The information space I chose to observe for this blog post is the Leo Baeck Institute (LBI), my workplace. The Institute is named after Leo Baeck, a Jewish Rabbi in Germany during the time of the Second World War and a survivor of Theresienstadt concentration camp. Its mission is preserving the vast collection of documents, books, and artworks created by and describing the history of German-speaking Jewish people. Housed in the Center for Jewish History, LBI is one of five partner organizations that contribute to the expansion of access to Jewish history and culture. My job at LBI is to physically process books to be added to our searchable collections and then page those books when requested for the reading room. I often get to work with many different people as my job goes through different parts of the museum.
I sat down one day and made notes about the exchange of information going on in the Institute. Not only do I interact daily with my coworkers to complete tasks and learn new parts of my job, but I also watched how LBI workers interact with visitors and teach them about our mission. As a reasonably small office, there are very few formal communication procedures between employees. Generally, if we must get in touch with someone that is not only a few desks away, we make use of email. Usually, though, we can walk over and talk in person about a specific book or database question.
On a typical day, LBI receives about five to ten requests for books to be paged to the reading room that the Center for Jewish History shares among its partner organizations. For patrons to receive the information they wish to research, they must call the material in Aeon, a workflow management software specifically for libraries. LBI’s website features a complete online collection of our holdings that patrons can browse. Once they find a book they are interested in, they make a request, and I get an email from the system telling me which volume to pull from the stacks. Once I retrieve that, I bring it down to the reading room, and the librarians there give it to the researcher. The process is straightforward, and the exchange of information is streamlined.
The Leo Baeck Institute is very privileged at the wealth of materials we have in our collections and available to researchers. As we are focused on German-Jewish history, the collections librarians must scrutinize the donations we receive to make sure they follow this subject matter. In the past, when we accepted a gift, the donor would give a whole stack of books, whether they had anything to do with us or not. The current librarians are much more critical of what we take in, but there is still a massive backlog of books waiting to be processed and cataloged.
Reflecting on our international theme, LBI has three branches spread out across the world. The Jewish Museum Berlin has access to duplicate copies of our microfilm collection. Over 4,500 microfilms are housed there, making LBI’s collections accessible to researchers at the heart of our topic. London and Jerusalem are also home to LBI centers, allowing our organization to maintain and deepen relations with scholars, Jewish Communities, and the wider public.
One of the things I find most interesting about LBI is the people I have met. Our volunteers are a great source of wisdom and information. Two of whom are in their 90s, they are very sharp still and come in about once a week to work on translating documents from Hebrew and German, as well as telling their own stories from their home countries. Every year the Institute takes on interns from Austria and Germany who come to New York to study. They translate documents from their original German and process other materials. I find it fascinating the way that their countries have dealt with the events of the Holocaust. One intern who hails from Austria is working on a project on how her country likes to gloss over Austrian participation in World War II and pretend they were only following Hitler’s orders. She uses LBI materials to prove her view that Austria did, indeed, have a hand in the construction of the Holocaust.
This project reminds me of Sharon Macdonald’s article, “Is ‘Difficult Heritage’ Still ‘Difficult’?” As a library whose materials deal with the perpetration of atrocities against a people, we must take extra care to adequately respect the subject matter while still being able to work around and with it every day. Though we represent the Jewish people who have been subjugated throughout history, LBI has actually very few people who belong to that population. This poses a question of not only diversity practices, but what to do when white people represent a religious and ethnic minority. In Jennifer Vinopal’s “The Quest For Diversity in Library Staffing: From Awareness to Action,” she explores the needs for diversity in library workplaces. According to the International Federation of Library Association’s IFLA/UNESCO Multicultural Library Manifesto, “libraries of all types should reflect, support and promote cultural and linguistic diversity at the international, national, and local levels, and thus work for cross-cultural dialogue and active citizenship.” Despite the fact that our mission is very close to this statement, LBI would be better prepared to genuinely serve its visitors by employing librarians from the community it aims to help.
Overall, the Leo Baeck Institute is a library that provides valuable cultural and historical knowledge to those seeking to research German-Jewish topics. Expanding on more than just WWII, LBI preserves the traditions and scholarship of Jewish communities.
