Showing posts with label Information Access. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Information Access. Show all posts

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Thanks to the FCC Net Neutrality is Dead

The Internet as we’ve come to know it is gone…or at least is going away.  According to today’s NYT, the FCC has decided that there can be a tiered system of Internet access, thus allowing for faster speed and wider bandwidth to be afforded to companies willing to pay for it like Google and resellers like Verizon and Comcast.  Here is the link:


This essentially means that higher speeds which equal faster and better access to web-based content will become a premium service. Who will pay for this? Well, typically in a market economy it will be those who can afford it. It’s like the different between eating a McDonalds hamburger and a steak, sure they’re both meat from a cow, but one tastes better and is certainly more expensive. And while perhaps the analogy is poor because we can choose not to eat meat, none of us in our modern times can live without the Internet.

I am not a “sky is falling” type of guy, however what the end of Net Neutrality basically means is that  consumers will have a choice to pay for higher faster and lower slower speeds for accessing the Internet. 

Typically, those who least can afford such access will be outside of such choice because economic realities disenfranchise those from wider access whether it’s in politics or the Internet.

Who will be impacted negatively the most? From my perspective it will be those at the fringe; the poorest people in every nation, most students and in some cases public higher education.

This is just my analysis and I could be wrong but we have to take this shift seriously since the Internet is one of the most democratic tools we have to maintain fairness to access to information. And according to the FCC access to this level of democracy can now go to the highest bidder.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Library as the Ultimate House of Worship

"The People's University"
New York Public Library in Manhattan
As a librarian and anthropologist, I am frequently thinking about how people come together for individual and community purposes. As another chapter in my career is about to turn (more on that later this month), I find it rather easy to expound upon the reverential nature believers in faith-based communities have with their house of worship in much the same way lay people, intellectuals and academics have to their libraries.
As a non-believer, this is certainly how I come to respect and applaud libraries as places of knowledge - unabashed storehouses of information - spanning decades and centuries and millennia. Existing as physical places and also virtual spaces in the ether which harness modern technology to share ideas over much distance and time.
When seeking solace, the faithful will seek a holy person who is sworn to lead a flock or save a soul. This person exists to proselytize and give comfort to those seeking religious guidance. But what happens in libraries when a lost person seeks guidance? They find their librarian and collections of materials gathered, described and made available by caring, dedicated and educated professionals whose goal it is to do something very noble in its own right. That nobility is to deliver to the user the information they need to make their own world better, safer and perhaps richer in some way.
The difference here is that a holy person isn’t necessarily needed to ensure democracy and free access to all information – in fact there is much religious persecution and censorship out there in the bibliographic and real world. But for democracy to work, we need librarians and library staff. They are the arbiters of facts which are sometimes lost or perhaps never known by individuals within a culture. They are the ones who can reach back into time and connect people to the answers they seek; they are the ones who are guardians of institutional and cultural memory. They are the ones who breathe life into ideas from poets and philosophers and scientists and artists and historians and mathematicians and healers long gone and from every part of the world.
If the purpose of house of worship attendance is in part to use ritual as a form of action for seeking guidance from a holy person in a holy place to commune with the sacred, then we can certainly secularize that process when people look for information. When a student or researcher, regardless of age, demographic of identity seeks the library, they are performing a ritual dedicated to seeking access to ideas and information that they cannot find by themselves. Certainly, a different form of communion but one which is vital and essential to sustaining both life and liberty.
Granted we have Google and Wikipedia out there, but the Internet is actually a very lonely and scary place when you need deep information. And for this your need a guide! A person trained, educated and dedicated to connect you with the right information at the right time, regardless of where and how that information can and is found. That’s why you need a librarian.
Ironically, the most exquisite and decorative of early books in the bibliographic universe, the incunabula, are those dedicated to religious belief and written as a testament to faith. But we find a striking coincidence in the growth of availability and access to books and the growth of secularism and democratic movements. In fact, we know that the Dark Ages ended and the Enlightenment began at almost the same time as books could be published in greater number and universities could be established to share information on a scale never known by humanity before the invention of the printing press.
Fast forward and we find whole democratic social movements occurring because of the distribution of the written word as a way to spread democracy. Books lead the way. So true is it that when one censors access or burns books, one is actually taking away democracy and instituting forms of tyranny. Whether it is for religious or political purposes, the moment one group decides to censor access to information they are essentially betraying the right of every human citizen to live freely and to learn freely.
Where do we find such censorship today? Clearly it is in states with high proportions of religiously in the United States, but also in nation-states that use religious rather than secular law to guide their societies and where past or present Marxian totalitarianism lingers.
That is why the role of the librarian is so vital to democracy and to secularism. Librarians in many ways are guardians of information that inform and create the “truths” that people seek when finding such truth elsewhere leads to intellectual or dare I say, spiritual dead ends.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

