHI 2008 keynote, Bill Buxton mentioned Melvin Kranzberg’s Laws of Technology.  These are from a 1986 article in Technology and Culture called "Technology and History: Kranzberg’s Laws" (available here for $10 and probably elsewhere).  These are the laws, via Wikipedia:

  1. Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.
  2. Invention is the mother of necessity.
  3. Technology comes in packages, big and small.
  4. Although technology might be a prime element in many public
    issues, nontechnical factors take precedence in technology-policy
  5. All history is relevant, but the history of technology is the most relevant.
  6. Technology is a very human activity – and so is the history of technology.

I don’t think these are terribly useful without further explanation and context.  Here is an interview in which Kranzberg expands a bit on the first and fifth laws: Missionary: An interview with Melvin Kranzberg.  The same site has excerpts from Kranzberg’s papers.

Melvin Kranzberg was a historian and one of the people who founded the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT) in 1958.  He was also SHOT’s first president.  The image above is from special posters that were made for SHOT’s 2007 meeting that celebrated the society’s 50th anniversary (a two-year celebration that continues at this year’s meeting in October in Lisbon).  The above links are also from the 50th celebration pages.  There’s a lot more on that site, too, though the navigation is a little lacking.

SHOT is worth joining, even if you’re not a historian.  It’s relatively cheap and comes with a print subscription to Technology and Culture, their quarterly journal.  I joined it a couple years ago for this reason.  Most of the articles are quite readable to a layperson like myself, and T&C attracts material from a wider group than just historians, such as sociologists and people in science and technology studies.  (Sadly, they don’t have all their archives available to subscribers yet, which is why I haven’t read the "Kranzberg’s Laws" article — well, that and other priorities).

Libraries and Denial

Over at Library Juice, Rory Litwin has started an interesting discussion about the mission of libraries today.  He begins:

I would like to propose that the current era in librarianship, which
is normally characterized as a “period of rapid change,” is perhaps
better described as a period of denial. It is a period in which
librarians are scurrying to disassociate themselves from their own
profession as it tends to be thought of, with a sense of desperate

What am I talking about? I’ll exaggerate a bit to make my point. I’m talking about librarians who say,

We’re not about books! We’re about computers! Don’t associate us with
books! We don’t want to be saddled with that! When people hear the word
“library,” we want them to think words like “Future,” “Hi Tech,”
“Information Age,” and “Shiny Gadget!” Fellow librarians, don’t even
use the word Book! It’s a no-no! Bad word! Hurts! Pretend you don’t
even know what one is!

Link: Librarian: Accept Yourself

Here in the Bay Area I just noticed that my local library is pushing a new campaign called Free2, which seems like a big effort to rebrand the library as pretty much anything but a place to borrow books (it’s a "21st century community center").  The blurb:

This campaign is designed to raise awareness of libraries in the Bay
Area (at least initially). It encourages you to visit more often,
whether that means stopping by your local branch to check out the
latest video game or accessing the online catalog or participating in a
program or activity.

It challenges stereotypes of dusty
bookshelves and shush-happy librarians. It promotes how libraries sit
in the heart of our communities. It recognizes that our libraries are
among our most revered public institutions. It honors their great
legacy of innovative partnerships. And it demonstrates an important
fact in the Digital Age — that our libraries are the number one point
of Internet access for millions without connectivity at home, school or

Indeed, the question is not whether libraries are
relevant today. But whether they can keep pace with the increased
demand for their services and materials. With your help, they can.

And if you can come up with a good slogan for the campaign you could win an iPod or a video camera!

To their credit, I did find some mention of books on the site.  The video on the front page is of library users saying what they like about their library — turns out some of them go there for books (who’d have thought?).