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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Technology, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. YALSAblog Tweets of the Week – September 19, 2014

A short list of tweets from the past week of interest to teens and the library staff that work with them.

Do you have a favorite Tweet from the past week? If so add it in the comments for this post. Or, if you read a Twitter post between September 19 – September 15 that you think is a must for the next Tweets of the Week send a direct or @ message to lbraun2000 on Twitter.

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2. World Water Monitoring Day 2014

World Water Monitoring Day is an annual celebration reaching out to the global community to build awareness and increase involvement in the protection of water resources around the world. The hope is that individuals will feel motivated and empowered to investigate basic water monitoring in their local area. Championed by the Water Environment Federation, a broader challenge has arisen out of the awareness day, celebrated on September 18th each year. Simple water testing kits are available, and individuals are encouraged to go out and test the quality of local waterways.

Water monitoring can refer to anything from the suitability for drinking from a particular water source, to taking more responsibility for our own consumption of water as an energy source, to the technology needed for alternative energies. Discover more about water issues from around the world using the map below.

Image credit: Ocean beach at low tide against the sun, by Brocken Inaglory. CC-BY-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The post World Water Monitoring Day 2014 appeared first on OUPblog.

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3. Out with the old?

Innovation is a primary driver of economic growth and of the rise in living standards, and a substantial body of research has been devoted to documenting the welfare benefits from it (an example being Trajtenberg’s 1989 study). Few areas have experienced more rapid innovation than the Personal Computers (PC) industry, with much of this progress being associated with a particular component, the Central Processing Unit (CPU). The past few decades had seen a consistent process of CPU innovation, in line with Moore’s Law: the observation that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubles every 18-24 months (see figure below). This remarkable innovation process has clearly benefitted society in many, profound ways.

gra econ
“Transistor Count and Moore’s Law – 2011″ by Wgsimon – Own work. CC-BYSA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

A notable feature of this innovation process is that a new PC is often considered “obsolete” within a very short period of time, leading to the rapid elimination of non-frontier products from the shelf. This happens despite the heterogeneity of PC consumers: while some (e.g., engineers or gamers) have a high willingness-to-pay for cutting edge PCs, many consumers perform only basic computing tasks, such as word processing and Web browsing, that require modest computing power. A PC that used to be on the shelf, say, three years ago, would still adequately perform such basic tasks today. The fact that such PCs are no longer available (except via a secondary market for used PCs which remains largely undeveloped) raises a natural question: is there something inefficient about the massive elimination of products that can still meet the needs of large masses of consumers?

Consider, for example, a consumer whose currently-owned, four-year old laptop PC must be replaced since it was severely damaged. Suppose that this consumer has modest computing-power needs, and would have been perfectly happy to keep using the old laptop, had it remained functional. This consumer cannot purchase the old model since it has long vanished from the shelf. Instead, she must purchase a new laptop model, and pay for much more computing power than she actually needs. Could it be, then, that some consumers are actually hurt by innovation?

A natural response to this concern might be that the elimination of older PC models from the shelves likely indicates that demand for them is low. After all, if we believe in markets, we may think that high levels of demand for something would provide ample incentives for firms to offer it. This intuition, however, is problematic: as shown in seminal theoretical work by Nobel Prize laureate Michael Spence, the set of products offered in an oligopoly equilibrium need not be efficient due to the misalignment of private and social incentives. The possibility that yesterday’s PCs vanish from the shelf “too fast” cannot, therefore, be ruled out by economic theory alone, motivating empirical research.

A recent article addresses this question by applying a retrospective analysis of the U.S. Home Personal Computer market during the years 2001-2004. Data analysis is used to explore the nature of consumers’ demand for PCs, and firms’ incentives to offer different types of products. Product obsolescence is found to be a real issue: the average household’s willingness-to-pay for a given PC model is estimated to drop by 257 $US as the model ages by one year. Nonetheless, substantial heterogeneity is detected: some consumers’ valuation of a PC drops at a much faster rate, while from the perspective of other consumers, PCs becomes “obsolete” at a much lower pace.

Laptop and equipment. Public domain via Pixabay.
Laptop and equipment. Public domain via Pixabay.

The paper focuses on a leading innovation: Intel’s introduction of its Pentium M® chip, widely considered as a landmark in mobile computing. This innovation is found to have crowded out laptops based on older Intel technologies, such as the Pentium III® and Pentium 4®. It is also found to have made a substantial contribution to the aggregate consumer surplus, boosting it by 3.2%- 6.3%.

These substantial aggregate benefits were, however, far from being uniform across different consumer types: the bulk of the benefits were enjoyed by the 20% least price-sensitive households, while the benefits to the remaining 80% were small and sometimes negligible. The analysis also shows that the benefits from innovation could have “trickled down” to the masses of price-sensitive households, had the older laptop models been allowed to remain on the shelf, alongside the cutting-edge ones. This would have happened since the presence of the new models would have exerted a downward pressure on the prices of older models. In the market equilibrium, this channel is shut down, since the older laptops promptly disappear.

Importantly, while the analysis shows that some consumers benefit from innovation much more than others, no consumers were found to be actually hurt by it. Moreover, the elimination of the older laptops was not found to be inefficient: the social benefits from keeping such laptops on the shelf would have been largely offset by fixed supplier costs.

So what do we make of this analysis? The main takeaway is that one has to go beyond aggregate benefits and consider the heterogeneous effects of innovation on different consumer types, and the possibility that rapid elimination of basic configurations prevents the benefits from trickling down to price-sensitive consumers. Just the same, the paper’s analysis is constrained by its focus on short-run benefits. In particular, it misses certain long-term benefits from innovation, such as complementary innovations in software that are likely to trickle down to all consumer types. Additional research is, therefore, needed in order to fully appreciate the dramatic contribution of innovation in personal computing to economic growth and welfare.

The post Out with the old? appeared first on OUPblog.

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4. Exciting Changes for ALSC on Pinterest

More links and pins are coming to the ALSC and Día Pinterest accounts!

Photo by Katie Salo

Photo by Katie Salo

In an effort to increase the material pinned to the Pinterest account, all ALSC committees will have the opportunity to maintain their own boards and content. ALSC committees will then be able to share relevant blog posts, links, and resources that relate to their committee’s work and charge. Committee chairs that are interested in using social media should contact Amy Koester, chair of Public Awareness Committee at amy(dot)e(dot)koester(at)gmail(dot)com.

ALSC’s Public Awareness Committee will continue to maintain the Día page, but with more regularly pinned content. Look for new ideas and inspiration to bring your Día programming up to the next level.

We’re looking forward to the changes that will be taking place and hope that members will find loads of useful information about the work that ALSC is doing! If you have any suggestions for boards or pins that should be on the ALSC Pinterest board, please feel free to leave those in the comments.

___________________________________________________________
Katie Salo is an Early Literacy Librarian at Indian Prairie Public Library in Darien, IL and is writing this post for the Public Awareness Committee. You can reach her at simplykatie(at)gmail(dot)com.

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5. App Advisory: Where to Start?

App-advisory can be intimidating, especially for those of us who are not heavily engaged in touch-screen technology in our personal lives.  Although I am excited to be a new member of the Children and Technology Committee, and this is a professional interest of mine, I must confess: I don’t own a smartphone or a tablet.  But I strongly believe that whatever your personal habits or philosophies, as professionals, we need to be willing and able (and enthusiastic!) to be media mentors, modeling responsible new media use and providing recommendations for parents and families.  With so many apps out there, many of which are labeled “educational,” we need to be able to provide parents with trusted recommendations and advice.  If you can do reader’s advisory, you already have the skills to do app advisory! Here are some suggestions, based on what we did at the Wellesley Free Library.