One of the theses presented in the Pew Research Center’s report on the Future of the Internet is that by 2025 the Internet will become “invisible” and we will no longer think about “going online”. One clear example of how that has already happened is that of WhatsApp and how widely common it has become in Pakistan. Its ubiquity combined with the advent of 4G network coverage means people now expect to be instantly connected on WhatsApp and there’s no more “going online” as it runs in the background. Is this a good thing for everyone? For this field research, I tried to find people who have actively avoided using WhatsApp in order to understand if it can have any negative effects on its users. The findings show that some people have serious concerns with using WhatsApp but it has become increasingly difficult for them to avoid using it. The conclusion is that it’s important to be critical of the role WhatsApp plays in our public and private conversations.
This research involved four semi-structured interviews. All participants are current students or alumni of my former school. Participants were recruited through a social media group and shortlisted on the criteria that they must be smartphone users and they must have actively deleted or uninstalled WhatsApp from their phones. The goal for this research was to find answers to the following questions:
- Are there people who have deleted their WhatsApp accounts? What were the reasons that drove them to this point?
- What was it like for them to quit WhatsApp? What challenges did they face? How did they deal with those challenges?
- Did they go back to using WhatsApp? Why or why not?
The common reason why all four of my participants had deleted their WhatsApp accounts was because they didn’t want to be “accessible”. They felt that as long as they were active on WhatsApp, they were considered “always available for a chat”. However, the reasons for seeking a break from this constant availability varied according to each person’s context. One of the participants shared that she was struggling with social pressure and anxiety and in all of this WhatsApp became one of the triggers for her panic attacks. She could see a direct correlation between how anxious she felt and whether or not she was using WhatsApp. On the other hand, another participant felt that keeping up with the conversations on WhatsApp took away too much time from her. This manifested in the form of never having time left for her non-work interests and prevented her from finding the right work-life balance ultimately leading to resentment and stress.
“…I just don’t like being that accessible. Unread messages bother me, I have to reply immediately, otherwise I start feeling terrible…its just something that never ends” – M, one of the participants of this study
Despite having such serious concerns with using WhatsApp, none of the participants have been able to stay away from it for too long. In fact, all four of them now have a sporadic on-and-off relationship with WhatsApp wherein they uninstall it from their phones every few months and then eventually ending up coming back. This is primarily because it’s just become prevalent and necessary in professional settings. One of the participants detailed an incident when she was on her longest hiatus from WhatsApp for around three months but she had to make her account again because one of her professors was using it to communicate with her class! Another participant stated that it was needed to communicate with their international team at work. When asked why their team could not use any other tool for this communication, they said the culture of using WhatsApp was already built into their organization and it just wasn’t possible to convince everyone to stop using it.
All of the participants also talked about how they were pressured into coming back to WhatsApp by their family and friends. WhatsApp becomes the default place where people coordinate their social engagements and share links, files and photos with each other. Even though the participants tried to convert their connections to other solutions like Telegram which is a similar but less common app or websites like FileBin or Google Drive for file sharing or simply going back to email, these were not long-lasting solutions. Other people did not consider the ramifications of using WhatsApp serious enough to convert to these solutions. Consequently, the participants felt a difficult trade-off between their own privacy and peace of mind and keeping in touch with their social connections.
Nearing the end of the discussion, I asked each participant to think about what they would change in WhatsApp to make it easier to use for themselves. This led to some interesting ideas for potential features. The justification for each feature reflects the kind of problems the participants faced and underpins our conversation on the limitations of the app. Some of the most interesting feature ideas are listed below:
- “Ghost mode” – Travel through the app like a ghost so that you can peacefully access all of your conversations, media and documents which are saved on the app but no one should be able to see you online or message you;
- Archive forever – Archive a conversation or a group forever which means you will not see them in your immediate chat list but the person or the group on the other end will not know that you have archived them;
- One-on-one – Conversations work more like real life so, for instance, users are only able to send one text at a time and have to wait for the other person to respond before they can say something again;
- Chat requests – People have to send you a request if they want to be able to chat with you on WhatsApp, they can’t automatically message you when they have your number and you have the power to turn off requests.
This report highlights how the widespread use of WhatsApp and the way it is designed can negatively influence some of its users and contribute to anxiety and stress in their lives. It is, therefore, important that we adopt a critical view of using WhatsApp, becoming aware of its drawbacks, seeking people’s consent before we engage them on it and carefully considering whether it is the best platform for our next public or private conversation.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Nina Mistry, the co-founder, and chief product officer of Artistic License Creative. She has been connected to the UX filed for more than two decades and my interview goal is to gain insights about what drives this profession today and her understanding of technology within our social realm. Artistic License Creative is a start-up that is driven by social change and innovation through the medium of digital technology. While the company is based in Toronto we met on her recent visit to New York where she shared her views on the UX field and social concerns surrounding it.
