The right to carry, and to forget

When you reduce multidimensional dynamics to a single variable, answers seem easier to find. Advocates of gun rights always ask if, when a gun is pointed at you, it would be better to have a gun of your own for self-defense or not? Well, of course it would, everything else held equal,….but I prefer to ask, why can anyone point a gun at me in the first place?

Now we’re told the FBI or other authorities should be responsible for making sure the mentally ill or disturbed among us should not have access to guns. Authorities receive many thousands of ‘tips’ every day about possibly dangerous people. Do we really want to live in a nation where every suspicion results in full investigation and suspension of rights? Leaving aside the costs of even managing this, how do free speech and openly expressed thoughts fit here? Am I under suspicion and liable to FBI-interrogation just for writing this?

This is all pertinent given the latest tragedy in Florida, but it’s exacerbated for me today when I learn that two gun-owners on my campus actually left their guns behind today, one in the restroom and the other in their college building. Yes, we all lost things and misplace our phones, our keys, or books. But I tend not to lose my car, my glasses, or anything else that I have to make an effort to own.  What does this say about guns and the easy right to carry them around campus?

UT agreed to allow concealed carry for permit holders, and postured publicly to justify the simple compliance with state law, even rewarding the chair of the complicity committee with a formal honor. Let’s see how the university treats those who can carry but can’t remember where their weapons are.


Viewed from within: how to cliche your way to relevance

I’m beginning to cringe at the constant push of designer-liness and experience-y hokum in multiple venues. While I am delighted our graduates are getting jobs with their education in HCI&D, the words of our speciality are being popularized into meaninglessness by those wishing to jump on the bandwagon.

A couple of years back I baulked first at everyone trying to be all “disruptive” and “entrepreneurial”. These terms became cliches as every university or business stuck the labels on and attempted to polish the same old crap they were pushing. I actually sat in university leadership meetings where people used these terms as if they somehow justified another committee delivering the same tired recommendations to adopt the technology of the day. (Side note, most digital ‘innovation’ in education has pathetically ignored the existing research base while claiming ‘this time’ it would really have impact).  Perish the sane folks who raised questions, I mean who wants to be labelled a resister or laggard when you can give the appearance of being hip and contemporary? Not many university administrators, apparently.

So here we are a few years on, still being urged to innovate, and now we are told the best way to do this is to adopt design thinking. Yeah, right….it’s allegedly a new form of ‘thinking’. Of course, those most urging it either have no experience in the domain in which they now urge change, or like some recently converted believers, have replaced rational thought with zeal. Hey, if industry wants designers, call yourself one and go for it.  You can dismiss existing knowledge and methods with a waive of your felt marker-carrying hand….Oh dear…I blame Steve Jobs.

How long before we have undergrad courses on ‘design thinking for pharmacists’?


Another ALA down

Chicago in June is a pretty good location for a conference, even if the basic quality of food in the downtown area belies the other impression of the city as a truly impressive cultural center. ALA in town means thousands of people hauling bags of free books and pens around the streets, less like plundering hordes than old sherpas, but that’s what some folks go for surely, all the goodies they can grab. Someone should ask the airlines if the weight of personal luggage shifts up significantly on return flights this week – in the age of big data, this should be easily established.

Yes, there were guest speakers…very expensive ones, typically designed to deliver reinforcing rather than challenging speeches, and the usual too many sessions to be easily navigated (my strategy of avoidance is the best source of cognitive comfort in such circumstances). What does bother me most is the real purpose of this gathering and the enormous expense involved. Over 20,000 attendees across all days adds up to significant revenue for some, and those attendees I spoke with seemed happy, as I am sure were the hotels and bars in Chicago given the crowds but as I reflect on the last few conferences I’ve attended, and this most recent ALA in particular, I do wonder what purpose is served by such gatherings?

I know people will argue that meeting is vital to the functioning of the association and that yes, it can be fun to meet up with folks, but who pays for this and who profits? Moreover, what is the point of endless council meetings which seem to spend an inordinate amount of time passing motions, often not particularly related to or informed by the practices of librarianship? When I ask practitioners, I am usually politely chided that academics either do not understand or ‘should’ attend to show support. But what is it that we are supposed to be supporting? ALA always makes grand statements of intent, mission, vision, advocacy etc but what does it really achieve? And I’m not just picking on ALA, though it is a big, fat, easy target. I could say the same of most association meetings. At scholarly conferences we argue that we are sharing research, but to be honest, some venues are not even good at serving this function. But why ALA? We are facing a near crisis of fake news, loss of faith in rationality and the commercialization of access to information, but it’s hard to see much urgency in the response of professional organizations. Oh nevermind, an sure Hilary will make us all feel a bit better about it.

How our political representatives love to hear from us

After watching Paul Ryan on one of the Sunday political shows dismissing as a left-wing attack his own words from a couple of years ago on the need to properly vet bills before approving them, I started to think about the way our record of what we say and the means we enable things to be said are becoming messed up. So now, what I said last year on a topic has no relevance this year, if I say so, might be typical political discourse but when politicians are so dismissive of their own words, how likely is it that they will pay any attention to ours?

Mr Ryan’s office, I am informed, turned off their phones and fax machines last week when irate citizens started calling in large numbers to express their views on the proposed health care bill. My own representative in my gerrymandered state was even cleverer. His phone lines immediately went to voice mail, and in a pretense at listening, asked me to leave a msg. Amazingly, I had 2 seconds, after which I was told my time was up. Huh? I barely got my name out. So I called again. Same thing. So I called several times in a row, each 2 second recording continuing where I left off from the last one. Was Representative Williams listening? Of course not, but he could say he was. This is what technology has enabled. Fakery, chicanery and pretense, wrapped up in a advertising bubble of family values. Yeah, technology has made us smarter, right?

Journalism taking a stand on accreditation

Sound familiar at all?

“As we near the 2020s, we expect far better than a 1990s-era accreditation organization that resists change — especially as education and careers in our field evolve rapidly,” said Brad Hamm, Medill’s dean, in a message to alumni. “All fields benefit from a world-class review process, and unfortunately the gap between what it could, and should, be is huge.”

No, it’s not the ALA COA under discussion here — this is how one dean of a well regarded journalism program referred to the accrediting process in his discipline. The full article can be found here.

Seems like most professional fields, at least the fast moving ones like information and journalism, have common responses to the constraints of accreditors. What should be about quality assurance has become a vehicle for compliance and control by the conservatives. The suggestion of risk-adjusted accreditation would be welcomed by me, and fit with my general argument for a a process that spent more time improving the weak or under-resourced programs rather than mechanically demanding every program follow the same review schedule, but even this is insufficient. Until such time as real estimates of program quality are defined, and then applied fairly and uniformly, the process cannot have real value. Accreditors can hide all they want behind claims of protecting student interests but it’s a sham – and it’s a shame.

New book on Info Design

I’ve put a couple of new chapters together in the past year on the nature of design knowledge in information. The latest has just been published in an impressively large volume edited by colleagues at the University of Reading in the UK for Gower, entitled Information Design: research and practice Find out more here

Design + thinking = more buzz than substance

Interesting piece from Jared Spool on the trendy term of Design Thinking — still think he might be too kind about it all.