I guess I was a strange kid (two words that form a redundancy, parents might say). In some ways I was like the young character Brick on the ABC-TV sitcom, “The Middle.”
In case you haven’t caught any first-season episodes of that very funny show, Brick is a kid with limited social skills who is at home in his own world which is often under his bed at night with a flashlight, reading a book. He sometimes takes refuge there after having been forced by his parents to interact with other kids, to whom he often breaks off contact with his pet phrase, “OK, I’m done talking with you now.”
I grew up in the day when kids could actually walk or ride bikes to neighborhood schools without being shepherded by parents worried about child abductors. It was about a 15-minute walk, and 7 minutes into it, I’d pass the public library. One day on a return trip home, I decided to open the doors and walk in.
From that day forward, I was hooked on reading.
The public library became a routine stop on my afternoon walks home as I discovered the other world of books. I devoured the Black Stallion stories, I went back in time to enter the world of Buffalo Bill and Wyatt Earp, and I met the Hardy Boys and followed them through some 23 adventures before the series gave out (happily for young readers, it’s been revived).
These memories rushed in this week as I’ve been thinking about how our libraries are weathering the sometimes stormy and unpredictable world of the virtual unknown: the age of the Internet and Web 2.0 media which, conventional wisdom might dictate, ushers in the end of the need for libraries at all. Frankly, the story is not receiving much attention from the nation’s news media.
Why go sit in the restrictive and bland atmosphere of a library to read or do research, when you can do it on your computer sitting out by the pool or on a hammock in the backyard?
Puncturing conventional wisdom
Happily, conventional wisdom is often wrong, and that is the case with the value of libraries. This is not to say everyone — most notably politicians — recognize that value.
I do a lot of traveling and work in different states, but I have a home in the small town of Ashland, Ohio, pop. 25,000 and home to a good private university. This town has a great public library, not because of a modern facade of glass and steel (it settles for the old-fashioned look instead), but by its dedication to serving the literary and information needs of the community.
On most days it is hard to find a parking space in the library parking lot, and you may have to park across the alley at the local funeral home instead. Once inside, the place is buzzing. There’s activity in the periodical room, over in the children’s book wing, in the study carels, and in the stacks themselves.
The computer magnet
But the magnet that draws many patrons is the dozen or so computer stations that often have a waiting list of users. Hard as it is for some technophiles to believe, there are still some people who can’t afford Internet hookups at home and rely instead on the local libraries where online usage is free. Even those who do have home computers find it easier to go online during the day at the libary when they are out and about.
Nevertheless, in a move that has been replicated many times in other states across America, Ohio politicians thought they found an answer to the state budget crisis by cutting the budget to the public libraries, forcing the Ashland Library to lay off staff and severely cut its operating hours during the week.
The legislators were using the conventional wisdom of, “Who uses libraries anymore, anyway?” They, of course, were wrong. All that had to do to discover they were wrong was to visit a local library and see it in action. But lawmakers are too busy lawmaking to do such shoe-leather research, so they let their assumptions inform their thinking.
Library fights back
Even as the state was cutting the budget, however, the Ashland Public Library had organized a successful petition drive to keep the library open. It then made a pitch to the Ashland City Council to put a tax measure on the ballot amounting to a few cents per resident to step in and save the library, restoring it to full operating service. The voters of Ashland wasted no time in approving that measure, this hometown library on Claremont Street is back in business full-time, and the parking lot is still full.
The popularity of the Ashland Public Library is consistent with a recent national study on library usage. Even though the Web is increasingly important as a primary information source for most Americans, most adults — and a lot of kids — still use libraries, the study found. The survey was conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project and the University of Illinois, and it looked at overall library use plus library use for solving problems related to subjects like education, taxes, job searches, and health care. The study, and related stories, can be found at www.pewinternet.org/topic/Libraries.aspx.
The reseachers found that Internet users were more than twice as likely to patronize libraries as non-Internet users and that more than two-thirds of library visitors in all age groups use computers during their trips to the library.
Job searchers are new patrons
Across the county, librarians are reporting increased library use because of the depressed economy as job-searchers go to libraries to use their computers to find work. Here’s how Grand Rapids, Michigan TV station WZZM reported that phenomenon on Feb. 1:
“Even though it was Super Bowl Sunday, libraries across the country were still finding more and more patrons because of the economy. Libraries are reporting the highest computer usage ever because they’re free and offer a portal to potential jobs, giving people a chance to survive the economy.