How PIPA AND SOPA May Impact the Internet

SOPA Composite
*Copyright Washington Post

Media content producers have been concerned for decades that their intellectual property, the content we enjoy and view, is accessed in a way that allows them the freedom to continue to produce movies, videos, music and other media while protecting their ownership rights through copyright. Typically, this means that a fee is paid to access the information and to enjoy the fruits of another’s imagination while at the same time supporting the film, television, music industries (which are all big-business) and the continued risk of their capital as they use it to create and support the visual and performing arts. 

In the time of the Internet, this is why we have iTunes and other virtual fee-based services that serve as online intermediaries to bridge the work of content creators and those who wish to access the content. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and its later changes and amendments ensured that peer-to-peer networks could not file- share copyrighted content without paying a fee to the content owners and providers.  This is how and why Napster was so ignobly shut down.  At the time, the site claimed to just be a service which let people share files, but the law saw Napster as violating copyright.

Sadly, like much legislation going through the Congress these days, the legal departments from major corporate entities are writing and then presenting bills to their legislator’s for action. The Protect IP Act (PIPA) and Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), were both pretty much written by the film and music industries who are essentially and dramatically looking to expand their ownership rights. They want to control how and what people view on the Internet by also holding Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) liable for shut down if they violate the new legislation if it were to become law. But this is not just an "American issue" but one with international ramifications.

Enter the ISP’s like Google and major websites like Wikipedia and Facebook who have their own bank of lawyers. Their interpretation of the proposed legislation basically argues that should the bills become law, that the companies will become co-conspirators, even without their knowledge or consent in the sharing of illegal content. Thus they could be found liable for damages or even shut down.  As an example, Google may provide a link to a site or Wikipedia and Facebook may provide access to an article or page which may have a link to a site that may knowingly or not link to unprotected content. Ergo Google, Wikipedia and Facebook, et al, are now responsible to promoting illegal access to copyrighted materials. 

This is why many popular Internet sites have gone dark today. They want to raise awareness of these bills and fight back against what is essentially Draconian legislation.

The bigger issue is that as the Internet continues to become the life blood of our information lives, it provides greater access to entertainment, education, recreation and sharing communication and ideas. So the push and pull over what is protected and accessed for a fee or for free will forever be an issue for us to philosophically ponder and to legally ensure intellectual ownership is protected.

The studios say that without this legislation, jobs will be at risk – not the jobs of the artists and actors, but of those who work in production or who are part of the necessary but mundane aspects of creating art.  The ISP’s see this as a battle over fair and free access and their own corporate existence and liability. 

National Public Radio (NPR) basically boiled this down to a war between Southern California, where the content is created, and Northern California, where companies take the content and distribute it via the Internet.

All the while as these battles rage, we the common Internet users are the one’s who have the most to gain or lose; and are at the most risk of losing access to content.  A problem that won’t be going away anytime soon based on past experience.

Perhaps this is a good thing since the Internet does need regulation, however, it always seems that the protections go too far and may actually stop free speech and access for the sake of real or imagined threats to our personal or intellectual safety. We must remember in the end, that no matter how intolerable or of deep concern the issue, censorship is never the right answer.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Forget the other 99%. This is the 1% that May Really Count

Take us to Your Leader

The New York Times ran an article today about mobile users and the data they access.  Apparently and not surprisingly, the amount of available bandwidth - also known as transmission capacity of all electronic communications – is being over-consumed by mobile devices. Laptop and smart phone users are taking, without much thought, most of the available downloadable traffic space, while at the same time hogging online resources of land-based telecommunications devices.

