There’s been another uptick in subscribers to the newsletter version of this post – thank you and welcome! – and so I just wanted to share a bit of the thinking behind this effort.
Part of our strategy at the Center for the Future of Libraries is to keep an eye on the signals that might point to the future of our profession. Those signals can come from the technology, education, business, environmental, or government sectors (or anywhere, really). So the idea with this weekly collection is to look outside of the library profession at some of the news stories that point to trends and changes in our society. These stories might help us think more broadly about our current and future work and initiate new conversations with our patrons and partners (administrators, funders, community groups, faculty and students). Not everything will be news to everyone and some things may not have an immediate implication for libraries, but hopefully it can help us start to think in new ways about how our work fits into an ever-changing world.
This is one piece of a process that feeds into the Center’s trend collection and other work.
And, as always, I invite you to let me know what you're reading this week to help think about later.
Algorithms, Artificial Intelligence, and Learning Machines
We talked last week about the three straight wins that Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo racked up against Go world champion Lee Sodol. Sodol did manage to win the fourth match, but still lost the series 4 – 1 (Re/Code “Score One for Humanity: Google’s Go Machine Finally Loses to Korean Champ”). See also Engadget, Mashable, MIT Technology Review, and Wired.
Following the lead of other social media sites, Instagram announced that it will move from its chronological display to an algorithm approach based on “your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post” (Digiday “Instagram Confirms It's Changing the Feed to an Algorithm”). See also Geekwire and TechCrunch.
Sometimes it’s the little things that really make you think. What are the semantic implications of robots in our world – specifically, what will we call things that act like we do and that we might interact with on a human level, but that are not human (Quartz “It’s Time for Robots to Have Their Own Pronouns”)?
Books, Media, and Publishing
A look at how social media and technology (virtual reality, live video, artificially intelligent news bots, instant messaging, and chat apps) have changed the news ecosystem, leading news publishers to lose control of distribution and expanding the power of a few, large social media companies (Columbia Journalism Review “Facebook Is Eating the World”).
As Amazon, Apple, and other e-book retailers benefit from data about customer’s reading habits, Jellybooks hopes to provide publishers and authors with data (when people read and for how long, how far they get in a book and how quickly they read) from free e-books given to groups of test readers (The New York Times “Moneyball for Book Publishers: A Detailed Look at How We Read”).
The Atlantic’s A&Q series works to tackle topics of national and global concern (climate change, refugee resettlement, terrorism, mass incarceration) by having reporters address common “answers” (assumptions, myths, widely held but unsupported conclusions) by posing questions in response that complicate those answers (Nieman Lab “The Atlantic Is Tackling Big Issues like Climate Change and Gun Violence by Posing More Questions”).
Responding to readers’ concerns over the use of anonymous sources in government, political, and feature stories, The New York Times is adjusting their policies on anonymous sources, requiring greater involvement and approval from editors or department heads, fewer anonymous direct quotes, and the requirement that an editor must know the identity of an anonymous source before publication (Poynter “New York Times Cracks Down on Anonymous Sources”).
A new report from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) finds that the more people use shared modes of transportation, including bike share programs and even ride sharing programs like Lyft and Uber, the more likely they will also be to use public transportation (Wired “Uber Actually Makes Public Transit Better, But Mostly for the Rich”). See also Gizmodo.
As part of its Smart City Challenge, the Department of Transportation will invite the seven city finalists to work with Google’s Sidewalk Labs to develop a data platform called Flow that will ingests traffic data, help city leaders get information in real-time, and provide tools for citizen engagement – the Smart City winner will also receive more than 100 wi-fi kiosks from Sidewalk Labs (Next City “Google’s Sidewalk Labs and U.S. DOT Team Up on Traffic Data”). See also Ars Technica, CNET, Engadget, The New York Times, and Wired.
Generation K (or Generation Z, those born after the millennials) may be showing the effects of growing up in economic decline, job insecurity, and increasing inequality – 79% worry about getting a job, 72% worry about debt, 70% are worried about terrorism, and just 6% trust big corporations to do the right thing (The Guardian “Think Millennials Have it Tough? For 'Generation K', Life Is Even Harsher”).
By analyzing the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), which asks young people whether they feel well-rested when they wake up, whether they have trouble thinking, and whether they have experienced dizzy spells, headaches, shortness of breath, or racing heart, Dr. Jean Twenge, a social psychologist at San Diego State University, and her colleagues have documented a steady increase in anxiety and depression among young people (New York Magazine “For 80 Years, Young Americans Have Been Getting More Anxious and Depressed, and No One Is Quite Sure Why”).
Extrapolating 1940-2010 Census data trends for coastal counties out to 2100, researchers looked at two future sea level rise scenarios – the first with sea level rising 0.9 meters by 2100 and the second with sea level rising 1.8 meters – and determined that as many as 4.3 million people, and up to 13 million people, would be in locations affected by rising tides by 2100 (Ars Technica “Population Trends in the US Put More at Risk of Sea Level Rise”).
