Our digital present

Our digital present
Why do we fear our 'digital present', and what is the Library doing to ease these uncertainties? A guest post from Library intern Robin Pelenyi.
21 January 2015

During my recent three week internship at the National Library of Australia, digital collecting was the topic on everybody's lips. The Library was making a significant push to prepare for the collection of digital content. The most prominent initiative involved equipping employees with the practical skills needed to utilise digital content and mediums through a series of seminars. This blog post takes a quick look at our society's attitude towards the digital medium, looking at why we deny and fear the digital, why our fear is (mostly) unfounded, and how practical education programs such as the example set by the Library can ease our uncertainties.

I always find it odd to hear people talk of a 'digital future' as if it's something still on the horizon. The digital future is here, and it's been here for quite some time. Many of us spend the majority of our waking hours consuming some form of digital media. We cook our dinner while browsing the Internet on our iPad, and we eat that dinner in front of our desktop (or, at least, I do). We use our smart phones pretty much everywhere. Not even the bathroom is sacred. Even with the evidence literally in front of our faces, we are still hesitant to declare that we are a digital society.

Has that much really changed?

Those who do comment on our use of digital media tend to take a pessimistic view—we are a nation of iZombies. We're 'glued to our smartphones', as the now clichéd phrase goes.  But is this really a problem? In many ways, digital media isn't all that different from traditional media. We're still consuming much of the same content, only the format has changed. We still read the news and trashy gossip magazines. We still watch videos of people doing stupid stuff. The only difference is, we have an app instead of the local Murdoch press, BuzzFeed instead of New Idea, and YouTube instead of Australia's Funniest Home Videos. When you think about it, consuming digital media isn't even that zombie-like. You move less and have less social interaction when you're reading a book than when you're Facebooking or playing World of Warcraft. There's a cultural implication that traditional formats are healthier and generally morally superior to digital formats—books make you smart and smart phones give you brain cancer. (Note: there is no established link between mobile phones and cancer).

Fear and loathing on the digital frontier

Where does this superstition and neo-Luddite thinking come from? Its cause may be a lack of understanding of the digital. As the saying goes, 'ignorance breeds fear'. In this case, we are all ignorant, and we all have reason to be at least slightly unsettled. We are all pioneers on the digital frontier, and nobody knows where we will end up. Never in history have we been so connected and so reliant on digital content, and most of this happened in the last decade. The first iPhone was released in 2007. These thoughts can be inspiring, but they can also be scary.

Dispelling the stigma

Robin examines a digital manuscript collection

The Library is well placed to accept our digital present and lead the nation as Australia's premier digital collecting institution. Projects such as Trove are already leading the field in the provision of digital content. Libraries have traditionally been the public institutions that provide guidance in navigating our information landscape, and preserve our cultural record for future generations. In order to continue to provide this valuable service, libraries must lead the way in embracing digital content.

For the Library, this means ensuring that its staff are comfortable with digital content. I attended a number of internal training sessions which were part of a program designed to familiarise staff with ebooks, including ebook readers and cataloguing conventions. The Library recognises that many people are hesitant when it comes to fully embracing this digital content, particularly those who may not have much previous experience using digital media. By embarking on an organisation-wide education program, the Library is fostering a culture that sees digital content as something to be embraced rather than feared.

We can all take a page out of the Library's book, and settle our fears of a digital future by seeking to understand our digital present.  

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Comment: 
We all need to embrace digital mediums, they have allowed us to travel the globe from the comfort of our armchairs and offices. We can now share ideas and concepts world wide, where once this information may not have been accessed so easily.
Comment: 
I have found the digital age has opened up so many new opportunities for myself and my family. I am currently able to study in the comfort of my own home and work it in around my family and their needs, I can access libraries from around the world for research and study as well as personal enjoyment. I am excited to see our National Library embracing and promoting the use of digital technology.