Thursday, September 24, 2009

Community and Interaction in the Digital World

One of the things I find fascinating about the evolution of the Internet is the fact that even as our potential ability to interact with each other and build a community is expanded, something is lost. My boyfriend used to play World of Warcraft continuously, which he claimed was basically as good as hanging out with his friends, since they were all online. I begged to differ.

Is anything lost with the increasing digitization of primary sources? Convenience and accessibility are fabulous things, especially in our fast-paced society. But isn’t there something to be gained by having to travel somewhere and search its archives? I have a romanticized view of Gandalf in Fellowship of the Ring crouched over ancient scrolls, mumbling old languages and smoking his pipe.

So we don’t get to do anything that fun. But if I could go to Ottawa to look at something instead of pulling it up on the Internet I’d jump on the chance. Scholars managed to find funding for these endeavours before the Internet convenience revolution. Hopefully it won’t be lost.


  1. Dana -- The other side of that coin is that we're using these new technologies in order to preserve primary sources as older technologies becomes outdated. For instance, we're getting to a point were not only are cassette tapes from the 1970s and '80s deteriorating at a rapid rate (and therefore it's dangerous to play them for fear of ruining these master copies), but also, it's getting harder and harder to find cassette PLAYERS.

  2. I find digitization or archival materials a very interesting topic. While it can be great for preserving media like cassette tapes, we cannot forget that digitization does not stop there. There will be a constant need for digital migration of the data to newer media so as not to lose the digital content.

    Dana, I think you are on to something when you say that something is lost when we use digital documents rather than the real thing. Documents have an artifactual value that can be hard to quantify, but is nevertheless there. To use an oft-cited example, looking at a picture of the Mona Lisa is totally different from the experience of looking at the real thing. And while accessibility online is great, ideas of accessibility are not always the primary concern of archives (and they certainly wouldn’t let Gandalf smoke in the reading room!)

  3. Perhaps it's just a romanticized notion, but I do agree with Dana that something is fundamentally different between a visceral and digital experience. Sensory experience can help to elucidate our imagination in ways that viewing a document on a computer cannot. I was thinking of the physicality of the Weldon stacks and how it actually fosters a greater sense of 'Academia' for lack of a better word. I have been going to Weldon for about 6 years now and truly believe that the cold and faceless concrete accompanied by the undecorative stacks places you in a great mind frame for discovery and learning. This library is not about comfort, its about books! Being contained in such an environment certainly transforms my own interpretation of what I am engaging in. This usually allows me to focus deeper in the book/document which generates a more imaginative interpretation. I find that wandering through the stacks has a meditative effect on me which accentuates my already heightened imagination. I just can't get the same type of experience from reading the same documents/books off a computer screen.

  4. I definitely have an idea of what a library is supposed to look like, but somehow I think it comes more from the 19th century, as opposed to the 21st. And there are definitely more busts. Think Beauty and the Beast library. I think it is going to take me some time to warm up to Weldon, because it is a little more stark than I am used to.
    I think you raise a very good point about the funding though. You won't get funding to see these places, which is a shame. But at least there may be not as much need to compete for funding.