“Asante Cain, a manager at the Grand Rapids Public Library, says business is booming with people coming in for a myriad of reasons. “To file unemployment claims or to work on resumes,’ says Cain. ‘We have a small business development center for people who are starting their own businesses.”
According to the Georgia Public Library System alone, 38 out of 58 public library systems in that state showed an increase in the number of users of electronic resources, adding a total of nearly 1.4 million users. In all, more than 13 million people used public-access Internet terminals at Georgia’s public libraries in one year alone.
Statistics also show that the traditional use of libraries is still strong in the areas of hard-copy book checkouts and attendance at public forums and culture conferences. Many libraries find ways of subsidizing dwindling state revenues by conducting periodic book sales or even maintaining standing book stores within the library.
Back at the Ashland, Ohio, Public Library, there are these uses as well. But then it’s also Wednesday afternoon and time for the “Sit, Stay, and Read” program for kids, young and old, where you can read your favorite story to a therapy dog who is more than willing to listen.
And, by the way, Tuesday night’s showing of “North by Northwest” was a big hit upstairs in the library’s free theater.
If Narcissus had tweaked one of Socrates’ famous teachings just a tad, he could have come up with a pretty good one-liner carrying a double meaning. It would, of course, be simply:
The more time I spend on Facebook, the more I wonder about narcissism. There seems to be a lot of talking and not all that much listening, and so much of the talk centers on what the poster
is up to or what great thought she/he just had. My own posts are usually no different. I recently concluded a cross-country road trip from California to Ohio and felt duty-bound to publicly journal it on FB all the way.
Self-love to the max
Narcissism is defined variously as “self-love,” or “an exceptional interest in and admiration of yourself.” One definition notes that it is “self-love that shuts out everyone else.”
Giving myself and a lot of other FB posters the benefit of a doubt, I don’t think we’re there, at least not yet, because there is a lot of interacting with others that takes place on the site. There are a lot of congratulatory messages, notes of concern and support, a lot of happy birthdays and happy anniversaries. I’ve even got at least one FB friend who uses her posts to extol the virtues of God. And it’s only natural that we post what we know best, and that is often news about ourselves.
But there are times when you see nothing but photo slide shows of individuals that look like they were taken at a Glamour Shots studio over at the mall and, when you compare them with the snapshots taken from every unflattering angle possible, you wonder if you are looking at the borderline between narcissists and everyday people.
Or could it be some of us just remember what Mom advised: “Always look your best!” I mean, have you never asked for a second or third click for your driver’s license or school I.D.? And how may people are ever even going to see that mug shot?
This subject of self-love and the social media has not escaped the attention of psychologists, and I came across an interesting study the other day that looks at it. The researchers are Laura Buffardi, a grad student in psychology, and W. Keith Campbell, professor of psychology, both at the University of Georgia. Their work appears in the October issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. (http://psp.sagepub.com)
Buffardi says narcissism is not just drawing attention to oneself or wanting to be liked. Clearly a lot of us fall into those parameters. Instead, she and Campbell say it is more severe than that and is characterized by an inability to form healthy, longterm relationships.
In the way it’s used
Buffardi noted, “Not everyone who uses Facebook is a narcissist. We found that people who are narcissistic use Facebook in self-promoting way that can be identified by others.”
So the two researchers gave questionnaires to 130 FB users, analyzed the content of the pages and had untrained strangers view the pages and rate their impression of the owner’s level of narcissism.
The team discovered, after analyzing the results, that the correlates of narcissism are the number of FB friends and wallposts that individual have on their pfile pages. Buffardi feels this is similar to how narcissists behave the in the real world, accumulating many relationships, most of which are very shallow.
And to my question about the kind of pictures FB users post of themselves, the researchers offer this: “Narcissists are also more likely to choose glamorous, self-promoting pictures for their main profile photos, while others are more likely to use snapshots.”
Hmmm … better re-evaluate my own profile picture, shot one evening in the Austrian Alps. Too much?
Impressions of impressions
Back to the Buffardi/Campbell study where they write, “Untrained observers were able to detect the narcissists also. Observers used three characteristics (quantity of social interaction, attractiveness of the individual, and the degree of self-promotion in the main photo) to form an impression of the individual’s personality.”
The study seems to find what we would think to be true: Some FB users use the site in narcissistic ways, while others just use it to stay in touch with friends and keep them informed about their lives.