The article reports that one percent of consumers are generating about half of the mobile traffic.  The article also notes that if you widen these numbers, that technology usage statistics show that 10% of all mobile users are using upwards to 90% of the available bandwidth.

Where is this usage coming from one may ask? It appears that it stems from two main sources.  The first are international business travelers who take their work with them to stay connected and to access global corporate or national networks.  The second set of mobile Internet users are a bit more sublime. These folks are – you guessed it – all of us. 

...Us too...
Apparently, we’re sending and receiving wider amounts of data, pictures, movies, and audio over our mobile devises than ever before.  It also appears that the trend will only continue as prices for mobile devices, access costs and apps decrease while the density of online offerings increase.

According to Michael Flanagan, there are already similarities between the hoarding and use of the finite mobile bandwidth spectrum and the Occupy movement.  He’s quoted in the article, “Some people may draw the parallel to Occupy Wall Street, and I’ve heard comments about ‘Occupy the downlink’”

As the article points out, there are socio-economic, cultural and other access issues at play here.  The majority of users are consuming bandwidth via laptops (63%), but coming in second are smart phones (33%) and at a distant third, Apple’s iPad (3%). In most cases, it is the western, industrialized nations which account for most of the usage. 

But usage is also growing in wealthy nations in the Middle-East and also in China. This is despite the rabid censorship that many Islamic nations with their theistic governments or Communist countries attempt to enforce tough access laws and digital barriers to block access to Internet signals and sites.

The article also notes that Ericcsson, the maker and marketer of smart phones and networks, anticipates “the volume of global mobile data will rise tenfold from 2011 to 2016.”

In the 1970’s, many industrialized nations went through painful oil shortages and lines for gasoline stretched for miles. While energy is still critical for our survival, in the 21st Century, what we seem to crave above all else is a stronger and longer dependence on another valuable resource. That resource is information.  

This also means that if telecommunications companies are not investing now to strengthen their network capacity to support access and stability, then we are all in for a heap of pain when someone or something blows a major circuit and the Internet stops flowing into our devices and our lives.

Perhaps this does not have evolutionary implications for our species just yet. But humans have come to depend more and more on both information and technology to do things for us. Man the tool user has always depended on tools to create and expand culture and solve problems.  But tools also create problems as well. So while we’re consciously or unconsciously connected to the microchip, we may be setting ourselves up for real problems in global communication and access to information if we don’t plan for these nascent (but ongoing) access issues now.

While these problems may present themselves almost as a form of science fiction, in reality, the loss of communication and the lack of sharing of ideas can mean real problems for growing one global community. We’d lose access for supporting education, healthcare, business, entertainment and for public safety – and those are just a few of the fields which depend heavily on Internet technology.

Let alone the loss of bandwidth would mean those who are the poorest would have even less access to global information than they do now. Depending on the nation or community, the poor will remain least able to become part of a growing franchise which promotes democracy and allows for individuals and communities to learn from one another and share information. 

Such a loss, felt unevenly across communities and national borders will perpetuate the least favorable option for global peace and understanding. And that is too scary to contemplate. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Book review: The Googlization of Everything: and Why we Should Worry

Google's mission is to organize the worlds information.  This mission, while both brave and admirable has little to do with ensuring that information found on the Internet is accessible, or that content is truthful, accurate, timely, unbiased and free of commercialization.  We live in a world where most everything can have an established value. This means information can and certainly is made into a commodity. 


Information is bought, sold, manipulated and kept secret or shared for the benefit of those who control or have access to the content files, sounds, images and data. Business people, students, farmers, cooks, doctors, really all of us are involved in seeking, conveying or combining data in small and big ways throughout our day.


