Alchemical Thoughts

Is digitalization really killing these things? Maybe…..

Posted on: December 3, 2009

I recently saw this list of "21 Things That Are Being Killed Off by Digitalisation." In my usual semi-snarky way, I would like to go over the list and see what is dying, what is dead, and what is not quite dead yet. So, here is the list. I will say that it seems the term "digitalisation" seems to be interchangeable with "online" or "Internet" in this context. The comments are all mine:

1. Memory. I would have to say that digitalization may not be killing memory, but it certainly is slowing it in some aspects. For example, phone numbers I used to memorize I now fail to memorize because I can just look them up on my cellphone. This is something I would like to work on, since there are still one or two phone numbers I would prefer to memorize for the moments when I do not have my cell phone. 

2. Privacy. Every time you use some social online network, you are giving up some privacy. As a librarian, I am very aware of the issues with privacy online, and I try to educate patrons. I think a lot of the students in my campus do not realize how much companies know about them based on their Facebook profiles, for example. True, there is a trade-off between privacy and convenience, but that does not mean we should give up all of our privacy nor that we lack privacy rights that need to be protected. I see this as one of the major issues worth fighting for these days.

3. Experts. Yea, pretty much gone. Everyone these days thinks they are an "expert" if they can post something online. And don't even get me started on the wahoos who make it a hobby to comment in places like CNN when Jack Cafferty poses some question. Having an opinion does not an expert make. Writing for Wikipedia does not make you an expert either. I want knowledge. I want credentials. I want some degree of peer editing and evaluation. But maybe my standards are on the high side. It may have to do with being in academia, where we still place some value in vetting expertise (something seriously lacking in most news organizations these days).

4. Concentration. It depends on what it is you are supposed to be concentrating on. For instance, blogging does require a certain degree of concentration. So does playing some online games. And if you read online, say news or other text, that does require some concentration as well. So, I am not so sure on this one.

5. Listening to a whole album. What is this album thing you speak of? Seriously, I can see with the advent of playlists, iPods, so on how the idea of actually listening to one whole album is dying or dead already.

6. Punctuality. I am not sure how this one works. This seems more like a failing. You are either punctual, or you are not. Don't go blaming your lack of punctuality and respect for others on digitalization. Get your act together and learn to be punctual.

7. Telephone directories. When was the last time you used a phone book? In my case, not that long ago. For some things, it is easier to open the phone book than to boot up the computer to look up a local number (especially for businesses, say, a plumber when you are having an emergency with your pipes). I don't think directories are dead yet, but they may be on the way out. For me, a lot of this depends on how available access to the Internet, and I mean good broadband access, becomes. There is serious digital gap in this nation, and as long as there are parts of this country on dial-up, or with no access at all, things like directories will survive because those folks without Internet access will still need them.

8. Cheap watches. Looks like they are going the way of the dodo. I have a pocket watch myself, but when I forget to carry it, and I have my phone, I have been caught looking at the cell phone to get the time. However, I still prefer my watch. However, most of my students, as I can tell, do use their cell phones to check the time. I don't see many of them wearing watches, cheap or not. So, I would have to say dying on this one.

9. Letter writing. If you mean old fashioned, handwritten letters on actual paper that you would send via snail mail, yes, they are pretty much dead. This is probably a big reason why the U.S. Postal Service is having serious financial difficulties and a hard time surviving against the likes of UPS and FedEx.

10. Spelling. Spelling does seem to be dying. All you need to do is look at any short message service and its users to get a sense that spelling is not a priority. Also on comment boards. Pretty much, a lot of the online experience is rushed, and when people are rushed, they fail to check their spelling. I am not excusing, but that is the observation.

11. Printing photographs. If you mean printing them from actual film that is developed, yes, that is practically dead. However, printing actual photographs is not dead. Now, you can take a nice digital image, edit it yourself, then print it out on good quality photo paper, and even frame it nicely. So, printing photos is not dead. It just evolved.

12. Copyright. This is dying, at least in terms of the archaic rules governing it now. Sure, artists and creators should be compensated for their creations, but new models for that are going to be needed. The Internet is just too open for restrictive copyrights, and fighting that is just a losing battle as the music media moguls are learning. We may well need to simply rewrite all of the rules.

