Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Human Values in a Technological Age

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Human Values in a Technological Age

Article excerpt

Editor's note: The following is the text of the keynote speech delivered at the LITA National Forum, November 2-5, 2000, in Portland, OR.

We live in the single, shining moment of "now," but our lives are overwhelmingly made up of the past. We must understand that past and learn from it, if we are to understand ourselves, our society, and, in doing so, make progress. The key to understanding the past is the knowledge that people then did not live in the past--they lived in the present, just a different present from ours. The present we are living in will be the past sooner than we wish. What we perceive as its uniqueness will come to be seen as just a part of the past as viewed from the point of a future present that will, in turn, see itself as unique. People in history did not wear quaintly old-fashioned clothes--they wore modern clothes. They did not see themselves as comparing unfavorably with the people of the future, they compared themselves and their lives favorably with the people of their past. In the context of our area of interest, it is particularly interesting to note that people in history did not see themselves as technologically primitive. On the contrary, they saw themselves as they were--at the leading edge of technology in a time of unprecedented change.

I am here today to talk about technology (particularly, but not exclusively, library and information technology) and its effects on society and human beings. In the first instance, I want to challenge the notion that we are living in a time of unprecedented technological change, and to illustrate my point with a description of society, technology, and libraries one hundred years ago. Then I wish to discuss technology in life and libraries today and relate our situation to the values that I believe we need in order to withstand the twenty-first century technological onslaught.

1901 and 2001

My belief is that this is not a time of an unprecedented "Information Revolution," or similarly transformational events, but we are at a point in the ever-evolving history of technology and society that has been foreshadowed by technological innovations over the centuries. In the words of Brian Winston, "What is hyperbolised as a revolutionary train of events can be seen as a far more evolutionary and less transforming process."(1)

We are very near to the first year of the next century and I want to approach our present and future by speaking of the people of the first year of the twentieth century, 1901, and the difference between their lives and ours. When, at the 103d LITA National Forum, a person of the year 2100 looks back at the quaint old world of 2001, she will probably see a gigantic gulf between then and now, one that will seem much greater than the differences between now and 1901. However that may be, here we are, trapped in this present, peering at the future as in a glass darkly, but able to look back with clarity because libraries have preserved the records of humankind. I hope and pray that the speaker one hundred years from now will have the same ability to read, view, and hear the records of today and tomorrow.

Technology had been wreaking marvels in the twenty-five years before 1901. It is notable that a comprehensive list of innovations and inventions shows that almost all of them came from one of four countries--the U.S., the United Kingdom, France, and Germany--divided almost equally.(2) In preparation for a century of movement, the 1890s saw the introduction of the electric bicycle, underground electric railway, diesel engine, motorcycle, outboard engine, gasoline-powered truck, gear box, motor barge, motor bus, electric bus, speedometer, taxi, rigid airship, as well as many of the inventions that made possible airplanes and the mass production of automobiles. In a scant few decades, those transportation inventions alone would change the world utterly, for good and for ill, to an extent that appeared to those living at the time to be unprecedented and transformational. …

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