Reflecting on a Decade of Technology Change

Andy Tattersall recently stepped down from the MmIT Committee after ten years as a member, taking on a number of roles during that time including Chair. Here he looks back on some of the technological changes during his tenure.

Andy Tattersall

It was the summer of 2010 when I first joined the Cilip special interest group ‘MultiMedia Information Technology’ (MmIT). It’s pretty fair to say that a lot has changed since then, especially the over the last 12 months when our relationship with technology became closer but also somewhat strained at times. In 2010 I was inspired and excited by the many new developments in technology adoption and its use in the library and information world, in particular within academia. Just after stepping down from the Committee I thought I’d take the opportunity to reflect on the changes I have seen over the past decade.

Back in 2010 we were somewhat less concerned about social media but excited by it, we could see the potential of rss as providing us with interesting content, Prezi for engaging presentations and social networks for discovering our peers and new ideas. In some ways, technology has come on leaps and bounds and in others it has led to inertia and opened up numerous Pandora’s Boxes. There has been the odd occasion when I have wondered if Web 2.0 was all that it was cracked up to be and that we would all be better learning to write html again. In 2010 there was great optimism, but that was no doubt reflected in wider society as a whole. 

How the web was won…by some

The new technology platforms that emerged post 2005 gave us all the possibility to be active participants in our brave new cyber world. We all could be journalists, artists, librarians and to some extent this has happened for many with the likes of Bandcamp, Tumblr and Goodreads. On the flipside we’ve seen the growth of trolling, fake news, phishing and cyber attacks. I wrote in The Health Libraries Journal in 2011 an article titled ‘How the Web was won…by some .

I concluded in that article that: “The third instalment of the Web will be no different from its previous incarnations in that people will still need guidance in making best use of it. It will be another landscape for librarians to explore and potentially lead the way. It will be one where the issues of privacy, governance, data protection, quality of information, and authority are still as relevant as ever.”

The Web still feels like the wild west at times, untamed, volatile and unpredictable. Nevertheless library and information professionals have continued to work tirelessly in the areas of open access, digital literacy and inequality, information knowledge and communications, all of which are underpinned by the technologies of the web. There is much work still to do and I’m sure MmIT will continue to be actively at the front of that change.

Over the past decade countless keynotes and presentations have tried (and quite often failed) to tell us how technology will shape our professional (and personal) lives in the coming years. It’s very hard to predict specific timelines for new technologies with any notable success – even the best technology giants can struggle to adapt to our changing times. Take for example Google, who have attempted and failed on numerous occasions to develop a popular social media site to compete with Facebook. Whilst most would never have predicted Facebook’s phenomenal success in eating away at Google’s main revenue stream in online advertising.

Technology predictions

One historical measure that is useful to refer to is the Gartner Technology Hype Cycle which appears every year as a crystal ball as to which technologies we should invest our time and energy in. Technology adoption can increasingly feel like playing the stock market as you invest time in one tool only for it to stall in development or cease all together whilst rivals also rise and fall. In 2010 Gartner predicted that the new and emerging technologies would include autonomous vehicles, computer brain interfaces and human augmentation as just a few incoming innovations. In 2020 things have moved on but we are still some way off before we see widespread adoption of these technologies. It’s not that Gartner has got this wrong, but it shows that technology might not move at the pace we sometimes perceive it will.  With supermarket self-service checkout machines, for example, we could be fooled into thinking that computerised customer service appeared in the last decade, but they first appeared in the 1960s with the banking system. Even twenty years after such systems appeared in our supermarkets, we are still coming to terms with the ethical and practical issues tied to such advances. In the library setting a large focus is now on chat bots and how they can be best used to support library users in a 24 hour society, and with remote working and learning, the context changes once again.Take QR codes for example, often laughed at by some quarters as a useless fad, yet in the midst of a pandemic and the need to reduce contact but also increase interaction with mobile devices, QR codes have shown they still add value and are far from defunkt.

In the past decade MmIT has proactively explored how technology can be leveraged within a very changeable profession, from the use of video, audio, social media and learning technologies to name but a few. It is a hard balancing act with a spiralling number of new tools and platforms and a decreasing capacity to explore and share them. The three technologies identified by Gartner are also just a few examples of how we’ve become increasingly aware of the ethical and practical issues relating to new technology. Ten years ago we could see the benefits afforded by the new post Web 2.0 technology boom. What we were less aware of was the problems that would follow, with inclusivity, diversity, technology overload, governance, security, privacy and the impact of technology on our mental health. Add this to our ability to assess news and the decline of information literacy as some of the complex problems that have impacted on the profession and society.

At the other end of the Gartner scale they highlighted technologies that were heading for, or were in the wonderfully titled ‘Plateau of Productivity’ zone that included, speech recognition and predictive analytics. Both of which are not yet ubiquitous but are increasingly becoming part of our professional and personal lives, certainly much faster than self driving cars. 

Dot-com

Something that I would have potentially anticipated to have happened in the past decade was a second micro Dot-Com crash as with the first one starting in 2000. On that occasion web-based companies grew quickly and out of step with their demand  so that when the economy crashed many of these already unviable sites fell with them. A second crash may not have been so dramatic as the first, but there are now countless smaller technology companies operating who are no more protected against such a crash than those in 2000. The crash ended around the time as we entered the second, more interactive phase of the Web with version 2.0. In the past 10 years countless websites, platforms and apps have emerged to solve the most niche of problems up to tackling wider societal needs. Many of these technologies have relied on an increasingly complex model of revenue streams with the aim of generating sustainable income or being acquired by a larger technology company. 

For those in the library and information community this has provided a fertile ground to adopt and utilise these newer technologies. That, however, has not been without its challenges. Firstly that many of these ‘third party’ tools can just disappear without much warning, they (often through necessity) change their income model so that they hook you in with free versions before moving certain key aspects of that technology to a premium model – they need to make a living after all. They also can be acquired by larger technology companies and left undeveloped, dismantled or mothballed. 

The past decade has seen several useful tools go offline including Google Reader, Pageflakes, Readability and Del.icou.us. There is no doubt that these technologies were much loved and useful and no doubt took up countless librarian hours in curating and organising content, but for one reason or another they are no longer with us. The same will be said of technologies we are all using now as part of our profession. Tools that we are promoting, sharing and investing time in, at some point we’ll lose some tools, although some such as YouTube and Facebook are really entrenched in their positions for the short to mid term. The landscape will change once again and even with technology empires like Facebook and Google, they may hold less relevance to future generations as they change how they access the web and consider the ethical implications when doing so. 

Whatever happens, library and information professionals will always want to explore and capitalise on the latest technologies and a group like MmIT will try and make sense of it all, ethical, cultural and practical issues all considered. The challenges are many, but so are the opportunities and ultimately we must approach technology as a force for good, but always keep a close eye on the threats and challenges.

MmIT would like to thank Andy for all his work and support over the past 10 years!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s