Sunday, April 26, 2009

Where Movement Happens

Tonight at the opera I was struck by the number of gray-haired septuagenarians and octogenarians fiddling with their glowing Blackberry devices in the most prized seats at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. For the past month I have had several such experience in which the users of social networks and ubiquitous computing technologies seem to be very different from the over-hyped digital youth that get media attention. Earlier this month I was at a church meeting where a number of senior citizens were discussing their experiences on Facebook. And that same week I noticed that my seventy-five-year-old mother was using emoticons in her e-mails to clarify that she was making a joke.

Often in academia I hear people confidently predict that the university will go digital when enough Luddite faculty members retire or die from the ranks to allow the social computing revolution to be finally felt in ivy-girded classrooms and tenure-review committees. I've never been entirely convinced that this is necessarily a valid argument, and as I watch some early adopters who have mentored my own work retiring I fear that they might not always be being replaced with equally technologically savvy peers.

Like many people, I am looking forward to seeing the results from the large study on "The Future of Scholarly Communication" from Berkeley's Center for Studies in Higher Education. Early word is that young scholars are not the drivers of innovation, contrary to expectations, based on 160 interviews that represent academics in seven disciplines.

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