Get to know your material!  Read app reviews (see list of review sources below) and keep track of the apps about which you read. We use a Google spreadsheet, so that all Children’s Department staff can contribute.  This includes, when available, recommended age (though this is something significantly lacking in many app reviews), price, platform, categories, and our comments.  Keeping this information centralized and organized makes it easy to come up with specific apps to recommend to a patron, or to pull for a list.

Play around with the apps!  If you have money to spend (consider asking your Friends group for money for apps, especially if you will be using the apps in library programs), download some apps that seem interesting and try them out.  Even if you can’t spend money, you can try out free apps or download free “lite” versions of apps.  Playing with the app allows you to give a more in-depth description and detailed information in your advisory (consider the difference between recommending a book based on a review you read and having read the book itself).

Choose your method of advisory. App advisory can take many forms. There is the individual recommendation at the reference desk, there are app-chats (the app version of the book-talk), which have been discussed in an article on the ALSC blog by Liz Fraser, and then there are app-lists.  For the past year, we have created monthly themed app lists, mostly for young children between the ages of 2 and 6.  The themes have included: interactive books, music, math, letters, and more. Be sure to include free apps as well as apps available for non-Apple devices on your lists.

Provide advice, along with recommendations.  On the back of our paper app lists, and on the website where we post links to the app-list Pinterest boards, we offer advice to parents about using interactive technology with young children.

A year later, still without a smartphone or tablet, I feel much more confident about recommending apps to patrons, reviewing and evaluating apps, and building our collection, and you can too!  You already have the tools for evaluating media that meets children’s developmental needs and creating interesting and attractive advisory methods for families.  The next step is simply taking it to a new platform!

Some of our favorite review sources for apps:

Children’s Technology Review
Cybils Award
Digital Storytime
Horn Book App of the Week
Kirkus ipad Book App Reviews
Little elit
Parents’ Choice Awards
School Library Journal App Reviews

Clara Hendricks is a Children’s Librarian at the Wellesley Free Library in Wellesley, MA. She is a member of ALSC’s Children and Technology Committee.

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6. YALSAblog Tweets of the Week – September 12, 2014

A short list of tweets from the past week of interest to teens and the library staff that work with them.

Do you have a favorite Tweet from the past week? If so add it in the comments for this post. Or, if you read a Twitter post between September 12 – September 18 that you think is a must for the next Tweets of the Week send a direct or @ message to lbraun2000 on Twitter.

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7. Nick Bostrom on artificial intelligence

From mechanical turks to science fiction novels, our mobile phones to The Terminator, we’ve long been fascinated by machine intelligence and its potential — both good and bad. We spoke to philosopher Nick Bostrom, author of Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, about a number of pressing questions surrounding artificial intelligence and its potential impact on society.

Are we living with artificial intelligence today?

Mostly we have only specialized AIs – AIs that can play chess, or rank search engine results, or transcribe speech, or do logistics and inventory management, for example. Many of these systems achieve super-human performance on narrowly defined tasks, but they lack general intelligence.

There are also experimental systems that have fully general intelligence and learning ability, but they are so extremely slow and inefficient that they are useless for any practical purpose.

AI researchers sometimes complain that as soon as something actually works, it ceases to be called ‘AI’. Some of the techniques used in routine software and robotics applications were once exciting frontiers in artificial intelligence research.

What risk would the rise of a superintelligence pose?

It would pose existential risks – that is to say, it could threaten human extinction and the destruction of our long-term potential to realize a cosmically valuable future.

Would a superintelligent artificial intelligence be evil?

Hopefully it will not be! But it turns out that most final goals an artificial agent might have would result in the destruction of humanity and almost everything we value, if the agent were capable enough to fully achieve those goals. It’s not that most of these goals are evil in themselves, but that they would entail sub-goals that are incompatible with human survival.

For example, consider a superintelligent agent that wanted to maximize the number of paperclips in existence, and that was powerful enough to get its way. It might then want to eliminate humans to prevent us from switching if off (since that would reduce the number of paperclips that are built). It might also want to use the atoms in our bodies to build more paperclips.

Most possible final goals, it seems, would have similar implications to this example. So a big part of the challenge ahead is to identify a final goal that would truly be beneficial for humanity, and then to figure out a way to build the first superintelligence so that it has such an exceptional final goal. How to do this is not yet known (though we do now know that several superficially plausible approaches would not work, which is at least a little bit of progress).

How long have we got before a machine becomes superintelligent?

Nobody knows. In an opinion survey we did of AI experts, we found a median view that there was a 50% probability of human-level machine intelligence being developed by mid-century. But there is a great deal of uncertainty around that – it could happen much sooner, or much later. Instead of thinking in terms of some particular year, we need to be thinking in terms of probability distributed across a wide range of possible arrival dates.

So would this be like Terminator?

There is what I call a “good-story bias” that limits what kind of scenarios can be explored in novels and movies: only ones that are entertaining. This set may not overlap much with the group of scenarios that are probable.

For example, in a story, there usually have to be humanlike protagonists, a few of which play a pivotal role, facing a series of increasingly difficult challenges, and the whole thing has to take enough time to allow interesting plot complications to unfold. Maybe there is a small team of humans, each with different skills, which has to overcome some interpersonal difficulties in order to collaborate to defeat an apparently invincible machine which nevertheless turns out to have one fatal flaw (probably related to some sort of emotional hang-up).

One kind of scenario that one would not see on the big screen is one in which nothing unusual happens until all of a sudden we are all dead and then the Earth is turned into a big computer that performs some esoteric computation for the next billion years. But something like that is far more likely than a platoon of square-jawed men fighting off a robot army with machine guns.

Futuristic man. © Vladislav Ociacia via iStock.
Futuristic man. © Vladislav Ociacia via iStock.

If machines became more powerful than humans, couldn’t we just end it by pulling the plug? Removing the batteries?

It is worth noting that even systems that have no independent will and no ability to plan can be hard for us to switch off. Where is the off-switch to the entire Internet?

A free-roaming superintelligent agent would presumably be able to anticipate that humans might attempt to switch it off and, if it didn’t want that to happen, take precautions to guard against that eventuality. By contrast to the plans that are made by AIs in Hollywood movies – which plans are actually thought up by humans and designed to maximize plot satisfaction – the plans created by a real superintelligence would very likely work. If the other Great Apes start to feel that we are encroaching on their territory, couldn’t they just bash our skulls in? Would they stand a much better chance if every human had a little off-switch at the back of our necks?

So should we stop building robots?

The concern that I focus on in the book has nothing in particular to do with robotics. It is not in the body that the danger lies, but in the mind that a future machine intelligence may possess. Where there is a superintelligent will, there can most likely be found a way. For instance, a superintelligence that initially lacks means to directly affect the physical world may be able to manipulate humans to do its bidding or to give it access to the means to develop its own technological infrastructure.

One might then ask whether we should stop building AIs? That question seems to me somewhat idle, since there is no prospect of us actually doing so. There are strong incentives to make incremental advances along many different pathways that eventually may contribute to machine intelligence – software engineering, neuroscience, statistics, hardware design, machine learning, and robotics – and these fields involve large numbers of people from all over the world.

To what extent have we already yielded control over our fate to technology?

The human species has never been in control of its destiny. Different groups of humans have been going about their business, pursuing their various and sometimes conflicting goals. The resulting trajectory of global technological and economic development has come about without much global coordination and long-term planning, and almost entirely without any concern for the ultimate fate of humanity.

Picture a school bus accelerating down a mountain road, full of quibbling and carousing kids. That is humanity. But if we look towards the front, we see that the driver’s seat is empty.

Featured image credit: Humanrobo. Photo by The Global Panorama, CC BY 2.0 via Flickr

The post Nick Bostrom on artificial intelligence appeared first on OUPblog.