I had prepared a set of questions to structure the interview and almost all areas of interest were covered. It started with sharing details about herself and how she landed in the UX field. She is originally from Mumbai, India where she completed her undergraduate education in textile design. She graduated in the year 1999, a year where the internet had landed in most of our households. She believes that it was the internet that helped people become entrepreneurs overnight. “It made the whole world become your market,” says Nina. Her first job was as a designer at a small scale e-commerce company in India. After this, she went on to work with the software development team of interactive television that revolutionized live voting in India. She has also contributed to the design of the Target app and continues worked on many such projects even today.
Nina believes the whole idea of UX truly came to life when Apple launched its iPhone. She believes that the Iphone’s scroll user experience with the pinch and scroll and embedded keyboard scroll were game-changers in the field of technology. This is when design moved beyond its aesthetic principals and become an interactive experience. Her company Artistic License Creative (url in references) emphasizes on delivering content and experience(i.e. ways the content is consumed. Her company collaborates with people and works on projects that are driven by a cause. Whether it’s making documentaries, e-learning platforms websites or mobile applications they are driven by the purpose of making a difference.
Nina believes that it’s her curiosity and love for simplicity that makes her a relevant UX designer today. She thrives on the fulfillment derived by watching users use, react and cherish her designs. “Watching my vision materialize into an experience is the best feeling ever,” says Nina. The field design experience today seems to be divided into two distinct fields the User Research and User Experience field. When asked about this categorization she expressed that the main goal of a designer should seek solutions and there should be no distinct dividing lines in the process. The research process builds curiosity and sets a solid foundation for the design process.
Her research process mainly includes interviews and observations. Nina says “Sony conducted a focus group for their boom box. When asked about the color preference 70% picked black with 30% picked yellow. At the end of the session, participants were given the boom box as a gift for their participation and had to pick it up on their way out. All participants picked the black one. When people are observed they behave differently. It’s usually not what they say.” This relates to McGrath, “Methodology matters” reading which discusses the limitations of research. The article talks about how the limitation of one method can be covered by another and how using more than one research method would help in more realistic insights. For example, Sony’s interview flaw was coved by observing the audience making a realistic choice in person.
Furthermore, her design process is driven by the AGILE method which involves quick sketching, user testing and validation followed by multiple iterations. She says “more than a design process, it’s a co-creating process. It’s not just about user opinions but you think like the user.” We then moved on to discuss any specific experience or innovation that has caught her eye in recent times, she stated that a big influencer to determining this is how ethically the product is made and functions. When further asked about unethical innovations of technology today she discussed the emotional impact of Instagram’s need for maximum likes for validation leading to anxiety to FaceBook’s “fake news” targeted at psychological warfare. This connects to our discussion on Vaidhyanathan’s, “Anti-Social Media” which suggests only a limited online newsfeed for it’s its user. Nina re-iterated Vaidhyanathan’s take on users being oblivious to counterclaims taking away the reality of the situation.
She states Aza Raskin, the creator of the infinite scroll says that he “regrets creating it in the first place.” Elaborating more on the infinite scroll she states the user is targeted with ads and news aimed to change their opinion. And the common user is taken for granted and exploited for their lack of awareness. Nina states Google having all our information from our bank accounts to our heath records is unethical. And stresses that the “I agree to the terms and conditions check-box that people check is the biggest lie, as if you read the terms you would probably not agree.” This again connects to Shoshana Zuboff’s “surveillance capitalism and the prospects of an information civilization” which discusses our lack of privacy as a price we pay or collateral damage for using technology.
When asked about threats associated with design in the future Nina mentioned that the biggest threat with artificial intelligence and machine learning replacing human jobs. What kind of jobs would humans do it machines do most of what we do today? How will we adapt to this change? Would third world countries even have the infrastructure to adapt? She predicts that there will come a time where there will be no jobs leading eventually leading to an economic setback.