Part of the ongoing narrative about millennials holds that young people are more inclined to live in the city until they start families and move to the suburbs. But what role does circumstance (affordability, housing size, etc.) play over preference (Grist “Just Because Some Millennials Are Moving to the ‘Burbs Doesn’t Mean They Like It”)?
Polling firm Gallup reports that only one-third of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are engaged by their work; about half of each group are “not engaged” (that translates to showing up, getting their paycheck, and doing the minimum required); and 20% are “actively disengaged,” – and this unhappiness is more prevalent for those in midlife, when many feel “locked into” careers as more junior colleagues move up at a faster pace (The Atlantic “Quit Your Job”).
Pearson and University College London’s Knowledge Lab have issued “Intelligence Unleashed: An argument for AI in Education” to help explore how artificial intelligence could be used in education, including software that would instantly provide feedback on students’ progress or even a "lifelong learning companion” (NPR “What Artificial Intelligence Could Mean For Education”).
A new paper in in Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly reports findings from a study that exposed 255 participants to different messaging on US government surveillance and then tested participants’ willingness to publicly share their personal opinions about a hypothetical government action via social media – concluding that "the government’s online surveillance programs may threaten the disclosure of minority views and contribute to the reinforcement of majority opinion” (Motherboard “‘Chilling Effect’ of Mass Surveillance Is Silencing Dissent Online, Study Says”).
The New York Civil Liberties Union sent an open letter to New York City’s mayor’s office voicing their concern for the city’s new wi-fi stations, LinkNYC, and their potential to legally track and store the activity and browsing history of those who use them (Vocativ “NYC’s Free Wi-Fi Program Could Track And Share Your Browsing History”). See also Fast Company, Fusion, and Gizmodo.
The software company Open-Xchange surveyed 3,000 people from Germany, the UK, and the U.S. for their 2016 “Consumer Openness Index” report and found that, while people view government intrusion as a serious problem, they find the tools that might protect them from surveillance (email or smartphone encryption) difficult to use and possibly ineffective (Vocativ “Study: Everybody Wants Privacy, Doesn’t Want To Do Anything To Get It”).
Spaces, Retail, and Restaurants
Three possible paths forward for the future of retail – just a few flagship stores in key "fortress" hubs; a service design emphasis (a hybrid of consumer research and digital strategy that helps bridge customers’ online and in-store experiences); and more alliances between like-minded but non-competitive businesses (Fast Company “How Retailers Will Survive In The Amazon Era”).
Are B Corporations (or Benefit Corporations) – for-profit companies that meet standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency – a model to move from businesses that do good to business that are good (Fast Company “The Future Of Progressive Business Is Companies That Are Good, Not Just Doing Good”)?
It made for great marketing and it could point to the future of food delivery – Domino’s Australia announced plans for a Domino Robotic Unit (DRU), an autonomous vehicle that can follow a map, navigate sidewalks, avoid obstacles, and deliver hot pizza and cold drinks right to the front door (Mashable “Domino's Pizza Delivery Robot Is Hot and Autonomous”). See also CNET and again, Digital Trends, Engadget, and Gizmodo.
The Knight Foundation’s “Viewing the Future? Virtual Reality in Journalism” looks at virtual reality’s opportunities to transform news reporting, including its potential for storytelling, ethical questions, market growth, adoption rates, monetization, and cost of production (The Knight Foundation “A Key Moment — Viewing the Future? Virtual Reality in Journalism”). A quick thing to highlight, their succinct definitions of three segments within VR – “virtual reality” creates environments that allow people to be “present” in an alternative environment; “augmented reality,” starts with the real world and overlays virtual objects and information; and “spherical” or “360-degree” video captures an entire scene in which the viewer can look up, down, and around.
A couple of quick stories from the library world that point to possible futures.
Food keeps coming up as a big trend – and food deserts are at the negative end of that trend. To combat food deserts in their service areas, the Enoch Pratt Free Library is partnering with ShopRite for a program that will deliver groceries to patrons at their Pennsylvania Avenue Branch (Baltimore Sun “Program at West Baltimore Library Planned to Address Food Desert”).
Sydney will house a new public library in two floors of a glitzy, multi-use building – library services will include flexible open spaces for an “Innovation Exchange Program” and a makerspace (Gizmodo "Sydney is Getting the Library of the Future").
Virginia Commonwealth University’s new James Branch Cabell Library features a reading porch with rocking chairs, ceiling fans and windows that actually open, a gaming room, 3-D printers and sewing machines, and special study and retreat spaces reserved for faculty and graduate students (Richmond Times Dispatch “VCU's New Library 'Medicine for the Soul’”).
Congrats to the Library Freedom Project on their Award for Projects of Social Benefit from the Free Software Foundation (Free Software Foundation “Library Freedom Project and Werner Koch Are 2015 Free Software Awards Winners”).