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8. WANTED: ONE TECHNICAL GEEK by Penny Dolan



It’s the start of the new academic year. 
It's a time for change. 

September is the month when lots of teenagers in the UK move on, leaving home for college or gap years or other adventures.

The growing-up may have felt, at times, like very long years, so rejoice now that change has arrived at last

 
Rejoice, for a moment, in what you’re losing.   All those late arrivals and sudden slam-door exits, the too-much too-loud music or grunts-plus-earphones; the washing machine full of dirty clothes; the presence of unknown bodies sleeping on living room floors and sofas; the big screens and small screens constantly flickering with fascinating stuff, and more.

Aha! Soon you’ll be nostalgic for bathrooms stacked with more grooming products than can be daubed on one person in a lifetime, Even so, it will also feel very good to reclaim some of the space that you knew was once there. 

However, before it’s too late, be aware of what you will be losing too. Especially  if you’re a freelance loner working from home. The person who is probably your most valuable technical resource is leaving. Not only will all that precious and vital energy disappear - and no, I'm not joking! - but so will all their random knowledge, skills and fluency with all things technical. 


From the moment that door closes, you will be relying on your own knowledge - and how does that stand up right now, all by itself? 

I have no precious teen tech around right now. I have no handy geek or wizard who can help me with the latest social media trends, no person who can explain how to do the things I want to do, or the thing I don't know I should know about.


I don’t sit there bleating (even if this post may seem so.)
I ask, I enquire, I go to the on-line videos and follow the simple steps. I google for answers, try things out and solve problems.  


But, but, but . . . so often I find a gap where an essential bit of information should be.




Yes, the screen can show me “this” but what about the “that” that goes with it? The missing link that takes such hours to discover, the reason behind x or y? I 'd really like to borrow a socialised techno-wise human being for a week or three, please. Aaagh!


Maybe you are lucky? Maybe you are young yourself or you work outside home and have easy access, not only to training but to the casual wisdom of facts being passed on and gadgets explained.

If not, be warned.
If you work at your writing at home, alone, from now on you’ll be battling with new media and new work at the same time, and there's not many hours to go round.  

Be nice to your nerds while you’ve got them. Today is the first of September. You’ve got about two weeks to download all they know.


Penny Dolan

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9. YALSAblog Tweets of the Week – August 29, 2014

A short list of tweets from the past week of interest to teens and the library staff that work with them.

Do you have a favorite Tweet from the past week? If so add it in the comments for this post. Or, if you read a Twitter post between August 29 and September 4 that you think is a must for the next Tweets of the Week send a direct or @ message to lbraun2000 on Twitter.

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10. The unfinished fable of the sparrows

Owls and robots. Nature and computers. It might seem like these two things don’t belong in the same place, but The Unfinished Fable of the Sparrows (in an extract from Nick Bostrom’s Superintelligence) sheds light on a particular problem: what if we used our highly capable brains to build machines that surpassed our general intelligence?

It was the nest-building season, but after days of long hard work, the sparrows sat in the evening glow, relaxing and chirping away.

“We are all so small and weak. Imagine how easy life would be if we had an owl who could help us build our nests!”

“Yes!” said another. “And we could use it to look after our elderly and our young.”

“It could give us advice and keep an eye out for the neighborhood cat,” added a third.

Then Pastus, the elder-bird, spoke: “Let us send out scouts in all directions and try to find an abandoned owlet somewhere, or maybe an egg. A crow chick might also do, or a baby weasel. This could be the best thing that ever happened to us, at least since the opening of the Pavilion of Unlimited Grain in yonder backyard.”

The flock was exhilarated, and sparrows everywhere started chirping at the top of their lungs.

Only Scronkfinkle, a one-eyed sparrow with a fretful temperament, was unconvinced of the wisdom of the endeavor. Quoth he: “This will surely be our undoing. Should we not give some thought to the art of owl-domestication and owl-taming first, before we bring such a creature into our midst?”

Replied Pastus: “Taming an owl sounds like an exceedingly difficult thing to do. It will be difficult enough to find an owl egg. So let us start there. After we have succeeded in raising an owl, then we can think about taking on this other challenge.”

“There is a flaw in that plan!” squeaked Scronkfinkle; but his protests were in vain as the flock had already lifted off to start implementing the directives set out by Pastus.

Just two or three sparrows remained behind. Together they began to try to work out how owls might be tamed or domesticated. They soon realized that Pastus had been right: this was an exceedingly difficult challenge, especially in the absence of an actual owl to practice on. Nevertheless they pressed on as best they could, constantly fearing that the flock might return with an owl egg before a solution to the control problem had been found.

Headline image credit: Chestnut Sparrow by Lip Kee. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.

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11. Ethics of social networking in social work

Facebook celebrated its tenth anniversary in February. It has over 1.2 billion active users — equating to one user for every seven people worldwide. This social networking phenomenon has not only given our society a new way of sharing information with others; it’s changed the way we think about “liking” and “friending.” Actually, “friending” was not even considered a proper word until Facebook popularized its use. Traditionally, a friend is not just a person one knows, but a person with whom one shares personal affection, connection, trust, and familiarity. Under Facebook-speak, friending is simply the act of attaching a person to a contact list on the social networking website. One does not have to like, trust, or even know people in order to friend them. The purpose of friending is to connect people interested in sharing information. Some people friend only “traditional friends.” Others friend people on Facebook who are “mere acquaintances,” business associates, and even people with whom they have no prior relationship. On Facebook, “liking” is supposed to indicate that the person enjoys or is partial to the story, photo, or other content that someone has posted on Facebook. One does not have to be a friend to like someone’s content, and one may also like content on other websites.

Unbeknown to many Facebook users is how Facebook and other websites gather and use information about people’s friending and liking behaviors. For instance, the data gathered by Facebook is used to help determine which advertisements a particular user sees. Although Facebook does have some privacy protection features, many people do not use them, meaning that they are sharing private information with anyone who has access to the Internet. Even if a person tries to restrict information to “friends,” there are no provisions to ensure that the friends to not share the information with others, posting information in publically accessible places or simply sharing information in a good, old-fashioned manner – oral gossip. So, given what we know (and perhaps don’t know) about liking and friending, should social workers like their clients, encourage clients to like them, or friend their clients?

When considering the use of online social networking, social workers need to consider their ethical duties with respect to their primary commitment to clients, their duty to maintain appropriate professional boundaries, and their duty to protect confidential client information (NASW, Code of Ethics, 2008, Standards 1.01, 1.06, and 1.07). Allow me to begin with the actual situation that instigated my thinking about these issues. Recently, I saw a social worker’s Facebook page advertising her services. She encouraged potential clients to become friends and to like her. She offered a 10% discount in counseling fees for clients who liked her. What could possibly be a problem with providing clients with this sort of discount? The worker was providing clients with a benefit, and all they had to do was like her… they didn’t even have to become her friend.

In terms of 1.01, the social worker should ask herself whether she was acting in a way that promoted client interests, or whether she was primarily promoting her own interests. If her decision to offer discounts was purely a decision to promote profits (her interests), then she may be taking advantage (perhaps unintentionally) of her clients. If her clients were receiving benefits that outweighed the costs and risks, then she may be in a better position to justify the requests for friends and likes.

Woman in home office with computer and paperwork frowning. © monkeybusinessimages via iStockphoto.
Woman in home office with computer and paperwork frowning. © monkeybusinessimages via iStockphoto.

With regard to maintaining appropriate boundaries, the worker should ask how clients perceive her requests for friends and likes. Do clients understand that the requests are in the context of maintaining a professional relationship, or might terms such as friending and liking blur the distinctions between professional and social relationships? If she truly wants to know whether clients value her services (as opposed to like), perhaps she should use a more valid and reliable measurement of client satisfaction or worker effectiveness. There are no Likert-type scales when it comes to liking on Facebook. You can only “like” or “do nothing.”