To conclude, speaking to Nina was a great way to validate all our class discussions associated with technology and social concerns. Nina was open and thrilled to answer all the questions. She made it a fun discussion where we both were sharing our views and adding on to each other’s arguments. Overall, she concluded with saying as a young aspiring design professional one should always have the wonder and curiosity along with seeking ethical solutions. “Be less motivated by monetary gains and more motivated by social good.” She concluded.
- Vaidhyanathan, Siva. Antisocial media: How Facebook disconnects us and undermines democracy. Oxford University Press, 2018.
- Zuboff, Shoshana. “Big other: surveillance capitalism and the prospects of an information civilization.” Journal of Information Technology 30, no. 1 (2015): 75-89.
- McGrath, Joseph E. “Methodology matters: Doing research in the behavioral and social sciences.” In Readings in Human–Computer Interaction, pp. 152-169. Morgan Kaufmann, 1995
- Artistic License Creative. Accessed November 19, 2019. https://artisticlicensecreative.com/.
Social Media has become an important part of our society that it is impossible to imagine our lives without it. Every other person is part of one or many social media platforms, some of the most popular ones being, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, and YouTube. People, especially youth prefer to socialize through these platforms where you can interact with people from different parts of the world by just a click of the button. From giving us new ways to come together and stay connected to the world around us, to providing an outlet for expression, social media has fundamentally changed the way we initiate, build and maintain our relationships. As the popularity of social media is spreading all over the world, there have been mixed feelings about these networking sites.
My quest on how and to what extent social media is impacting the youth, led me to conduct a survey as well as an interview targeting an audience of 17 to 24 years.
I was able to conduct a detailed questionnaire which was responded by 12 participants along with an interview with two persons. The participants’ occupations were mixed – both professionals, as well as students, were part of the research process.
From the research, I was able to gather, that most of my participants used social media networks such as WhatsApp, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook.
There are both positive as well as negative impacts of using social media. It is necessary to talk about both sides of social media in order to get an overall idea of the research findings. First, let’s discuss some positive impacts followed by the negative impacts that were found based on the analysis of the results of the research.
People can interact with other people around the world through social media networks which, empower them in many ways. Social Media becomes a platform where people can showcase their ideas or talents, learn new skills and acquire knowledge through social media.
- Finding friends
Social media is also able to connect people by using algorithms in a way that normally wouldn’t happen in the real world. The role of algorithms in filtering our results based on our history, location, interests and other details are explained in “The Relevance of Algorithm” by Tarleton Gillespie, the reading that was discussed in class. This reading speaks in detail of the “algorithmic identity” of a person and how this helps in filtering the results to provide us with the best suitable results based on our location, likes/ interests and our profile information. The high possibility of finding long lost friends has been pointed out as an important factor in expanding the social life of these young people.
- Mental Health
A large number of people mentioned feelings of motivation and inspiration while using social media. Using Facebook, WhatsApp and other apps help in increasing the friendship quality and network size.
Also, many people who are not comfortable talking face to face feel safe and less intimidated by chatting with a person online. The growth of mass self-communication, the communication that reaches a global audience through p2p networks and internet connection has been talked about in “The Rise of Network Society” by Manuel Castells.
On the flip side, social media has some negative impacts as well.
Also, a large number of people used social networks when they are bored, as soon as they wake up in the morning or before sleeping with more or less no goals to achieve. Most of the people registered using social media for 1 to 5 hours daily. This increased time consumption by using social media may affect their productivity and cause addiction.
- Physical Interaction
Though social media is widely used for its socializing abilities, it is also criticized for reduced physical socializing capabilities. The impact of Social Media has changed the manner in which we see ourselves, the manner in which we see our personal relationships, plus it has also affected the manner in which we connect with our general surroundings. Most of the participants recorded having a huge number of friends online compared to the limited few who were their actual friends in real life. This may also be due to the fact that many of the youth accept strangers as on social media, making themselves prone to exposing their personal details to a group of strangers.
- Mental Health
Many young people complained of mental breakdowns. These people are also found to be obsessed with the likes and comments they receive on social media as they mentioned constantly checking and keeping track of the likes they received to account for their popularity. Many youngsters also confirmed how they compared themselves to others on social media by stalking their aesthetically perfect Instagram photos or staying up to date with their relationship status on Facebook. This causes an increase in unrealistic expectations, self-doubt as well as feelings of jealousy
- Physical Health
There are lots of unhealthy physical effects of social media usage. A large number of people indicated poor posture and eye strain as some of the physical impacts they experienced. One can get eyestrain from staring at screens for too long. Fatigue by staying up too late posting on social media was also an issue found among the youth using social media.
