Brain matters and library science

iheartnprI have a confession: I listen to NPR. Not just every once in while. No, I listen to NPR all the time. And I’m proud of it, especially when shows on it make me think or laugh or cry – all of which have actually happened.
Does this make me a hipster or a crazy liberal or a weirdo? No. It just makes me an informed citizen, who also happens to enjoy great stories, lively discussions and some good jazz while driving down the road during my daily commute. Or maybe it just means that there really isn’t any great music on the radio these days. Which brings us back to me being a hipster. Oh, dear. Maybe we should move on.

On Point with Tom Ashbrook

On Point with Tom Ashbrook

I love All Things Considered, the Political Junkie and, for those of you who live in or near Hampton Roads, HearSay with Cathy Lewis and Out of the Box. But no show will make me love NPR more than On Point with Tom Ashbrook. First of all, Tom Ashbrook could read a dictionary and still captivate me. But more than that, he always gets me thinking. And recently, I couldn’t help thinking that one of his shows mirrored a discussion from my information behavior class from last semester. In fact, I was surprised a librarian didn’t call in to point it out.

The show was an interview with the authors of a book titled “Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking,” which posits that the brain is an “analogy machine.” Basically this means we understand and categorize the world based on our past experiences. It’s how we know that a LaZBoy is a chair, even when this is the first time in our lives we’ve seen a LaZBoy. I’ve definitely simplified the concept here, but I agree that we view the world through the lens of our experiences. This is the exact same discussion we had while learning about information seeking and cataloging last semester.

But this discussion led me to a new thought. Instead of worrying about how we catalog things now, shouldn’t we be wondering how we will categorize information in the future?

Let me explain with a story: I was reading a book in a coffee shop recently and a 4-year-old asked me what it was for. I replied that it was for reading, thinking perhaps he thought it was a coloring  book. His reply? “So, it’s an iPad?”

For me, as a lover of books and someone who truly enjoys the tactile feel of turning pages, this situation is a scary thought. But really, if, in the future, books don’t exist, why should we be scared when they aren’t recognizable as a source of information? Especially when the movement to digitize everything could eventually render books moot?

This, of course, immediately brought to mind a scene from Wall-E:

If you skip to 1:52, you’ll be able to see a future human’s experience with a book, and how he doesn’t even know how to open it because he’s never encountered one. Instead, thinking that the device is voice-activated like all the computers around him, the human commands the Operations Manual: “Man-u-el, relay instructions. Manuel?” This, of course, doesn’t work and causes the audience to laugh when the computer has to show him how to open the book. It’s all part of the comedy of the movie, but it’s a possible future for information, and we might have to acknowledge that this future could be approaching faster than we expected. And it’s an argument for us to speed up the process of digitization before we all forget how to open a book.

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One thought on “Brain matters and library science

  1. Pingback: Book reviews: Thoughts on Michael Chabon | Beta Librarian

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