Confidentiality presents perhaps the most difficult issues when it comes to liking and friending. When a client likes a social worker who specializes in gambling addiction, for instance, does the client know that he may start receiving advertisements for gambling treatment services… or perhaps for casinos, gambling websites, or racetracks? Who knows what other businesses might be harvesting online information about the client. “OMG!” Further, does the client realize that the client’s Facebook friends will know the client likes the social worker? Although the client is not explicitly stating he is a client, others may draw this conclusion – and remember, these “others” are not necessarily restricted to the client’s trusted confidantes. They may include co-workers, neighbors, future employers, or others who may not hold the client’s best interests to heart.

One could say it’s a matter of consent – the worker is not forcing the client to like her, so liking is really an expression of the client’s free will. All sorts of businesses offer perks to people who like or friend them. Shouldn’t clients be allowed to pursue a discount as long as they know the risks? Hmmm… do they know the actual risks? Do they know that what seems like an innocuous act – liking – may have severe consequences one day? Consider, is it truly an expression of free will if the worker is using a financial incentive – particularly if clients have very limited income and means to pay for services? Further, young children and people with dementia or other mental conditions may not have the capacity to understand the risks and make truly informed choices.

Digital natives (people born into the digital age) might say these are the ramblings of an old curmudgeon (ok, they probably woudn’t use the term curmudgeon). When considering the ethicality of social work behaviors, we need to consider context. The context of Facebook, for instance, includes a culture where sharing seems to be valued much more than privacy. Many digital natives share intimate details of their life without grave concerns about their confidentiality. They have not experienced negative repercussions from posting details about their intimate relationships, break-ups, triumphs, challenges, and even embarrassments. They may not view liking a social worker’s website any riskier than liking their favorite ice cream parlor. So, to a large segment of Facebook users, is this whole issue much ado about nothing?

In the context of Internet risks, there are far more severe concerns than social workers asking clients to like them on Facebook. Graver Internet risks include cyber-bulling, identity theft, and hacking into national defense, financial institutions, and other important systems that are vulnerable to cyber-terrorism. Still, social workers should be cautious about asking clients to like them… on Facebook or otherwise.
The Internet offers social workers many different approaches to communicating with clients. Online communication should not be feared. On the other hand, social workers should consider all potential risks and benefits before making use of a particular online communication strategy. Social work and many other helping professions are still grappling with the ethicality of various online communication strategies with clients. What is hugely popular now – including Facebook – may continue to grow in popularity. However, with time and experience, significant risks may be exposed. Some technologies may lose popularity, and others may take their place.

Headline image credit: Internet icons and symbols. Public domain via Pixabay.

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12. Back to School: CIPA Policy Brief

This summer, ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy and Office for Intellectual Freedom released a policy brief marking a decade of school and public libraries limiting patrons’ access to online information due to the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA).

Titled Fencing Out Knowledge: Impacts of the Children’s Internet Protection Act 10 Years Later, the report advocates an action plan to reduce the nationwide, negative impacts of CIPA. I found it well worth a read, and you will too if you wish to understand the progressive possibilities surrounding CIPA at your library and at libraries across America.

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Since 2003, those schools and public libraries that accept federal funding to purchase internet access have been required by CIPA to use filtering software on all of their internet-enabled computers. This filtering software must block access to images classified as “obscene,” “child pornography,” or “harmful to minors.” Any adult wishing to access material blocked under the auspices of “harmful to minors” is backed in his/her quest for content by the First Amendment and CIPA, which requires that the material be unblocked by the school or library. The first two categories (“obscene” and “child pornography” images) are not similarly protected under the First Amendment, so schools and libraries are not required to unblock those materials.

In theory, CIPA is fairly unobjectionable: none of us want to provide materials harmful to minors, child pornography, or obscenity. In practice, however, schools and libraries have applied CIPA in a draconian fashion: over-filtering for fear of patrons finding objectionable materials and for fear of losing federal funding. Going above and beyond CIPA’s filtering guidelines has resulted in egregious bans on social media, gaming, and emerging sites; nursing exams and other health information being blocked; embarrassment and confusion for patrons; and a negative public perception of technology at the library.  Furthermore, as Fencing Out Knowledge states, over-filtering does a disservice to our 21st century learners, is contrary to ALA’s Bill of Rights, and disproportionately affects the economically disadvantaged.

Fortunately, the report includes four recommendations for ALA to take action on this CIPA-originating issue of over-filtering. The recommendations are:

  1. Increase awareness of the spectrum of filtering choices.
  2. Develop a toolkit for school leaders.
  3. Establish a digital repository of internet filtering studies.
  4. Conduct research to explore the educational use of social media platforms and assess the impact of filtering in schools.

While ALA tackles those items at a national level, in your own community you can advocate for young adults’ broad access to the internet by becoming familiar with CIPA’s requirements; educating yourself on the harms of over-filtering; and advocating for digital policies that best fit your school or library mission and your teenagers’ 21st century needs. Don’t wait for ALA to finish their action items! Start the new school year by coming to the table now. Read the report as soon as possible, and become a consistent, professional voice at your school or library’s Technology Committee.

Click here to read Fencing Out Knowledge: Impacts of the Children’s Internet Protection Act 10 Years Later.

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13. Special events and the dynamical statistics of Twitter

A large variety of complex systems in ecology, climate science, biomedicine, and engineering have been observed to exhibit so-called tipping points, where the dynamical state of the system abruptly changes. Typical examples are the rapid transition in lakes from clear to turbid conditions or the sudden extinction of species after a slightly change of environmental conditions. Data and models suggest that detectable warning signs may precede some, though clearly not all, of these drastic events. This view is also corroborated by recently developed abstract mathematical theory for systems, where processes evolve at different rates and are subject to internal and/or external stochastic perturbations.

One main idea to derive warning signs is to monitor the fluctuations of the dynamical process by calculating the variance of a suitable monitoring variable. When the tipping point is approached via a slowly-drifting parameter, the stabilizing effects of the system slowly diminish and the noisy fluctuations increase via certain well-defined scaling laws.

Based upon these observations, it is natural to ask, whether these scaling laws are also present in human social networks and can allow us to make predictions about future events. This is an exciting open problem, to which at present only highly speculative answers can be given. It is indeed to predict a priori unknown events in a social system. Therefore, as an initial step, we try to reduce the problem to a much simpler problem to understand whether the same mechanisms, which have been observed in the context of natural sciences and engineering, could also be present in sociological domains.

Courtesy of Christian Kuehn.
Courtesy of Christian Kuehn.

In our work, we provide a very first step towards tackling a substantially simpler question by focusing on a priori known events. We analyse a social media data set with a focus on classical variance and autocorrelation scaling law warning signs. In particular, we consider a few events, which are known to occur on a specific time of the year, e.g., Christmas, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. Then we consider time series of the frequency of Twitter hashtags related to the considered events a few weeks before the actual event, but excluding the event date itself and some time period before it.

Now suppose we do not know that a dramatic spike in the number of Twitter hashtags, such as #xmas or #thanksgiving, will occur on the actual event date. Are there signs of the same stochastic scaling laws observed in other dynamical systems visible some time before the event? The more fundamental question is: Are there similarities to known warning signs from other areas also present in social media data?

We answer this question affirmatively as we find that the a priori known events mentioned above are preceded by variance and autocorrelation growth (see Figure). Nevertheless, we are still very far from actually using social networks to predict the occurrence of many other drastic events. For example, it can also be shown that many spikes in Twitter activity are not predictable through variance and autocorrelation growth. Hence, a lot more research is needed to distinguish different dynamical processes that lead to large outburst of activity on social media.

