Sunday, February 10, 2013

Big Questions for Week 3

In coming up with some over-arching questions this week, I tried to read the various articles against each other and to pick out common themes or topics that can allow us to discuss the bigger ideas and larger concepts that appear throughout the readings.


(1) Are there any similarities between Lievrouw's discussion of diffusion of innovation theory vs. social shaping of technology and Duguid's analysis of supersession vs. liberation technology? Both authors seek to understand and explain technological innovation and the ways in which societies adopt and adapt to new technologies. As we think about the future of print, how much influence can people or communities have on the shape of technological change and innovation?

(2) Lievrouw highlights the important role that ARPANet researchers and NSF scientists had during the 1960s and 1970s in shaping and popularizing the new technology of email to share their research. Along the same lines, Brown and Duguid discuss the British Royal Society's adoption of the printing press and the publication of public "news-letters" in the 1600s and 1700s to share documents and scientific research and data. Can these two case studies help us understand the reciprocal relationship between technology and communication or about the ways in which societies adopt communication technologies?

(3) In his article "Material Matters," Paul Duguid approvingly quotes English literary critic Ivor Armstrong who wrote in 1960 that "a book is a machine to think with." Duguid goes on to argue that "books are part of a social system... [and that] books produce and are reciprocally produced by the system as a whole." Similarly, in last week's readings, Thompson and Darnton both wrote about book publishing in terms of a system or circuit of many constituent parts.

As we study the future of the print and the increasing importance of digital and "post-print" technologies, are there aspects of the traditional book's social system that may be threatened by changes in technological forms or processes? Are new media publications products of different social systems? How might new book technologies change such existing social systems?

(4) Several of this week's readings speak in general terms about new/emerging digital book technologies that combine print with various forms of multimedia content. As we study the future of print, is it important for us to think about the similarities and differences between print culture, visual culture, and oral culture? For centuries, many books have featured illustrations, images, and pictures. Are new multimedia features simply a continuation of this practice, or  could they have a more profound influence on the form and the content of books?

(5) Several readings this week discuss paper documents and letters. Over the weekend, the United States Postal Service (USPS) announced that they will soon be suspending Saturday delivery of letters as a result of an ongoing decline in mail volume. Many commentators have pontificated on the impending "death of the Post Office." With this week's readings in mind, can the troubles of the USPS tell us anything meaningful about the future of print? How might some of this week's authors interpret or analyze these events, particularly in terms of technological change?

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