Contemplating the future of the Internet
Libraries may seem like the last place for innovation and change, but most librarians are actually eager to embrace the future. Often our caution stems from reluctance to waste money on something that may be a brief trend that goes away quickly. Remember Laserdiscs? Several weeks ago, I attended the Oregon Library Association annual conference and presented on tech trends in libraries. One of the biggest areas of quick growth in technology right now, and something you will probably hear a lot about in the next few years is called “the Internet of Things” or the “Internet of Everything.” Basically, our entire world, including simple non-digital items, is being hooked up to the Internet or digitized in some fashion. In fact, this is becoming so mainstream, you may not realize you are already on board. Do you have a digital picture frame? Access the newspaper online? Own a Fitbit or smartphone? Then you are already part of the Internet of Things revolution.
Fitbits and smart watches are in the category called “wearables.” Technology investors are buying heavily into the markets for home, health/medical, and wearables. In the personal health department, some examples are Fitbit to track your personal fitness goals, contact lenses to detect low insulin, and T-shirts that can measure heartrate and perspiration. All of these then connect up to your online or digital log in so you can measure and track as much as you like.
Farmers are starting to see the benefits of the Internet of things, some farmers in Denmark have their cows hooked up to sensors to tell them when the cows are sick or pregnant. Others will use soil sensors for water or to test the pH levels of their soil.
In the medical field, everything from 3-D printing to wearables that aid vision, hearing, and strength are all being developed to enhance the human experience. One of my personal favorites is a sound wave machine that creates a physical representation of sounds. People who have limited hearing can physically experience music through touching this special speaker with their hands as it ripples and flows with the music.
On the goofy side, you can get the weather forecast for the day toasted into your bread each morning, or you can take a picture of yourself with a toaster and then have an image of your face on your toast that is edible! Obviously some of these items are definite fads, but the concept of connectivity in our everyday lives, is here to stay. It is projected that the world will jump from 5 billion digital devices to 50 billion in the next 20 years. As the Internet transitions to more data and more and more storage of online memory of information (Cloud hosting) the natural result is that more information that is personal to each of us is stored in our data clouds and on the Internet. Librarians believe in protecting the privacy rights of the individual and one concern we have is regarding who is hosting or storing your information and what access they give to others often, without your knowledge or consent. People seem to recognize that they are giving up some measure of privacy in return for digital access but some of that access to our privacy you may be unaware that it is even happening.
There are many large data providers, including Facebook, Google and Netflix, the question is, what do you think they are doing with all the data they track about you? Many times the data is sold to marketing companies who then use the information to develop software or marketing campaigns that target your interests and delivers items you can purchase. The ads you see on the Internet are typically tailored to your searching and buying history on the Internet.
You may be wondering what all of this has to do with libraries but believe it or not, people usually end up at the library with questions about how to run all of these machines as well as questions or concerns about privacy issues. I’ve personally been asked to help people navigate everything from how to create your own ISBN, search the Internet in private, or how to use little laptops that were created specifically for use in third world countries. Every time I get a question like this, I love the challenge because librarians love to learn! I think the underlying philosophy to this is that change is coming and as usual, librarians are expected to help carve a path through that change that helps others understand. I love that the majority of people walking in the library with a tablet ask us for help in using it. We live in exciting times and technology continues to advance. Who knows, maybe by this time next year you will be receiving this article in hologram form from your 3-D headband!
Esther Moberg is director of the Seaside Public Library.