The findings suggest that further investigations of dynamical processes in social media would be worthwhile. Currently, a main focus in the research on social networks lies on structural questions, such as: Who connects to whom? How many connections do we have on average? Who are the hubs in social media? However, if one takes dynamical processes on the network, as well as the changing dynamics of the network topology, into account, one may obtain a much clearer picture, how social systems compare and relate to classical problems in physics, chemistry, biology and engineering.

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14. Good for the Brain

Want to help your students focus better during independent writing time? A recent NY Times piece by Daniel J. Levitin may hold the key to making this happen in your classroom.

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15. An appreciation of air conditioning

This week—August 15, to be exact—celebrates the climax of Air Conditioning Appreciation Days, a month-long tribute to the wonderful technology that has made summer heat a little more bearable for millions of people. Census figures tell us that nine out of ten Americans have central air conditioning, or a window unit, or more than one, in our homes; in our cars, it’s nearly universal. Go to any hardware or home goods store and you’ll see a pile of boxes containing no-fuss machines in a whole range of sizes, amazingly affordable, plop-’em-in-the-window-and-plug-’em-in-and-you’re-done. Not only do we appreciate the air conditioner, but we appreciate how easy it is to become air conditioned.

When it comes to cool, we’ve come a long way. But in earlier times, it was nowhere near as simple for ordinary citizens to get summertime comfort.

One of the first cooling contraptions offered to the public showed up around 1865, the brainchild of inventor Azel S. Lyman: Lyman’s Air Purifier. This consisted of a tall, bulky cabinet that formed the headboard of a bed, divided into various levels that held ice to cool the air, unslaked lime to absorb humidity, and charcoal to absorb “minute particles of decomposing animal and vegetable matter” as well as “disgusting gases.” Relying on the principle that hot air rises and cool air sinks, air would (theoretically) enter the cabinet under its own power, rise to encounter the ice, be dried by the lime, purified by the charcoal, and finally ejected—directly onto the pillow of the sleeper—“as pure and exhilarating as was ever breathed upon the heights of Oregon.” Lyman announced this marvel in Scientific American, and in the same issue ran an advertisement looking for salesmen. Somehow the Air Purifier didn’t take off.

More interesting to homeowners was the device that showed up in 1882, the electric fan. Until then, fans were powered by water or steam, usually intended for public buildings rather than homes, and most of them tended to circulate air lazily. But the electric model was quite different, with blades that revolved at 2,000 rpm—“as rapidly as a buzz saw,” observed one wag, and for years they were nicknamed “buzz” fans. They were some of the very first electrically powered appliances available for sale. They were also exorbitant, costing $20 (in modern terms, about $475). But that didn’t stop the era’s big spenders from seizing upon them eagerly. Delighted reviewers of the electric fan claimed that it was “warranted to lower the temperature of a room from ninety-five to sixty degrees in a few minutes” and that its effect was “like going into a cool grove.”

The fan combined with ice around the turn of the century, producing an eight-foot-tall metal object that its inventor called “The NEVO, or Cold Air Stove.” The principle was simple: air entered through a small pipe at the top, was pulled by a fan through the NEVO’s body—which had to be stuffed daily with 250 pounds of ice and salt to provide the cooling—and would then be discharged out an opening at the bottom. “It dries, washes, and purifies the air.” As the NEVO had more in common with a gigantic ice cream freezer than with actual temperature control, and the smallest NEVO cost $80 (nowadays, $1,700) and cost $100 per season (over $2,000) to operate, it didn’t get far.

By 100th Anniversary Press Kit – Carrier Corp (Carrier Corporation) Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

By this time, a young engineer named Willis Carrier had developed a mechanical system that could actually cool the air and dry it, the Apparatus for Treating Air. But this was machinery of the Giant Economy Size, and used only in factories. In 1914, one wealthy gent asked Carrier to install a system in his new forty-bedroom Minneapolis home, and indeed the system was the same type that “a small factory” would use. Unfortunately, this proud homeowner died before the house was completed, and historians speculate that the machinery was never even turned on.

It wasn’t until 1929 that Frigidaire announced the first home air conditioner, the Frigidaire Room Cooler. This wasn’t in any way a lightweight portable. The Room Cooler consisted of a four-foot-tall metal cabinet, weighing 200 pounds, that had to be connected by pipes to a separate 400-pound compressor (“may be located in the basement, or any convenient location”). And it cost $800, in those days the same as a Pontiac roadster. While newspaper and magazine articles regarded the Room Cooler as a hot-weather miracle, the price (along with the setup requirements) meant that its customers came almost solely from the ranks of the rich, or businesses with cash to burn. Then fate intervened only months after the Room Cooler’s introduction when the stock market crashed, leaving very little cash for anyone to burn. Home air conditioning would have to wait until the country climbed back from the Depression.

Actually, it waited until the end of World War II, when the postwar housing boom prompted brand-new homeowners to fill their houses with the latest comforts. Along with television, air conditioning was at the top of the wish list. And at last, the timing was right; manufacturers were able to offer central cooling, as well as window units, at affordable prices. The compressor in the backyard, or the metal posterior droning out the window, became bona fide status symbols. By 1953, sales topped a million units—and the country never looked back.

Appreciation? Of course. And perhaps, adoration.

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16. Digital Inclusion

The Information Policy & Access Center has released their findings from a 2013 Survey about Digital Inclusion.

You can read the full report online.

Digital Inclusion is more than Digital Literacy, focusing on not just access but supporting users to engage in digital communities. The report explored the roles of public libraries in four main areas:

  • Quality access to digital technology
  • Access to a range of digital content
  • Services and programs that promote digital literacy
  • Programs that address key community needs, such as health and wellness and education, and that promote workforce development and civic engagement.

Overwhelmingly what we discovered is that libraries have increased access to computer workstations and faster internet and technology infrastructure like outlets and wireless printing.

  • All libraries offer access to online databases.
  • Almost all libraries offer homework assistance.
  • Most libraries offer access to e-books,
  • While over a quarter of libraries provide patrons with e-readers to check out.

The survey has also documented the innovations that are happening in libraries like Mobile Technology and 3D Printers which have been adopted in 1.5% of libraries.

What the survey highlighted is that while we are providing access to technology and content we are creating a different type of digital divide.

City Libraries are able to

  • make more upgrades to technology infrastructure like workstations and outlets,
  • offer an Average Internet Download Speed that is 5X faster than Rural Libraries.

Only 32.5 percent of rural libraries can support formal technology classes,

  • while 77.6 of city libraries offer formal computer skills training
  • 100% of city libraries surveyed reported that they offer either formal or informal technology training.

We know that rural communities have less access to resources, but as we work to support STEM in schools these gaps can put communities even further behind.

In addition to being an information center, many libraries serve as a central location where members can gather to foster community.

Over half of Suburban and City Libraries host community engagement events

while less than half of town libraries and less than one-third of rural libraries are able to engage and support the community in this way.

As more and more people connect online, the library can be one of the few places where the public can engage with members of the community, be exposed to diversity, and gain a better appreciation for and connect to their neighbors in a comfortable and relaxed environment. While hosting a book club, candidate forum, or gaming seems small, these can be one of the few places in the community outside of school where everyone has a chance to interact and participate.

Lastly Health and Wellness is an area we can all improve. With the move to National Health Care, and the confusion of much of the public I expected to see many libraries offering programs and support, but a mere 37% of surveyed libraries offered programs that assisted patrons in finding and accessing health insurance information.

 

The one area of Health and Wellness that libraries are addressing is promotion of a healthy lifestyle, but only 55% of libraries offer these types of programs and it drops to 44% for Rural Libraries.