From this survey, I can conclude that most young people are aware of the risks and dangers of social media, yet they do not intend to quit these, as our lives are intertwined with it. Social Media usage, if constantly checked and kept under control, it can outweigh its negative impacts to make the social media platforms a better and effective means of communication. One of the ways of doing this can be by limiting the usage duration by having apps to track your usage and lock you out of your phones for a certain amount of time. Taking some breathing time away from these media can help bring back our conscience to the physical world and create a balance in our lives.
The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, located on Fifth Avenue between Forty-Second and Fortieth Street, stands as a centerpiece for the New York Public Library. It is a grand marble building that has remained a spectacle since 1911. Few things have been changed in the library, beyond modern updates and fixes, and most people want it to stay that way. But what about what goes on inside the marble?
Are the librarians the same people that checked out the first books?
Have librarian practices remained the same?
Is information still circulated through the same stacks that were built in 1911?
Do people still use the research library?
What type of people actually participate in library offerings?
Just how old is this library?
To catch a glimpse at the answers to these questions, I spent a day observing researchers and patrons at the New York Public Library Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, as well as interviewing library staff.
I decided to spend most of my time in a smaller research room instead of the main Rose Reading Room for multiple reasons. First, tourists flock to the Rose Reading Room, and they are not the focus of my inquiries. Second, the Local History and Genealogy Milstein Division where I took up shop, allowed me to view researchers, librarians, and staff all at the same time. Third, this division of the library was broader than some of the other research rooms and as a result I would be able to observe a wider range of questions, requests, and interactions.
From the start I notice that everyone who enters the research room has one two reactions. They either straighten up and constantly check with the librarian visually to make sure they are not breaking any rules (similar to how people react to seeing a police officer), or they smile and say hello as if they feel welcomed. Both reactions indicate that librarians on title alone have a level of respect from the general public. It is for this reason that they have a certain code of ethics and an obligation to their community to keep the information in the library safe. It is also why diversity among library staff, and inclusion for all is so important in a library. As respected figures, librarians set a standard for others.
Staff & Diversity
It is not difficult to see that the New York Public Library places value on diversifying their staff. The Local History and Genealogy division (LHG) in particular represents varying races, sexes, languages, genders, ages, and sexual orientations. The library publicly puts valuable information into all types of people’s hands, which I believe is an effort to normalize the idea that information professionals can be anyone.
Interestingly, I also noticed that most of the librarians in LHG were male. In my personal experience it has often been that most librarians are women. Despite this, I noticed, unsurprisingly, that there was no change in how the librarians interacted with patrons or researchers, or how their work got done. Overall, based on the ALA Manual definition of diversity- “race, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, creed, color, religious background, national origin, language of origin or disability”, the NYPL has kept up with ethical and responsible hiring standards.
If the librarians are the brain of the library, and the books are the lungs, the patrons are the heart. Without the people that wander the stacks looking for information, nothing would be read or investigated. The librarians would be out of job, and the books would be useless. It is for this reason that I found it interesting that not everyone has equal access to the library.
The key to everything NYPL has to offer is a library card. It is a simple plastic thing with a barcode number that can reveal a world of opportunity. Want to check out a book? Better grab your library card. What if you want to browse the internet for a bit? Got to use your library card. It seems the only thing you can do without a library card is stare out the window and enjoy the climate controlled building.
To get a library card you need two things: an address, and an ID with that address on it. For most people that come to the NYPL this isn’t an issue. Even if your ID has a different address on it, you can pull up a bill or a piece of mail with your name and place of residence on it and they’ll welcome you to the club.
For a smaller, but still very relevant group of visitors, however, having an address is not easy. According to the Coalition for the Homeless, there are 62,391 people without permanent homes in New York City. That is 62,391 people who cannot use the library to find jobs on the computer, or check out a book to develop marketable skills. This exclusion of a group of people that would benefit significantly from library services is definitely a flaw in the NYPL system.
After spending some time observing in LHG, I sat down with one of the librarians so that I could learn about the things I couldn’t see. Contrary to stereotypes, he had a demanding voice and stature and I felt compelled to listen to him.