Contrary to the market driven formula concerning the access and control of information, publically funded libraries tend to have a mission which for thousands of years has supported the public good. This "good" is defined here as promoting democratic access to information by both equalizing and eliminating the gap between the information rich and poor.

Siva Vaidhyanathan's new book looks at the impact Google has had on information sharing, reproduction and access.  He focuses on the meteoric rise of Google, which started as a search tool and expanded into a diverse information services company. A global corporation which can make or break markets, impact how we get our information, what we can access, and how this access forms our perceptions, ability to communicate and enhances or subtracts from our personal and cultural memory and language.

The author notes, "we have invited Google to fill a vacuum....we allow Google to determine what is important, relevant, true on the web...we trust that Google acts in our best interest....but we have (outsourced) our control over the values, methods and processes that govern our information ecosystem.". The author is right that with much power comes deep responsibility. However, Google, like any corporation ultimately works to benefit itself and its shareholders. This does not make Google nefarious or bad, it just means that the company, while used so freely and openly world-wide, is an entity under which it operates to gain market share and profit over rivals.

When we use Google's services the company is also collecting information about our information behavior, our personal drives and desires. By looking at its diverse online offerings and services; from gmail and blogger to Google docs and Google scholar, or the strategic purchase of YouTube, to dozens of other offerings, one becomes conscious of just how diverse the company has become and how much we've come to rely in it to support the life we live on the Internet. These offerings and their personalization of experience mean that you are known and are being watched. This isn't meant to scare but just to remind the reader that nothing in life or on the web is truly free.

In terms of privacy, Google has access to all your online habits and information seeking behavior because of its default settings. These settings grant it the right to access and collect information. It also affords the company the right to hold and set a liberal maximum retention rate on the data it collects. This is all done to build and improve your search experience and promote new or expanded internet services. These innovations then lead to the collection of even greater amounts of data about individual and community use of the Internet.

As a surveillance tool, we have allowed the company access into our homes, work and into our deepest thoughts. In fact, one could argue that we have eagerly given up much of our privacy just to use Google's services. Thus providing Google access and liberal use of information that in some ways could be detrimental, but in other ways help us connect, grow and learn from each other and about the world.

The author notes that Google is a highly regulated company. That numerous laws in the United States and abroad manage the company's growth, performance and services. Plus, there are  numerous watch-dog groups which monitor the company, attempting to ensure that it does not become Big Brother. 


Vaidhyanathan also points out that ultimately Google exists in greater or lesser extent in three distinct areas of sevice via the internet. The first is what he calls, scan and link which basically is the web search front-end of the Chrome browser or Google.com URL; the second is host and serve, this being Blogger and YouTube, and the third service is, scan and serve and includes Google books and Google street. Because of the companys reach, the author notes, "faith in Google is dangerous not because of anything sinister that Google does. It's dangerous because of how we allow it to affect our expectations and information about the world."

Google is a complex organization run by smart people and they are not especially bad or all good, like all companies and institutions.  For instance, the author notes that while the companys public motto is to "do no evil" in actuality, Google in China has supported levels of censorship. Indeed, Google can make or break online markets just by changing how it calculates and presents search results and site rankings.  It can also support or block access by changing its advertising costs depending on a business relationship.

Knowledge is more than power, it is and instrument in which the powerful use it to consolidate more resources. Google's initiative to digitize the worlds printed books was met with positive and negative anticipation. The project intended to make Google the market leader for search and access to the electronic book market. However, the process and pace of the digitization as well as issues regarding copyright and payment for content remain troubling. Google works fast and efficiently, but doesn't necessarily put as much effort into indexing like librarians offer when they catalog a book or object. The idea to capture a market rather than truly make information democratic and accessible remains one of the projects main failures and a deep concern many have regarding the Google book initiative.

It should be noted that I, like many others, use gmail for personal and work communication. This blog was founded on and continues to use the Google platform.  So it must be understood that we cannot escape, nor possibly should we avoid Google or its products, services and search capabilities.  But I am a huge believer of democracy and choice, so I want to acknowledge that reliance on one product to meet all of ones information needs is dangerous and counter-intuitive to personal and societal freedom.

