By Meredith Farkas | April 6, 2009
Let me preface this post with the statement that I hate the term Luddite. I think it’s often used to dismiss people and ideas that differ from our own. It’s much easier to dismiss someone as being anti-tech than to try and understand what may be their very rational argument against something you love or want to do.
Fortunately, the first two posts I’m pointing to acknowledge that Luddite is a pejorative term, though I don’t know that I would have bothered reading Love thy Luddite by Mick Jacobsen (who mentions that “it is probably better not call anybody a Luddite” only at the very end of his post ) had I not first read You should listen to the non-techies too by Angel Rivera. The use of the term Luddite throughout the former post really made it difficult for me to read, which is a shame, because the arguments are quite good.
Both Angel and Mick talk about opening a dialogue with non-techies instead of writing them off as being anti-tech. But Mick is coming at this from the standpoint of someone who loves tech and wants to share that love with others (the evangelist) and Angel is coming from the standpoint of someone who likes tech that is useful to him and is sick to death of people trying to push him to use technologies that just aren’t for him.
I feel strongly that we should not engage in dialogue with people who aren’t into the technologies we’re into just to convince them that we’re right, because, frankly, we might not be. I was happy to see Mick acknowledge just that fact:
You might be introducing the wrong technology at that particular time or you may need to reexamine the technology. The Luddite may very well have thought of something you haven’t and it may not be as useful as you hope (I can’t tell you how many times this has happened to me).
Yes!!! I wish someone at my place of work had told me that an internal wiki was a terrible idea when I first proposed creating one 3 1/2 years ago. Early on at my time at Norwich, I saw a great need for an internal wiki to share knowledge among staff members. Was there a real need for better knowledge-sharing? Yes. But it didn’t really matter, because there were so many competing priorities for people’s time and this simply was not anyone else’s top priority. But I just saw the need and created a wiki that I didn’t do a great job introducing (an email with instructions on how to use the wiki — dumb Meredith) and wasted a lot of time on something that never took off. Would I have listened back then if one of my colleagues had told me it wouldn’t work? I don’t know. But I’ve gotten a lot less hard-headed since then, and understand that it’s not just the right technology for the need, but it’s people acknowledging the need, wanting to put effort into fulfilling that need (or having the time to put in that effort), being ready for the technology, and especially how the technology is introduced. The wiki didn’t fail because it was a wiki (or because my colleagues were anti-tech). It failed because fixing that problem was not a top priority. It still isn’t. A wiki worked great with my colleagues as a subject guide tool because reference and instruction are seen as top priorities by all staff.
Mick also talks about showing the person how you or others are actually using the technology to convince them of its utility:
Show how you are personally using this new technology, how others are using it, and how they specifically could. Hypothetical situations just don’t seem to work.
So true! I always pack my presentations with lots and lots of practical examples of how libraries are successfully using specific technologies, because it’s the concrete examples that sell it for most people. That’s how it works for me, even. I may not see the utility of something until I see clever uses for it beyond the “wow, this is fun!” I thought wikis were pretty cool, but it wasn’t until I could think of concrete uses for them in the profession that I really understood how amazing they were. And for a lot of people, it isn’t until they see what other libraries have done with wikis that they will understand that. “Wikis are so cool” isn’t an argument that’s going to work for most people.
I really like what Angel said about the pushiness of some people who just can’t understand why someone wouldn’t think their technology of choice isn’t the best thing since sliced bread (and are sometimes rude and dismissive towards those who disagree). There’s being a pragmatist about tech — and you can even really love the tech you use and still be pragmatic about it — and then there’s being religious about tech. We don’t need proselytizing. We don’t all have to use the same tools and just because we don’t like something you love doesn’t mean we need to be educated (ugh! I hate when someone makes the assumption that a person must not agree with them because they haven’t been educated about it properly — it really does stink of fundamentalism at that point, doesn’t it?). While there are certain technologies I can hardly live without, there are plenty that just don’t fit into my life. They may be “cool” and they may be really useful to you, but they’re just not for me. Twitter is one thing that I use extremely sporadically and I’ve found just doesn’t fit my day-to-day lifestyle. It’s great for conferences (and I’m sure I’ll use it at ALA Annual), but I don’t have the time to stick with it and I have a hard time multitasking between work and Twitter. It doesn’t mean I “don’t get it.” I just don’t need it.
And just because we use it, our friends use it, and we think it’s the best thing since sliced bread doesn’t mean that our patrons use it. This is why I am madly in love with the graphic from Char Booth and Chris Gruder’s ACRL presentation on the study they did of their users at Ohio University, which Char highlighted in her post, two-way touché. One of the things they did was ask users was what technologies they use and some technologies that many librarians use and are crazy about — Twitter, Flickr, del.icio.us, and Second Life in particular — they found were barely used by students at OU.
How many of us really know how many of our users are using these tools? It’s kind of important, right? If we’re spending time putting pictures of our library on Flickr so more our patrons can find them, it would be good to know if a lot of our users are actually on there. But in other cases, it may not matter so much, depending on how you are using the technology. I bet the number of our distance learners who use IM is a lot smaller than the number who use our MeeboMe Ask a Librarian service, because it doesn’t require them to really know anything about IM (just how to type words into a box). They don’t need to love IM or even know they’re using IM to benefit from it. Similarly, our subject guide wiki doesn’t look like a wiki at all to our patrons, so it doesn’t really matter if they use wikis or not as long as they can navigate a normal website. And if you’re using Flickr mainly as a storage repository and republish the pictures on your library website, it doesn’t matter if your patrons don’t use Flickr. But in some cases, it’s crazy that we spend valuable staff time trying to communicate with patrons using tools we don’t even know if they use.
And we need to keep assessing these things because as Char admits (with a nod to Brian Matthews’ post on Twitter) these things change all the time. While Twitter may not be hot right now with your population, it may be hot in a few months, so we really need to keep our finger on the pulse of our patrons. And there may be times when it make sense to step out in front of your patrons with new tech.
(As a side note: I came to the conclusion that Twitter had jumped the shark, not because it has been featured in every news outlet in the known universe over the past few weeks, but because my father started “following” me on Twitter 2 weeks ago. )
I think sometimes we all need to try and step outside of our personal feelings about these technologies, which isn’t easy when we think they’re the best thing since sliced bread. When we are talking to others about technology, we need to realize that what we find useful may not be useful to them (and that’s ok). When we are thinking about implementing new tech with our patrons, we need to understand how our patrons use tech and whether this is really a good fit for that population. Charging in with an “I know better” attitude rarely leads to positive outcomes. Effective 2-way communication and understanding other perspectives is critical.