One of the more important topics revolving around librarianship, in my opinion, is how these professionals handle data or information overload. Not long ago librarians often had to fight against having too little information available to them. With the internet, digitization of thousands and thousands of records and collections, as well as increased patron contributions, librarians have an overwhelming amount of resources. When asked about this, the LHG librarian explained that he had to learn how to research more effectively. Databases have helped narrow down search results, but he mostly relies on his own ability to filter out the extra stuff. He also mentioned that in the research libraries in particular, patrons use the online catalog and databases to find their own materials before bringing it to him for assistance. This means, however, that his job also now includes teaching patrons how to use the library website, its databases, catalog, and other little overly complicated bits.
With all of this new digital content and information floating along above our heads in the cloud, an important question is; Who owns it, and why do libraries have it? The librarian had a quick answer to this, which was if the library had to own everything it circulated, no one would know anything of importance. He pointed out a feature of LHG that was pretty popular with researchers; a file system of researcher-created records of families, places, and things. The library doesn’t necessarily own any of the findings in those files, but it keeps them and cares for them because it’s the library’s obligation to to do so.
Naturally our conversation concerning piles and piles of information lead straight into my next question. Did he ever feel burnout? Was he ever tired of his job and did he ever feel like the work wasn’t worth the punishment? He had been quick to respond before, but was slower this time. Yes, he did sometimes feel the effects of burnout, but not in a way that made him feel like his work wasn’t worth it. Rather, he felt that sometimes the institution thought his contribution was less than what it was in reality, and that was the frustrating part, reasonably. I found this interesting considering I had previous overheard two librarians gossiping about how the people making important organizational decisions knew nothing about the system. The conclusion from this is that the NYPL administration may not fully consider the insight of those who work in the very trenches they are redesigning.
Politics, Neutrality & Librarianship
I managed to end my inquiry on the most difficult topic; Librarianship and neutrality. The librarian I spoke to had little trouble forming an opinion, ironically. He suggested that librarians can be neutral until there is a political or ideological thought that threatens the overall well-being of the library’s patrons or the collection. Generally, politics can’t play a part in researching a topic for someone, because that could limit what information you can give. Same goes for controversial ideas. He did mention at the end of our talk that he believes that it’s impossible to stifle your own beliefs completely, and that its the responsibility of the person to control how those beliefs come out.
As I learned about the ins and outs of the library during my observation and conversation, I found the answer to my biggest question. Despite being old on the outside, most of the inside of the library was young and new. The librarians were informed and up to date on the pressing matters of their profession. The staff was diverse and welcoming. The exclusion of some groups in the city needed some work, but I feel as if the library is aware of this issue and is working on solutions. Overall, the NYPL Stephen A. Schwarzman Building is blazing into 2020 as a leader of library practices.
Birdsall, William F. “A Political Economy of Librarianship?” Progressive Librarian, no. 18.
Cope, Jonathan. “Neoliberalism and Library & Information Science Using Karl Polanyi’s Fictitious Commodity as an Alternative to Neoliberal Conceptions of Information.” pp. 67–80.
Gehner, John. “Libraries, Low-Income People, and Social Exclusion.” Public Library Quarterly, vol. 29, 15 Mar. 2010, pp. 39–47., http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01616840903562976.
Nauratil, Marcia J. “The Alienated Librarian.” New Directions In Information Management, vol. 20, 1989.
Rosenzweig, Mark. “POLITICS AND ANTI-POLITICS IN LIBRARIANSHIP.” Progressive Librarian, no. 3, 1991.
Rosenzweig, Roy. “Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era.” The American Historical Review, vol. 108, no. 3, June 2003, pp. 735–762., doi:10.1086/529596.
Vinopal, Jennifer. “THE QUEST FOR DIVERSITY IN LIBRARY STAFFING: FROM AWARENESS TO ACTION.” In The Library With The Lead Pipe, 13 Jan. 2016.
Moma PS1 is one of the oldest and largest nonprofit contemporary institutions in the United States. It regularly organized an event to promote the museum. In this fall, MoMa PS1 hosted the New York annual Book Fair — Printed Matter. The event was held at MoMA PS1 sprawling campus from September 21 to 22. Printed matter’s is one of the biggest book fair of each year, which is a leading international gathering of artists’ books, celebrating the full breadth of the art publishing community. This annual book fair event draws thousands of book lovers, collectors, artists, and art world professionals. This year is the fourteenth year for Printed Matter to present the NYC art book fair.