If you plan to read any books about Goolge or our information age, then Vaidyanathan's book is a very good place to start.  You'll probably wind up dong a Google search at some point in your day about some subject or person. If you do, you are certainly not alone and because of this fact, we are all connected to each other and the company.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Who Are The People in Your Neighborhood?

Big Bird
If you're like most readers of this blog you've probably come into contact with the wit and wisdom of that great educational series known as Sesame Street.  Perhaps you grew up on the show?  Or you have children or grandchildren who are fascinated by the learning experiences; the cartoons, the Muppets, the live actor/teachers or the other animation found and authored by the Children's Television Workshop.

The producers of the show work hard to make each episode gentle and approachable for the mostly early learners who watch. Making education fun can touch someone and create lifelong learners, so I applaud Sesame Street's longevity and mission.  I have especially enjoyed the music from the show. My own daughters had videos and CDs from the programs when they were children.

Of all of the songs, possibly my favorite is entitled, "Who are the people in your neighborhood" It’s a song that explains just who, amongst all the folks one may see when you're walking down the street, you may meet.  In the urban world of Sesame Street, the city-scape is full of different people doing different jobs within a community. 

However, in the virtual blog world, the question of who are your neighbors is a little more amorphous.  Out of both boredom and interest, I decided to see who my own blog neighbors were and perhaps learn about those on my virtual street.  I clicked the "next blog" link at the top of my website and found while scrolling through the blogs that most, if not all, are personal religious pages, show evangelical or Baptist churches or highlight spirituality or other types of houses of worship.  I found this a bit ironic since, like any good neighbor, one usually wants to be amongst people who share your ideals and ideas to build community. 

So perhaps Paleolibrarian.info is the neighbor that other neighbors choose to avoid.  The one who's door the kids are told not to knock on at Halloween, or skip when they sell their school cookies?  Maybe the site is the one that other's feel promotes neighborhood blight? This because it sits in the middle-line of blogs about religious belief but chooses to view the world in a very different and more rational way. Perhaps my site and blog, which is dedicated to science, human origins, information sharing and free-thinker issues, doesn't meet the vision or the community standards of my neighbor's blogs?

What paleolibrarian.info does do is promote diversity within the blogosphere. It serves as a portal to ideas, links to other websites and reviews of free-thought experiences to support the growing number of non-theists who visit the site each day. It is a different site from that on my street, but not in the neighborhood of the Internet, where so much information (biased and unbiased, truthful or lacking in credibility, current and past) exists for anyone's access.

It is my hope that Paleolibrarian supports a way of thinking opposite of those who foster a religious point-of-view in general and found on religious blogs in particular. This because blogs about faith are easy to write, but in my opinion, lack truth since they are based on some form of spiritual belief. I have always found religion to be stifling, it interferes with my personal creativity and frankly faith leaves me empty of any joy. Prayer, ritual and the supernatural are devoid of any personal truth for me.

But being in and building community is critically important especially as the world continues to grow less religious and comes towards rationality. Sure, we have generations to go, but we'll get to the point where organized religion has the same meaning that the appendix shares in the human body. It is a vestige and sometimes has to be removed otherwise it will poison its host if it explodes.

Building community is the reason why I devote so much space to free-thinker ideas in my writings, promote links to allied websites, greatly anticipate the Reason Rally in March 2012, do my teaching work and serve others at work and in my personal life. Being present for others who share my views and being with those who do not, makes me a more connected person. It is something we should all attempt to do because it creates bridges to understanding that the void of sharing diminishes. 

There is a French philosopher named Simone Weil who wrote in the 1930's two things which stick with me to this day. One is "Whatever debases the intelligence degrades the entire human being" and the other is, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” Each statement has an emotional and almost spiritual quality. While born into an affluent Jewish family, Weil was an atheist who eventually found spirituality in Roman Catholicism. Weil was at times a socialist and anarchist; she also lived her life in near poverty and also fought Franco’s Fascists in Spain and served as part of the Free French movement during World War II.