We have made many strides since the last study was conducted in 1994, but we still have a long way to go. With so many free online courses available libraries have even more access to resources than they did before. We can partner with organizations like  Workforce Career and Job Training, CoderDojo, Code.org, Healthcare.gov, local health providers, and other community organizations to help serve patrons and create a more informed citizenry.

This is the first survey to provide detailed data about how libraries are serving the public. As we apply for grants to support the needs of our communities, I hope this survey helps frame the needs of our library users.

Ipac has framed the survey results in the context of the communities libraries serve. You can access a mapping tool online at http://digitalinclusion.umd.edu to explore the services available in your community.

All images from http://digitalinclusion.umd.edu/infographics

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17. What’s the media Feeding us?

feed Whats the media Feeding us?For the past six weeks, I have had the pleasure of teaching an English course to a group of highly motivated high school students enrolled in the summer session of an Upward Bound program. This summer’s book selection — Feed by M. T. Anderson — has spurred a campus conversation that I keep catching snippets of while I wait in line in the cafeteria or when I walk down the halls in the dorm. (I’m serious — a large group of teenagers, in school in the summer, are really talking about a book in their free time!)

Feed never fails to generate intense feelings and is also one of those books that could be suited to almost any theme or purpose that a course might cover. It lends itself to discussions of identity, social class, gender roles and expectations, conformity, language, as well as the topics around which I organized my summer course: media and technology.

The overarching question my students and I have been grappling with over the course of the summer is “Does the media create or reflect reality?” Feed is the perfect title to use as a case study for exploring this question, as it presents a dystopian world where the majority of people have a device — the “feed” — implanted directly into their brains. The feed constantly bombards its users with advertisements that are responsive to their locations and emotional states and also offers seemingly unlimited access to information. Of course, it also leads the users to have tremendous blind spots in terms of their understanding of the world around them and is controlled by powerful corporations who may or may not have the best interests of their users at heart.

Feed is the perfect choice for a course focused on media literacy. The book itself articulates and reinforces the need for precisely the skills learned in media literacy exercises: how to think critically about the content present in media messages, how to actively engage with information rather than passively accepting it, and how to uncover who creates the media and what their agendas might be.

Over the course of the summer, I have watched my students develop an increasing awareness of the challenges and implications of growing up in a media-saturated world. In addition to reading Feed, we have analyzed videos, advertisements, and contemporary songs to see what is under the surface of the media messages that we too often accept without question — and with which we even find ourselves singing along! I can see my students’ blinders beginning to come off as they think more critically about the world around them and how media impacts their own lives.

While Feed projects a vision of a dystopian future and was published back in 2002, I am struck each time I reread the book by how close the world Anderson describes seems to our own. The media and technology are increasingly influential and already play a key role in shaping our reality. The time to think about the implications of a media feeding us constant messages that may or may not reflect the world we want to inhabit is now and Feed is a wonderful title to use to engage young people in these critical conservations.

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18. My client’s online presence

By Jan Willer


Social media and other technologies have changed how we communicate. Consider how we coordinate events and contact our friends and family members today, versus how we did it 20 or 30 years ago. Today, we often text, email, or communicate through social media more frequently than we phone or get together in person.

Now contrast that with psychotherapy, which is still about two people getting together in a room and talking. Certainly, technology has changed psychotherapy. There are now apps for mental health issues. There are virtual reality treatments. Psychotherapy can now be provided through videoconferencing (a.k.a. telehealth). But still, it’s usually simply two people talking in a room.

Our psychotherapy clients communicate with everyone else they know through multiple technological platforms. Should we let them “friend” us on social media? Should we link to them on professional networking sites? Is it ok to text with them? What about email? When are these ok and not ok?

Social Media Explained (with Donuts). Uploaded by Chris Lott. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.

Social Media Explained (with Donuts). Uploaded by Chris Lott. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.

Some consensus is emerging about these issues. Experts agree that psychotherapists should not connect with current or former clients on social media. This is to help preserve the clients’ confidentiality. Emailing and texting are fine for communicating brief messages about the parameters of the session, such as confirming the appointment time, or informing the psychotherapist that the client is running late. Research has shown that emotional tone is frequently miscommunicated in texting and email, so emotion-laden topics are best discussed during the session.

How do we learn about new people we’ve met? In the past, we’d talk directly to them, and maybe also talk to people we knew in common. Now everyone seems to search online for everyone else. This happens frequently with first dates, college applicants, and job applicants.

Again, contrast this with psychotherapy. Again, two people are sitting in a room, talking and learning about each other. When is it ok for a psychotherapist to search for information about a client online? What if the psychotherapist discovers important information that the client withheld? How do these discoveries impact the psychotherapy?

No clear consensus has emerged on these issues. Some experts assert that psychotherapists should almost never search online for clients. Other experts respond that it is unreasonable to expect that psychotherapists should not access publicly available information. Others suggest examining each situation on a case-by-case basis. One thing is clear: psychotherapists should communicate with their clients about their policies on internet searches. This should be done in the beginning of psychotherapy, as part of the informed consent process.

When we’ve voluntarily posted information online–and when information about us is readily available in news stories, court documents, or other public sources–we don’t expect this information to be private. For this reason, I find the assertion that psychotherapists can access publically available information to be more compelling. On my intake forms, I invite clients to send me a link to their LinkedIn profile instead of describing their work history, if they prefer. If a client mentions posting her artwork online, I’ll suggest that she send me a link to it or ask her how to find it. I find that clients are pleased that I take an interest.

What about the psychotherapist’s privacy? What if the client follows the psychotherapist’s Twitter account or blog? What if the client searches online for the psychotherapist? What if the client discovers personal information about the psychotherapist by searching? Here’s the short answer: psychotherapists need to avoid posting anything online that we don’t want everyone, including our clients, to see.

Ways to communicate online continue to proliferate. For example, an app that sends only the word “Yo” was recently capitalized to the tune of $2.5 million and was downloaded over 2 million times. Our professional ethics codes are revised infrequently (think years), while new apps and social media are emerging monthly, even daily. Expert consensus on how to manage these new communications technologies emerges slowly (again, think years). But psychotherapists have to respond to new communications technologies in the moment, every day. All we can do is keep the client’s well-being and confidentiality as our highest aspiration.

Jan Willer is a clinical psychologist in private practice. For many years, she trained psychology interns at the VA. She is the author of The Beginning Psychotherapist’s Companion, which offers practical suggestions and multicultural clinical examples to illustrate the foundations of ethical psychotherapy practice. She is interested in continuing to bridge the notorious research-practice gap in clinical psychology. Her seminars have been featured at Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, and DePaul University. 

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19. Rebooting Philosophy

By Luciano Floridi


When we use a computer, its performance seems to degrade progressively. This is not a mere impression. An old version of Firefox, the free Web browser, was infamous for its “memory leaks”: it would consume increasing amounts of memory to the detriment of other programs. Bugs in the software actually do slow down the system. We all know what the solution is: reboot. We restart the computer, the memory is reset, and the performance is restored, until the bugs slow it down again.

Philosophy is a bit like a computer with a memory leak. It starts well, dealing with significant and serious issues that matter to anyone. Yet, in time, its very success slows it down. Philosophy begins to care more about philosophers’ questions than philosophical ones, consuming increasing amount of intellectual attention. Scholasticism is the ultimate freezing of the system, the equivalent of Windows’ “blue screen of death”; so many resources are devoted to internal issues that no external input can be processed anymore, and the system stops. The world may be undergoing a revolution, but the philosophical discourse remains detached and utterly oblivious. Time to reboot the system.

