21:3 (2006:09) 21st Conference: Things Fall Apart

August 31, 2006 at 11:24 am | Posted in Conference Reports, Vision Sessions | Leave a comment


Things Fall Apart

Robin Sloan, Online Studio Futurist, Current TV
Reported by Ellen Barrow 

Robin Sloan, formerly of the Poynter Institute and News University and now of the website Current TV, presented a brilliant program entitled “Things Fall Apart.” Sloan can best be described as an “online studio futurist.” His program featured the film presentation 2014, about the demise of print journalism and the rise of information conglomerates such as “Googlezon,” a possible combination of Amazon.com and Google. The film paints a stark vision of change that radically alters how we should think of information in its present forms: print, electronic, blogs, wikis, and podcasts.  

All of these entities present to librarians a challenge to wake up to the new possibilities of information controlled by ordinary people, not only editors, journalists, or educators.  Everyone will have a stake in how information is gathered, edited, sold, exchanged, and categorized.   Sloan predicted that by the years 2009-2011, libraries would be popular again with people checking out books that they could scan, an activity which will be encouraged by a fictional “Access Army,” organized on the precept of “no price, no password!” This trend will continue, according to Sloan, until 2016, at which time the Internet will eat through everything and the “Access Alliance” (“A” for access) will be formed.  Information as we now know it will cease to exist in its present form. People will be able to edit, create, and categorize information without “Googlezon” companies, journalists, editors, scholars, publishers, and so on. People will count on each other and their social groups to obtain information. There will be open access to everything.  Robin Sloan predicts that an entity called “EPIC” will develop where computers will “understand” books and people will be able to produce, change and restructure the flow of information.  Some of these events are happening now, or are close to happening with technologies like ipods, wikis, and blogs, but we are just scratching the surface. People will be the producers of information based on their communities’ needs and their own desires. Information will be fluid and flexible, not unlike a biological cell, evolving and duplicating like the other cells surrounding it.  Biology will have an impact on this revolution of access to information–people not PCs will make the difference.   

We have to be open to these changes and participate actively in the exchange of emerging technologies and ideas. As librarians we must continue to encourage access as much as possible and ensure that everyone who needs information gets it. We must expect and welcome the fact that how we use information in the current situation will have a direct effect on the future. Access for all starts now!  All of these issues reduce down to one biological element—people are the key to access and the control of information. Whether the future is holistic, human and growing when it comes to information or stark, sellable and closed is up to all of us.


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