Certainly, our free-thinker neighborhoods need to grow wider and deeper.  As Paleolibrarian grows and become increasingly accessible it lends its voice and that of the writings of guest bloggers, to grow community. And for that we see the generosity of attention that free-thought will give to the planet.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Speak Up and Speak Often: Talking Points, Pt. 1

I recently attended a meeting of Humanists and Free-thinkers where there was thoughtful discussion as to whether we, as arbiters of rationality and science-based reason, needed to be more vocal in our beliefs and advocacy. Certainly, the answer was yes; since many people speaking with one voice shows unity of thought, collective agreement and can lead to purposeful action. All of which are required for social and political change and to ensure our community remains strong and inter-connected

Since the group was in agreement, the other issue was how and what were the best talking points to ensure our ideas and reasoning are cogent. It is critically important that what is discussed with others, especially those who share different beliefs, that we do not get lost in the conversation. By that I mean we know what we’re talking about, that we can use reason to show our ideas are logical and have value. In this way, if one is the sole speaker to a group, or is serving on a panel, or perhaps debating, that the individual will lead rather than follow - regardless of the conversation’s formality and format

As you may already know, this blog's focus is on aspects of our information society as well as atheist and free-thinker issues. I have gathered information from trusted sources to offer the reader talking points should one be challenged on the value and importance of libraries. I've done the same regarding the intellectual and personal freedom brought by non-theism and a secular humanist worldview.

Libraries and Librarians:


Some people believe that the Internet has rendered libraries obsolete. However, we know that with the explosion of the World Wide Web, that more information doesn’t mean good information. We also know that anyone can place anything online and that what is uploaded can be mistaken as being truthful, accurate, timely and unbiased. However, without the learned critical skills used to decipher the information, the bad ideas, inaccurate statistics, doctored photos, edited videos and falsely written stories one accesses can ruin or hurt lives, make weak arguments, and limit our pursuit of knowledge and the exploration of both facts and truth.

The librarian’s purpose has been and will always be to collect, store, preserve and make accessible ideas and to be a gatekeeper to truthful, accurate, timely and unbiased information.

My Top Ten Talking Points from ALA, NCES and other reliable sources regarding the value of libraries (Warning: These are American-focused and may not be fully relevant for your country):

1. Libraries are a place for education and self-help. Because they bring access to all, they bring opportunity to all. Libraries are America’s great information equalizers – the only place people of all ages and backgrounds can find and freely use such a diversity of resources, along with the expert guidance of librarians

2. The National Center on Education and Statistics (NCES) reports that Americans visit libraries almost 1.4 billion times and check out almost 2 billion items per year. Library use continues to climb. Sixty-three percent of adults in the U.S. have public library cards

3. Libraries are part of the solution when a community is struggling economically. From free access to books and online resources for families to library business centers that help support entrepreneurship and retraining, libraries support lifelong learning

4. While Google can give you 50,000 responses to your inquiry, your librarian can help you find the one answer you need

5. Americans go to school, public and academic libraries 50 percent more often than they go to the movies. But Americans spend more than twice as much on candy as they do on public libraries

6. Two-thirds of libraries report they provide the only free access to computers and the Internet in their communities

7. There was a 23 percent increase in libraries providing assistance to patrons applying for or accessing e-government services, including tax forms, unemployment benefits and Medicare enrollment. Nearly 79 percent of libraries report this is the case; and two thirds of libraries report staff help patrons with completing government forms

8. Those most in danger of being left behind in the Information Age are most in need of assistance from library staff – using a mouse, establishing an email account, filling out government forms online, using new software and effectively navigating Internet resources

9. In addition to free public access to computers and the Internet,88% of libraries provide free access to job databases and other job opportunity resources. 69% provide software and other resources to assist in creating resumes and other employment material – a number that jumps to 81% in urban libraries

10. Investing in libraries is an investment in education and lifelong learning. Public libraries are a bargain. Nationally, the average cost to the taxpayer for access to this wide range of public-library resources is $33.56 a year, about the cost of one hardcover book

In part 2, I’ll share my top ten talking points for supporting secularism, atheism and free-thinking…..