Philosophical “rebooting” moments are rare. They are usually prompted by major transformations in the surrounding reality. Since the nineties, I have been arguing that we are witnessing one of those moments. It now seems obvious, even to the most conservative person, that we are experiencing a turning point in our history. The information revolution is profoundly changing every aspect of our lives, quickly and relentlessly. The list is known but worth recalling: education and entertainment, communication and commerce, love and hate, politics and conflicts, culture and health, … feel free to add your preferred topics; they are all transformed by technologies that have the recording and processing of information as their core functions. Meanwhile, philosophy is degrading into self-referential discussions on irrelevancies.

The result of a philosophical rebooting today can only be beneficial. Digital technologies are not just tools merely modifying how we deal with the world, like the wheel or the engine. They are above all formatting systems, which increasingly affect how we understand the world, how we relate to it, how we see ourselves, and how we interact with each other.

The ‘Fourth Revolution’ betrays what I believe to be one of the topics that deserves our full intellectual attention today. The idea is quite simple. Three scientific revolutions have had great impact on how we see ourselves. In changing our understanding of the external world they also modified our self-understanding. After the Copernican revolution, the heliocentric cosmology displaced the Earth and hence humanity from the centre of the universe. The Darwinian revolution showed that all species of life have evolved over time from common ancestors through natural selection, thus displacing humanity from the centre of the biological kingdom. And following Freud, we acknowledge nowadays that the mind is also unconscious. So we are not immobile, at the centre of the universe, we are not unnaturally separate and diverse from the rest of the animal kingdom, and we are very far from being minds entirely transparent to ourselves. One may easily question the value of this classic picture. After all, Freud was the first to interpret these three revolutions as part of a single process of reassessment of human nature and his perspective was blatantly self-serving. But replace Freud with cognitive science or neuroscience, and we can still find the framework useful to explain our strong impression that something very significant and profound has recently happened to our self-understanding.

Since the fifties, computer science and digital technologies have been changing our conception of who we are. In many respects, we are discovering that we are not standalone entities, but rather interconnected informational agents, sharing with other biological agents and engineered artefacts a global environment ultimately made of information, the infosphere. If we need a champion for the fourth revolution this should definitely be Alan Turing.

The fourth revolution offers a historical opportunity to rethink our exceptionalism in at least two ways. Our intelligent behaviour is confronted by the smart behaviour of engineered artefacts, which can be adaptively more successful in the infosphere. Our free behaviour is confronted by the predictability and manipulability of our choices, and by the development of artificial autonomy. Digital technologies sometimes seem to know more about our wishes than we do. We need philosophy to make sense of the radical changes brought about by the information revolution. And we need it to be at its best, for the difficulties we are facing are challenging. Clearly, we need to reboot philosophy now.

Luciano Floridi is Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information at the University of Oxford, Senior Research Fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, and Fellow of St Cross College, Oxford. He was recently appointed as ethics advisor to Google. His most recent book is The Fourth Revolution: How the Infosphere is Reshaping Human Reality.

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Image credit: Alan Turing Statue at Bletchley Park. By Ian Petticrew. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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20. YALSAblog Tweets of the Week: July 25, 2014

A short list of tweets from the past week of interest to teens and the library staff that work with them.

Do you have a favorite Tweet from the past week? If so add it in the comments for this post. Or, if you read a Twitter post between July 25 and July 31 that you think is a must for the next Tweets of the Week send a direct or @ message to lbraun2000 on Twitter.

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21. YALSAblog Tweets of the Week: August 1, 2014

A short list of tweets from the past week of interest to teens and the library staff that work with them.

Do you have a favorite Tweet from the past week? If so add it in the comments for this post. Or, if you read a Twitter post between August 1 and August 7 that you think is a must for the next Tweets of the Week send a direct or @ message to lbraun2000 on Twitter.

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22. A Call to Tech Support

The wifi in my eldest daughter’s laptop died recently. Being the home’s Chief Technology Officer, I worked through the handy troubleshoot on the system which told me it was working perfectly. Of course, the inability to connect to the internet and the distraught look on my poor daughter’s face told me it wasn’t. No worries, I bought a USB dongle and she was up and running.

Little did I know that my trouble-shooting skills would soon be needed again. A week ago, she informed me that her dongle wasn’t working. Of course, at 11:15, my system was shut down, so I didn’t pay much attention and went to bed. When I awoke, I realized it wasn’t her computer – there was a wholesale internet outage in the house!

I think that is mentioned in Revelation, isn’t it? The Mark of the Beast and the inability to access High-Speed Wireless is in chapter 13, if I remember correctly. I looked outside and it didn’t appear the Battle of Armageddon had begun yet. A check of the beds told me the wife and kids were still here, so the rapture hadn’t left me behind (Whew!)

But I still had no internet.

This has happened before and I fixed it. What did I do? Oh yeah, I unplugged it and it rebooted itself. So I pulled the plug and let it regenerate. Unfortunately, the light blinking was still red long after power was restored. So I called my ever-helpful internet service provider and got stuck in the web of automated attendants who sound helpful, but are very patronizing. Don’t they know I am the CTO? That should give me some status, I would think.

My biggest problem wasn’t the self-righteous know-it-all computer voice on the other end of the phone, it was the fact that my cell phone service is spotty in the basement where the router resides. So I put the phone on speaker and listened as best I could. Like a rat pushing through a maze, I found the tech support cheese after seventeen minutes and the new, smarter sounding Tech Support Weenie voice tells me we are going to have to restart the system.

TSW: I will now tell you how to restart your system. This is a medium level procedure and will take approximately 3-5 minutes.

Okay

TSW: Can you see your internet router?

Yes

TSW: Please find the power cable on the back of the router and say yes when you’ve found it.

Got it

TSW: I didn’t understand you.

Er…  Yes

TSW: Trace the cable to the electric outlet. Unplug the cable and wait 10 seconds before plugging it back in.

Well, that’s what I did before, but okay

TSW: Did this solve your problem?

NO!

At that point, my spotty cell service affected my ability to clearly hear the next steps in the process. What I am pretty sure it said was for me to disconnect all cables, kick the box across the room, plug it back in and see if any lights were blinking. Repeat until no lights function.

Done!

After I hung up, I went to work early and left this note on the floor:

936051_10152553265964675_8432536674832206132_n

 

The good news, there is free wifi at the hotel, but I really wish they would call.


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23. App of the Week: ScratchJr

Name: ScratchJr
Platform: iOS 7 or later/compatible with iPad
Cost: Free

scratchjr logoOK, I know some of you are saying, “Wait, I thought this was the YALSAblog for those working with teens. What’s up with a review of an app that’s for really young kids?” It seems crazy that the YALSAblog App of the week would review something like ScratchJr, but I have to say, there’s a lot to make it worth recommending to staff working with teens and to teens themselves.

  • ScratchJr is a perfect way for any adult – library staff member, parent, teacher, etc. – to start learning about why all of this talk about teaching young people how to code is important, to begin to understand what block-based coding is all about, and to be able to gain some skills so to be better prepared for STEM-based programs that might be rolled out that integrate critical thinking, problem-solving, etc. within a coding environment.
  • Any library that is giving teens the chance to work with younger children on coding projects will want to know about ScratchJr. It’s a perfect app for teens to use with kids to get the younger kids started on learning how coding works and on STEM-based activities that integrate critical thinking and problem-solving. If the teens you work with are working on this kind of project, it’s also a perfect opportunity for teens to have a chance to talk and think about how to present the information to children, how to plan and implement a program of this kind, and so on. It will take a lot of critical thinking and problem-solving on a teen’s part to put together a ScratchJr program for younger children, and that’s great.