Says Campbell, “Nearly all of our students use Facebook, and it seems to be a normal part of people’s social interactions. It just turns out that narcissists are using Facebook the same way they use their other relationships: for self-promotoion with an emphasis on quantity over quality.”
Couldn’t it be that some people are just more extroverted than others and choose to have larger circles of friends? Just because you fall into that category doesn’t make you a follower of Narcissus.
So all this is interesting to speculate about but, of course, if we start focusing too much on ourselves and how we look to others on Facebook, aren’t we in a de facto way becoming narcissistic?
Volumes have been written about the trouble the Web is causing for the newspaper industry, and much of it is true. The good news is that newspapers have been adapting to the changing media landscape for some time and have embraced convergence across print and online platforms.
Less has been written about the trouble the Web is causing the television industry, but those problems are mounting as recent research shows. How well television adapts to the challenge will determine the future of TV, the medium which former FCC Commissioner Newton Minow once dubbed “the vast wasteland.”
Viewers turn to Web
A story in the June 6 edition of the Canadian newspaper, The Vancouver Sun, reveals that 68 percent of people worldwide with access to the Internet admit to spending more time online than in front of their television sets. The poll was administered to 24,000 people from 23 different countries and was conducted by Ipsos, one of the world’s largest research companies, for Canada.com.
The results sound bad for television, but they may not be as dire as they initially look, according to Steve Mossop, president of Ipsos Reid. “The survey results are indicative of a trend,” Mossop told the Sun, “but I don’t think the TV is going anywhere. Growth rates are significant, but the full implications are still a number of years away.”
Web access an issue?
He added that 73 percent of the world’s population doesn’t even have Internet access. That may be true globally, but it’s not true in North America, Western Europe, or the population centers of Asia where nearly everyone has access to the Web. And it is these more advanced parts of the globe that drive media revenues.
Other experts offer a more severe assessment of the problems the Web is causing TV. One is Richard Cavell, a media and technology researcher at the University of British Columbia who told the Sun that, in simple terms, “It’s over. There is no TV anymore, because it has become the Internet.”
Despite a recent American survey that found television usage per capita to be up by several hours a year, Cavell said the unspoken part of that finding is that the increase in TV usage is on the Web as users download and stream TV programs online.
Good news, Dad
Good point, and it’s one I’ve found to be true among my college students. The days of college students (or more likely their dads) hauling up big-screen TVs to the dorm rooms are largely over. Mqny students don’teven have TV’s in their rooms, because they are watching TV over their laptops and – increasingly – on their i-Pods or i-Phones. These devices are more portable, and they don’t require cable hookups or fees.
That might not be too bad for the television production companies and distributing networks because people are still watching TV. But it is bad news for the companies manufacturing TV sets. More importantly for the television industry is the effect it may have on traditional TV advertising. If viewer numbers decrease for television programming and commercials, and if the advertising can’t make the jump as effectively to Web-based viewing, there may well be less advertising revenue for the television industry. And that, of course, has a snowballing effect on entertainment programming and on news and public affairs shows, too.
Classic TV on the Web
Recently I’ve joined the growing crowd in watching TV over the Web, and it works fairly well for guys like me who are more addicted to the older shows than the current ones. For example, a night is pretty much a total loss for me if I can’t catch at least one episode each of Seinfeld and Frasier. I can often find full episodes online (I just checked and several Frasier episodes are still on YouTube although who knows for how long) or at least get a multitude of clips of the most memorable moments of these two great shows. And over on AOL Television’s In2TV (http://television.aol.com/in2tv) you get a long list of intact classic TV shows to watch from the 1970s, 80s, and 90s.
Nets stream shows to Web
It’s even possible to watch first-run episodes of current TV programs on your computer after they have been aired on traditional TV screens. And it isn’t some bootlegger streaming them, but the TV networks themselves. One such network site is www.nbc.com/video that allows you to watch full episodes online of shows like Chuck, 30 Rock, Heroes, and the rest of their current season program lineup. Much of this is made possible by the change from analog to digital transmission that television has undergone in recent years, capped by all stations broadcasting in digital starting a year ago on June 12.
Not only can we watch TV on our computers, however. Now we can also connect our computers to our TV’s and use our TV screen as our computer screen, typing in whatever we can access from the Web and having it show up on our big-screen TVs. Google TV is one such system that facilitates this.