13. Personal re-invention. Can you say anonymity? Digitalization does allow people to create new personas and recreate themselves. However, depending on what you do and how, you do have to be a lot more careful about the image you put out. Even when you think you are anonymous, you can still be tracked pretty much, so you need to be careful in  how you re-invent.

14. Plagiarism. Some people would like to think this, but no. The idea of plagiarism and stealing (because that is what plagiarists do: they steal from others) will not die just yet.

15. Reflection. I think this depends on what you use. If you just use short message items like Twitter, you are probably not very reflective. Services like that encourage more shooting off the hip, so to speak, so I don't see much reflection there. In blogging, it varies. If you happen to be a blogger who does his thing based on timeliness (say, you run a news blog), I don't think you will have much reflection. Reflection is something that takes time and thought, so those bloggers who actually think and develop their ideas when they write, those are more reflective. So, I don't think digitalization is killing reflection. It just depends on the medium you may be using, not to mention your own nature. Some people are more reflective than others anyhow.

16. Paper money. With the advent of debit cards, it seems cash is on the way down. However, there are still moments when paper money may be preferable. And that is not counting moments when you want to "pay under the table." On a serious note, with the economy as is, and credit extremely tight, including people who may be losing their credit cards, cash could make a comeback .

17. Paper statements. For people with online access, yes, the paper statements are pretty much dead. However, see my note above about digital gaps. The same applies here.

18. Airline tickets. Mostly dead, with the caveat of digital gaps I have made before.

19. Concert tickets. Ditto.

20. Landline telephones. If you mean the old "Ma Bell," yea, those are on the way out. However, since digital phones are not always reliable (by this I mean things like a phone via a modem), and you may always need 911, landline phones will put up a fight for a while longer. But as systems improve, I think the old landlines will die. Not yet though.

21. Intimacy. And how are we defining this? If you mean being social in the sense of being in front of people, well, yes, intimacy may be dying. Then again, how intimate do you want to get with some people? If you have a spouse or a significant other, I think the intimacy will live even with digitalization.

…and 7 things that aren’t

1. Public libraries. On the contrary, due to the same digital gaps I keep noting, public libraries will be around. They may not be in the same shape or form that we traditionally conceive of them, but they will not die. For my one or two non-librarian readers, the debate of what form public libraries (and libraries in general) will take in the future is a constant debate in our profession. For me, that is a whole other post.

2. Vinyl record shops. I don't have enough of a grasp on this to say. I think based on what has not been digitized, which is a lot, the vinyl shops will be around for a while longer.

3. Newspapers (look at the data globally). Depends as well. As we know them, they will barely survive in areas with low to none online access. As soon as those areas get good broadband, the traditional paper will probably be toast. As is, this is pretty generational. Older folks cling to print newspapers, but ask the average youth today when was the last time they actually read a newspaper. Not news, but a newspaper. I think the answer will speak by itself.

4. Physical banks. Well, I have direct deposit, so I don't have to go deposit my paycheck. I pay my bills online, so don't have to write checks.  I have a debit card that works as an ATM card, so I can do a few transactions on the machine (as long as I use one affiliated to my bank). However, there are still some things you just have to do at the actual bank. The day they figure out how to automate those, the building as we know it goes. But for now, there are still a few things you need (or prefer) to have a human deal with at the bank.

5. Meetings. A sad reality. Meetings are not going away. If anything, it seems that meetings are multiplying, since now we can also have "virtual" meetings in addition to the usual meetings in person.

6. Paper. Not yet. Ask my daughter. She is an artist, and she still draws on paper for one. Anyhow, with so much bureaucracy, no matter how hard they try, paper is just not going away, whether is paper documents they make or people printing out things that started out as electronic documents. Paper will be around for a good long time.

7. Church. I suppose for now, church (whatever the denomination or belief system) will be around. And I get the feeling that, even if the buildings vanish, that "churches" will just move online or become virtual. Is that really so farfetched, or am I reading a bit too much science fiction lately?

What about you folks out there? Do you agree? Disagree? Have other ideas? Feel free to comment and let me know.

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