When Students Go Mobile, Or the Half-Per-Cent Solution

photo of Mayan calendar

The Mayans and 2012

Kristen Yarmey-Tyuutki spoke yesterday afternoon at Internet Librarian 2009 about the relationship between libraries and students with smart phones.  Her motivation for part of her presentation is based upon some group’s prediction that smart phones will become the main tool for student research by 2020. A decade seems a long expanse for accurate prediction. Who knows what new toys will attract young people by 2020?  Back in, say, 1998, did you know anyone who predicted something like the iPhone by 2008?  Some of the audience reading this might be too young to remember some extremely wise people who as late as 1988 were still warning the world about the dangerous grip of the Soviet Union, and those wise people expected that grip to continue indefinitely.  By 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall, those expectations looked like the ideological manifestations they were from the beginning.  Not that one erroneous prediction undoes the possible accuracy of all predictions.  My point is that acting on predictions that are precarious might not be the best use of our energies.

When one of the presenters on the panel, a woman from University of California at Irvine, revealed (at the end of her presentation) that only about 0.5% of people tracked on the UC-Irvine’s library system happened to be mobile phone users, that did not diminish her faith in the 2020 prediction about smart phone usage.  Now, she will run smack into the face of those who believe another prediction involving 2012, and if those people are right, none of us will even see 2020.  The Mayans will have won, and they did not have smart phones.

In Texas, the mobile device we worry about students having is a gun on campus.  Some people believe that we will all be safer if students are armed while conducting their library research, etc.  They predict that should a killer come on campus, the best solution will be for students to pull out their mobile devices and begin shooting.  The more people who are shooting, the more likely that the killer will be taken out.  That prediction sounds questionable too.  I feel less shamed about this digression after Paul Holdengraber’s statement that digressions are the sunshine in narrative.

I plan to attend IL2020, and will eat crow when the conference theme is devoted to the triumph of the smart phone.


3 responses to “When Students Go Mobile, Or the Half-Per-Cent Solution

  1. Dear Bruce,

    I just found this blog post today and am surprised by its topic. My presentation notes are right in front of me, and nowhere do I mention or reference any 2020 predictions. I agree that, in technology, it’s pretty hard to gauge anything a decade out – which is why my presentation was focused on the present and the very near future.

    I assume that you’re referring to the Pew Future of the Internet III report, which stated that “The mobile device will be the primary connection tool to the internet for most people in the world in 2020.” While I read this report and found it an interesting thought exercise, the primary motivation for my presentation was not Pew but instead the real-world observation that a significant, growing number of students on my campus now own and use smartphones.

    Thanks for attending my presentation and best wishes,
    Kristen Y-T

  2. Dear Kristen,
    Thanks for your comment. You must have heard from the other participants at that session of IL2009 the citation, more than once, of the 2020 prediction. It turned into a small theme. You are right that my post attributes a motivation for your presentation that should be corrected, and this response should help toward that end.
    I appreciate that you were relying on empirical and local evidence from your institution. I can report similar evidence at my university.
    My concern is with both the predictions, given the rapid changes in technology, and with the energies devoted to adaptation, energies that are justified based on such predictions. The energies at libraries in North America seem to be largely reactionary with respect to technological developments. The reactionary behavior is sometimes covered up with talk about serving the customer, or “listening to our users.” That is a different sort of model described, for instance, at IL2009 by Paul Holdengraber, a man who views libraries not as places that always give “users” what surveys tell librarians “users” want, but as places of provocation. Holdengraber talked about planning events that surprise and shock audiences. In short, he finds it pertinent to give audiences something other than what the audience might request. I mention Holdengraber as one kind of counter-example. Others exist.
    Your presentation provided provocation for me to write about your session at the conference, and maybe this can be the beginning of a longer conversation.

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