When you get started with ScratchJr you’ll need to start a new project. As with all Scratch software and apps, the new project starts with a cat as the main character of the story, or game, or activity you are going to program. And, as with all Scratch programs you can change that character and/or add more characters to the project you work on.
screen showing start of a scratchjr project

What ScratchJr and other programs of the same type is all about is learning how to program by creating a process that tells the cat – or other character that you use – to move in a certain way, say something, stop and pause for a period of time, and so on. The focus is on learning how the commands you put together have an impact on what’s going on on the screen.

ScratchJr doesn’t have as many commands to work with as it’s parent product Scratch, but it has plenty to get started with for those who are learning how to program in this way. Users can move characters in all directions, have the character speak, record narration, hide and show characters and more. Users can also add backgrounds and change the look of a character using some simple character editing tools.
sample of a scratch project in the works with blocks and characters on the screen

Any adult that is wondering what this coding thing that people are talking about as a part of learning for children and teens is all about, should try out ScratchJr as a first step in their own learning. Teens working to help younger kids will do well learning ScratchJr as well. It’s worth the time to take a look and think about how ScratchJr does have an impact on the teens and the families that you work with.

Have a suggestion for App of the Week? Let us know. And find more great Apps in the YALSA Blog’s App of the Week Archive.

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24. Paul Otlet, Google, Wikipedia, and cataloging the world

As soon as humanity began its quest for knowledge, people have also attempted to organize that knowledge. From the invention of writing to the abacus, from medieval manuscripts to modern paperbacks, from microfiche to the Internet, our attempt to understand the world — and catalog it in an orderly fashion with dictionaries, encyclopedias, libraries, and databases — has evolved with new technologies. One man on the quest for order was innovator, idealist, and scientist Paul Otlet, who is the subject of the new book Cataloging the World. We spoke to author Alex Wright about his research process, Paul Otlet’s foresight into the future of global information networks, and Otlet’s place in the history of science and technology.

What most surprised you when researching Paul Otlet?

Paul Otlet was a source of continual surprise to me. I went into this project with a decent understanding of his achievements as an information scientist (or “documentalist,” as he would have said), but I didn’t fully grasp the full scope of his ambitions. For example, his commitment to progressive social causes, his involvement in the creation of the League of Nations, or his decades-long dream of building a vast World City to serve as the political and intellectual hub of a new post-national world order. His ambitions went well beyond the problem of organizing information. Ultimately, he dreamed of reorganizing the entire world.

What misconceptions exist regarding Paul Otlet and the story of the creation of the World Wide Web itself?

It’s temptingly easy to overstate Otlet’s importance. Despite his remarkable foresight about the possibilities of networks, he did not “invent” the World Wide Web. That credit rightly goes to Tim Berners-Lee and his partner (another oft-overlooked Belgian) Robert Cailliau. While Otlet’s most visionary work describes a global network of “electric telescopes” displaying text, graphics, audio, and video files retrieved from all over the world, he never actually built such a system. Nor did the framework he proposed involve any form of machine computation. Nonetheless, Otlet’s ideas anticipated the eventual development of hypertext information retrieval systems. And while there is no direct paper trail linking him to the acknowledged forebears of the Web (like Vannevar Bush, Douglas Engelbart, and Ted Nelson), there is tantalizing circumstantial evidence that Otlet’s ideas were clearly “in the air” and influencing an increasingly public dialogue about the problem of information overload – the same cultural petri dish in which the post-war Anglo-American vision of a global information network began to emerge.

What was the most challenging part of your research?

The sheer size of Otlet’s archives–over 1,000 boxes of papers, journals, and rough notes, much of it handwritten and difficult to decipher–presented a formidable challenge in trying to determine where to focus my research efforts. Fortunately the staff of the Mundaneum in Mons, Belgium, supported me every step of the way, helping me wade through the material and directing my attention towards his most salient work. Otlet’s adolescent diaries posed a particularly thorny challenge. On the one hand they offer a fascinating portrait of a bright but tormented teenager who by age 15 was already dreaming of organizing the world’s information. But his handwriting is all but illegible for long stretches. Even an accomplished French translator like my dear friend (and fellow Oxford author) Mary Ann Caws, struggled to help me decipher his nineteenth-century Wallonian adolescent chicken scratch. Chapter Two wouldn’t have been the same without her!

Photograph of Paul Otlet, circa 1939. Reproduced with permission of the Mundaneum, Mons, Belgium.

Photograph of Paul Otlet, circa 1939. Reproduced with permission of the Mundaneum, Mons, Belgium.

How do you hope this new knowledge of Otlet will influence the ways in which people view the Internet and information sites like Wikipedia?

I hope that it can cast at least a sliver of fresh light on our understanding of the evolution of networked information spaces. For all its similarities to the web, Otlet’s vision differed dramatically in several key respects, and points to several provocative roads not taken. Most importantly, he envisioned his web as a highly structured environment, with a complex semantic markup called the Universal Decimal Classification. An Otletian version of Wikipedia would almost certainly involve a more hierarchical and interlinked presentation of concepts (as opposed to the flat and relatively shallow structure of the current Wikipedia). Otlet’s work offers us something much more akin in spirit to the Semantic Web or Linked Data initiative: a powerful, tightly controlled system intended to help people make sense of complex information spaces.

Can you explain more about Otlet’s idea of “electronic telescopes” – whether they were feasible/possible, and to what extent they led to the creation of networks (as opposed to foreshadowing them)?

One early reviewer of the manuscript took issue with my characterization of Otlet’s “electric telescopes” as a kind of computer, but I’ll stand by that characterization. While the device he described may not fit the dictionary definition of a computer as a “programmable electronic device” – Otlet never wrote about programming per se – I would take the Wittgensteinian position that a word is defined by its use. By that standard, Otlet’s “electric telescope” constitutes what most of us would likely describe as a computer: a connected device for retrieving information over a network. As to whether it was technically feasible – that’s a trickier question. Otlet certainly never built one, but he was writing at a time when the television was first starting to look like a viable technology. Couple that with the emergence of radio, telephone, and telegraphs – not to mention new storage technologies like microfilm and even rudimentary fax machines – and the notion of an electric telescope may not seem so far-fetched after all.

What sorts of innovations would might have emerged from the Mundaneum – the institution at the center of Otlet’s “World City” – had it not been destroyed by the Nazis?

While the Nazi invasion signalled the death knell for Otlet’s project, it’s worth noting that the Belgian government had largely withdrawn its support a few years earlier. By 1940 many people already saw Otlet as a relic of another time, an old man harboring implausible dreams of international peace and Universal Truth. But Otlet and a smaller but committed team of staff soldiered on, undeterred, cataloging the vast collection that remained intact behind closed doors in Brussels’ Parc du Cinquantenaire. When the Nazis came, they cleared out the contents of the Palais Mondial, destroying over 70 tons worth of material, and making room for an exhibition of Third Reich art. Otlet’s productive career effectively came to an end, and he died a few years later in 1944.

It’s impossible to say quite how things might have turned out differently. But one notable difference between Otlet’s web and today’s version is the near-total absence of private enterprise – a vision that stands in stark contrast to today’s Internet, dominated as it is by a handful of powerful corporations.

Otlet’s Brussels headquarters stood almost right across the street from the present-day office of another outfit trying to organize and catalog the world’s information: Google.

Alex Wright is a professor of interaction design at the School of Visual Arts and a regular contributor to The New York Times. He is the author of Cataloging the World: Paul Otlet and the Birth of the Information Age and Glut: Mastering Information through the Ages.

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25. YALSAblog Tweets of the Week-August 8

A short list of tweets from the past week of interest to teens and the library staff that work with them.

Do you have a favorite Tweet from the past week? If so add it in the comments for this post. Or, if you read a Twitter post between August 1 and August 7 that you think is a must for the next Tweets of the Week send a direct or @ message to lbraun2000 on Twitter.

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