When I began a draft of this blog post, it was going to be about the five trends found in the IFLA Trend Report, which I thought would be interesting to tackle because they are interesting trends. However, I got side-tracked thinking about the ideas produced from the 2015 article, “What Technology Will Look Like In Five Years,” by Diomedes Kastanis. I want to add to Kastinas’ thoughts about how the ownership of things will change as we move to more of a shared economy, expanding from our current state of apartment, car, bike sharing, to the sharing of those and other items differently than we do now. My first thoughts are that yes, sharing will change, but I also believe we will eventually arrive at a place where we don’t need to own many things at all. To get to this level of minimalism, and to make even greater progress as a people, we must begin to look past the thing, idea, widget, or service being innovated, and look at the larger picture of what it is we are trying to achieve by creating it. I agree with Kastanis, things will change, but more than just tech itself – the way we process information and consume will change.
When innovation is approached myopically, as the creation of a singular thing, the focus is on the object and not on people. The effect will be greater and have more impact if the innovation focuses on the feeling that is trying to be achieved through the creation of the object. If the innovation seeks to answer the question, “What does it mean holistically to have ‘work life balance,’ a ‘fulfilling career,’ a ‘happy home life’ or to ‘live life authentically?’” then we are meeting a need for those things people have expressed that they want. A time saving app offers the promise of ease, but offers only convenience; it doesn’t get to the heart of the desire – it’s an immediate and a temporary fix. To wit, a thermostat isn’t going to make anyone happy as a singular entity, but a Powerwall that simultaneously helps the environment, saves money, improves energy efficiency, and opens up opportunities and space to think about helping other people get along too can fulfill the purpose of providing power, and also touches on a deeper need for authentic living. Once the essence of the underlying goals is defined, building the supports and technology needed to achieve them can happen in a more deliberate way. Tasks like “improving the human condition” require that we break things down into manageable pieces, but the end must first be clearly defined before we can move toward it. Having larger, more humanist or altruistic goals in mind during the creation process is what will help us move forward, and move us toward a focus on people.
As an example, we can apply this holistic view to further innovations in the realm of Virtual Reality (VR). The goal of VR is to have a specific experience when that experience would just not be possible. (Aside: How will we come to refer to our current reality as opposed to a virtual one? Analog reality? Natural reality? Born reality?) As Kastanis states, for VR to be effective, our experience with the environment needs to be as unimpeded as possible. Our movement between the two states (this reality and virtual) will need to be fluid so that reality-natives can adjust to this new way of being, or it will always feel separate. VR-natives won’t need these supports. However, at the foundation, it is not solely the VR technology, or having a VR experience for the sake of having an experience that we want (though that might be cool for entertainment purposes), what we want from the experience, again, is something much larger. Developers must aim for the desired feeling to drive this revolution – the VR we want is holodeck VR. For example, if I live across the country from my parents, and I want to be with them at the holidays, then what I want is that feeling of connection – the feeling of Thanksgiving Day, the comfort of the couch, the smell of the food, the laughter of children, good conversation – all the things that make home “home.” Since it’s the feeling we really want, talking on Skype won’t cut it. Virtual versions can work for some things, like having a virtual Barack Obama show up at your community fundraiser for impeachment funds, but a virtual mom can’t hug you, and virtual food cannot be eaten, not yet anyway. And it’s not the individual items we’re looking for, so we shouldn’t try to just replicate them in another way. We want the integrated feeling of home. We need to believe we are home, and that is a much harder task to accomplish.
Applying this concept to library spaces, we can already see that libraries have changed to accommodate clients’ needs. What do patrons want? We have asked our communities, and they have told us. Libraries have had to adjust their way of thinking to appeal more broadly to the patron, and have done this to varying degrees of success. As an example, Anythink Libraries have considered what it means to provide a space of community – what community is and what it feels like – a true participatory space. I am almost positive that they succeeded because they did not think, “Let’s do [insert example of cool service they provide]” but that they examined their ideals, which manifested as core values, and then built something that supported those values. The feeling was what drove the creation. Other non-profit organizations, if they stay true to their mission, can change the world in this way, as their entire focus is to provide a service to those who need it, and not for monetary gain. It’s not enough to build a participatory space for the sake of doing it, we must first know why we are doing it, and what we hope to achieve by doing so. If we succeed in doing this across all aspects of our community, it’s quite possible that technology could bring us back full circle to what it means to be human.
Hailing from the great state of California, Megan is mid-degree in SJSU’s MLIS. Her program focus has been special librarianship and she hopes to integrate her love of art, technology, and cultural exploration into a future, information-related position. In her spare moments, she loves walking around cities, visiting museums, generally being outdoors, and learning about people and places. She blogs at www.mmeprice.org.