An excerpt from Google TV’s May marketing pitch explains it this way:
“Google TV is a new experience for television that combines the TV that you already know with the freedom and power of the Internet. With Google Chrome built in, you can access all of your favorite websites and easily move between television and the web. This opens up your TV from a few hundred channels to millions of channels of entertainment across TV and the web. Your television is also no longer confined to showing just video. With the entire Internet in your living room, your TV becomes more than a TV — it can be a photo slideshow viewer, a gaming console, a music player and much more.”
Google is working with Sony, Logitech, and Intel to put Google TV inside of television sets, Blu-ray players and companion boxes. These devices are slated to go on sale in the fall in Best Buy stores around the country, Google says.
Stay tuned for the latest developments.
Armchair traveling has always been a favorite sport of those who would see the world without actually going to see it. But today’s armchair travels take on a different look thanks to the Web 2.0 media.
No longer do we need travel brochures or library books showing us what exotic places used to look like a few years ago. Today’s Webchair travelers simply take a virtual tour of the world as it exists at this very minute.
A lot of sites now offer Webcams that capture events around the world as they are actually happening and – like an old Star Trek TV episode – computer users can beam themselves up to those places in a heartbeat of a click.
One such Web site is called Around the World in 80 Clicks (www.aroundin80clicks.com) that offers virtual travel adventures and stories from around the globe. Each story is illustrated with photos that can even be enlarged and downloaded by individual travelers.
When you go to that site you are greeted with a challenge in the form of a quote from the fictional Phileas Fogg of famed Around the World in 80 Days fame. In part, Fogg announces, “I will bet twenty thousand pounds against anyone who wishes, that I can make the tour of the world in eighty days or less …”
Only with this site, you can make the tour in 80 clicks. It will take you only a small fraction of Fogg’s time. From the moment you click, you start your virtual tour in New York, then head to Canada, Ireland, France, Monaco, etc., etc. At several sites you see a live camera showing activities at landmark sites such as a Monte Carlo casino or the Eiffel Tower.
The problem with this site seems to be operating consistency. When I dialed it up last night, sometimes its sequencing worked and sometimes I was left on the second page, watching an icon of the planet twirl around. I discovered, however, that backing out of this site by keying into Google the phrase “around the world in 80 clicks” gave me other entry points to this site where photos and postings from world locations could be found. So if the main site doesn’t work well for you, try that.
It’s also possible to visit sites that will take you to specific places. Like www.taj-mahal.net which takes you to Agra, India, and this famous destination. You can view the Taj Mahal from every angle possible, courtesy of a 360-degree viewer tool and camera. You can do the same thing at www.louvre.fr/louvrea.htm which takes you to this famous Paris museum.
There is even a travel site for surfers called Surfline (www.surfline.com) which offers Webcam reports of some of the best surfing sites in the world, together with weather forecasts, news and features about the sport.
Webchair travlers also have Google Earth (http//earth.google.com) at their command,and now they also have Google Sky (http://www.google.com/sky/). Both are great virtual travel sites.
These are fun and instructive sites that let us go anywhere in the world (or beyond) and see the planet as a high-flying bird might view it. And, like that bird, you can swoop down and get a close-up view of any place you’d like.
Once, while in Germany, I used Google Earth to take me to the courtyard outside my office door in Southern California. You can also take it the other way and head to the vastness of the heavens.
Of course, there’s even an Armchair Traveling Facebook Page, although there don’t seem to be that many travelers to this site. Still, one traveler noted that she is spending the afternoon going to South Dakota, Nevada, New York City “and a few other places.” Another traveler notes how great it is “never to have to leave the comforts of your own home.”
Another interesting site is found at www.earthcam.com which shows Webcam video and stills from around the planet. EarthCam says it’s the place “Where the World Watches the World,” and it’s an apt slogan. The site has featured cameras in some 26 states plus the District of Columbia, as well as about 20 countries worldwide ranging from Aruba to Russia.
After you sit through the obligatory commercial, you get a view of which ever Web cam you click on. For example, in New York City you can get an exclusive live view of the completely restored USS Intrepid from the highest point on the ship 8 feet above the mast. Or you can go to Sitka, Alaska, and watch as the Web cam pans west across beautiful Jamestown Bay with Mount Edgecumbe in the background.
There are, of course just a few things missing by seeing the world this way. You can’t sample the world’s exotic cuisine, nor can you smell those mysterious aromas like the ones that hit you the second you exit the airport in New Delhi. But virtual traveling is better than no traveling at all so log on and start your world tour!