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E-Learning and Digital Cultures - Week 2

This week we stuck with the thoughts of utopias/dystopias, but turned our focus toward the future. One of the articles we read this week discussed the metaphors used to describe the internet in the media. I knew we used metaphors to describe the internet, but I was surprised at how prevalent this practice was once I saw a sampling of them all laid out.

Not surprisingly, many metaphors focused around the internet either as creator or destructor. I was a little surprised, though, to see how prevalent the "internet as physical place" metaphor still is. I know social networks and "meeting" with people online is all the rage now (I am taking a class that meets solely online), but I didn't think about how that's tied back to the earlier days of the internet when people really struggled to understand what the world wide web was and there were tons of representations of it as a physical space, even a Saturday morning cartoon based on the premise that the web was a real physical place.

But the thing I really wanted to talk about was the process of even deciding what metaphors to use to describe the internet, or really any new kind of technology. As with many things in librarianship today, I'm really trying to bring this back around to ebooks. We're still wrestling with the best way to deal with this increasingly popular format, and I can't help but think that part of the problem is that we're all using different metaphors to describe them. Should we treat them like print books or like digital files, or something else?

Earlier on it seemed like publishers wanted to treat them like physical books - libraries could only lend out one copy of an ebook file at a time, unless they'd paid for multiple copies. Librarians pointed out that that was silly since an ebook is a digital file and it's pretty easy to make as many copies of a digital file as you need ... if it weren't for that pesky DRM.

Then publishers realized that they could make even more money if they were only licensing ebooks to libraries, meaning they could pull their titles from a library when that library decided to stop paying for their service (or really, whenever they wanted to). Librarians pointed out that vendors don't get to pull the books libraries buy from them off their shelves when the libraries decide to go with another vendor. Now publishers cried that ebooks are like databases. They switched what metaphor they were using and librarians cried foul.

Now, however, it doesn't seem that anyone believes ebooks are going to be treated exactly like physical books. The problem now is that nobody can agree on exactly which model we should be using. How are librarians to know best way to provide ebook value for their patrons? Do they go for a vendor that provides a wider range of bestsellers or one that may not have a lot of authors you've heard of before, but uses a business model that holds more hope for the future of library ebook lending? Is there some sort of magical middle ground?

So while we'll always use metaphors to describe the technology in our lives, sometimes those metaphors can be limiting, and when we can't even agree on the metaphors we're using, it's no wonder people get confused about the role of technology in our lives.

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