Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Summer session is over and maybe I'll have some time to think now

I just read an email from a fellow iSchooler, Maggie DeBaldo, asking about Marshall McLuhan, in particular, which of his books would we (any of us) recommend. I hadn't read his books, though of course, having grown up while he was most active, I knew who he was and what he believed. But, just to see what I'd get, I Googled him and there it was: everything I could conceivably want to read about him, as well as pointers to everything he ever wrote.

I just finished my first summer session course on Systems of Human Inquiry (a prelude to more focused doctoral research methods courses) and for my class presentation, I chose to talk about Michel Foucault and Jean Baudrillard. It turns out that Baudrillard counted McLuhan as one of his influences. I was fascinated by Baudrillard and loved having the opportunity (ie, excuse) to learn more about him. I'll put my powerpoint online later. But, this prepared me to take more interest in McLuhan as a result of Maggie's question, so I read a little of a review of a 2002 book that contrasted "regular expressions" with McLuhan: O'Reilly Network: Marshall McLuhan vs. Marshalling Regular Expressions. Near the end of the review, I came across this quote by the author:

Given open standards, easy scripting languages, and cheap, versatile devices, digitization could allow users a degree of control over content never before imaginable in history. Conversely, given welded-case devices and access controls, they could allow the owners of content a degree of control over users never before imaginable in history.

Only 5 years ago, this was theory. Now it is fact. It's reason enough for me to pursue open access. It's not just about reading stuff for free. It's about processing stuff in new, unexpected ways. It's about putting together disparate parts into a new whole. Isn't that what libraries are about facilitating? A book on a shelf is not the same research resource as an open, accessible text (or other presentation format) online.

By the way, the review is fascinating in itself. It got me interested in things I didn't know existed 30 minutes ago. And it sends me off in new directions.

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