Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Changing the Channel

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Changing the Channel

Article excerpt

My iPod touch confuses me. It's not that I don't like it--I think it's great. I carry it with me everywhere. I do nearly everything with it I can do on the internet and a lot of things I used to do without a computer. Reading the web and email, checking sports scores and stock prices, getting the news, tweeting, looking at my friends' pictures, listening to music and the radio, mapping travel routes, reading books, answering ready reference-style and trivia questions ... you know the story. On top of that usual stuff, I also watch baseball games, check when the next bus is coming, and study languages, which make this cheap little device that fits easily in a pocket unusually well-suited to being a constant companion. And yet, it confuses me.

It's easy to understand that I'm listening to music when I'm listening to music. Same thing with browsing the web or reading email. But everything else creates a gray space that's new for me. Until I got this thing, I knew the difference between watching TV, listening to the radio, using the computer, reading a book, and doing homework. They were all different from each other, required different tools, occurred in different rooms. It's the story of the internet itself in microcosm--one by one, everything we were used to doing has been shifted around. But now it's all shifted into this little glowing entertainment rectangle that fits into my pocket.

The most confusing part of it is that I don't even think about it when I'm using the web anymore. If I'm using an app on my iPod, maybe it's reaching out to the internet and to the web, but maybe it's not. Some apps cache a lot of data locally; some don't. The best apps make you forget about that and focus you on doing that one task at hand in a simple, elegant manner. Watching baseball, reviewing vocabulary flashcards, and looking for open houses in our neighborhood used to be activities I did in different places at different times. Then, I could do all of them on the web, all at the same time. Now, I can do them on the iPod, but only one at a time. And somehow I like that better. So much better, actually, that I'm often happy to fork over a few dollars for the right to do it. Two years ago, I never would have thought to pay a few dollars to use services like these on the web. Now, if it looks good enough, I don't even think twice. Streaming live baseball video so I can watch the Tigers wherever I am? Heck yeah, sign me up.

Here's the funny part--and I know I'm not alone in this--not only would I have never paid for this before on the web, I don't even have cable TV. If we just paid the $60 or whatever most U.S. citizens pay per month for cable or satellite TV, I could watch any game right there on my big shiny TV. But I don't. Instead, I pay a lot less and watch a little tiny version of the same thing on this little screen. Similarly, we pay $10 per month for DVDs by mail from Netflix, but we use Netflix over the web, watching lower-quality streams on a smaller screen more than we watch the DVDs. I'm sure most of you have realized this same kind of thing recently. Maybe it's that you watch videos on YouTube more than on your TV, or maybe it's that you never play CDs, LPs, or tapes anymore because your music is all online. Maybe you use Epicurious instead of the 27 cookbooks on the shelf in your kitchen. Maybe some particular device caused you to realize these changes, as I did, or maybe it hasn't hit you yet--but it will.

Here's my confusion in a nutshell. I don't know where the web is anymore. I don't know what an app is. I don't know what a book is, and I don't know what a TV channel is. Or, well, maybe I'm overstating my ignorance--I guess I know what they are, but they aren't where they used to be. Or they changed shape or costs, or I started using and doing them differently. But I didn't expect that to happen, and looking back, it's some innocuous change like a suddenly big-enough desktop computer screen, a suddenly fast-enough internet connection, or a suddenly tiny-enough pocket device that caused the change in my behavior. …

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