Before I went to the event, I had several questions in my mind, which requires me to find the answer.
- Why printed matters?
- What is the age range of people who go to the book fair?
- How the exhibitors profit from their issues?
- What is the reason for people choosing to issue printed books over digital books?
- How they define “Archive”?
Regardless of the various digital reading products in the market, such as Amazon Kindle, the population of reading printed books has been descending year by year. Even textbooks are gradually going paperless nowadays. Also, among the teenagers in the 21st century, fewer and fewer teenagers are willing to read printed books. On the one hand, the price of books is always high, which is not friendly to book-lovers. On the other hand, a printed book is harder to carry around than a simple reading tablet.
This year, the Printed Matter event held over 350 booths. It’s a spectacular parade of art, fashion, zines, culture, subculture, color, sound, food, and various performance. At first, this extravaganza made me feel a little overwhelmed because of the dazzling booths. It’s really hard to find the specific exhibitor, ranging from artist collectives to antiquarian booksellers, offering unique publications. In the place of the Fair, there were visitors from different age groups and with different skin colors, but people who purchased the issues, the works, and the books mostly looked older and more knowledgeable. Younger people or teenagers were more thinking of the book fair as a weekend entertained event.
After finishing browsing most of the booths, I entered a booth with name “The Classroom”. The name was attracted me to walk into the space since I wondered what I might learn from this so-called “The Classroom.” This space is presented by a dutch artist, Ruth van Beek. She walked around and elaborated on her thoughts behind her practice in “The Classroom” to the visitors. The exhibit was a dedicated space that provided reading, screening, informal lectures, and other activities by artists, writers and designers. The program highlighted exciting new releases at the Fair and fosters dialogue around important themes for contemporary art publishing and the broader community. ‘That foster dialogue around important themes for contemporary art publishing and the broader community.’ Ruth described bookmaking as an inverse to creating an exhibition. “Making a book is more democratic. They’re for everyone.” After the talk, one of the audience asked a question that I was about to ask, “Will you ever considered making a digital book?”. Then the response from Ruth really touched my heart. “No”, she replied, “It’s the tactility of the book object.”
“Tactile” is a very appropriate word to describe the fair, and visitors were always encouraged to touch, interact and communicate with makers and exhibitors. After I walked out of “The Classroom”, my attention was attracted by a booth, “Queer, Archive, Work”, with slogans on the banner “This publication is a loose assembling of queer methodologies, with a particular view towards network culture, failure, and refutation.” The keywords, Queer and Archive, made me walk towards the booth. I asked the exhibitors Paul Sollellis who is also the co-publisher of this work, about how does he define “Archive” in his publishes from the view as freelance artists. He told me that archive is a process of gathering and collecting memories from different individuals then putting them together. Paul elaborated the issue he was selling on his booth to me that one package contains works from multiple Queer artists. There are journals, photographs, paintings and collages inside. Following his words, I asked him why he chose to do physical copies instead of a digital one. He gave me a short talk on the philosophy level by saying that this is all about the sense of existence and the weight of things. Everything has its own weight, you will know it only when you feel it. I remembered his face looked very serious, not like a seller who was trying to promote his product. I felt that he really believed that the meaning of existence is all about the feeling, or the “tactility”.
Paul’s definition of “Archive” reminds me that what make archive so significant to our lives is those archives are always meaningful to someone in the world. Like Archill says in his article, “however we define archives, they have no meaning outside the subjective experience of those individuals who, at a given moment, come to use them.” (Mbembe, 2002) Only the things we are doing contains meaning then there is the significance of existence. So is “Archive” and the printed books. Books have different meanings for different individuals. For Ruth, printed matters because of the facility of the book object. And for Paul, printed matters because the weight of the books is the proof of existence. Then I cannot help but think does printed matter to me and why. This is a question that I haven’t found out the answer.References:
“Paul Soulellis, Editor – QUEER.ARCHIVE.WORK.” Printed Matter. Accessed November 3, 2019. https://www.printedmatter.org/catalog/53190/.
Mbembe, Achille. “The Power of the Archive and Its Limits.” Refiguring the Archive, 2002, 19–27. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-010-0570-8_2.
As technologies and their capabilities continue to be further developed every day, it is important to observe the ways in which they become integrated with existing forms of and institutions for different types of information. Museums are among the institutions that preserve information and provide the public with access to it, whether art, history, culture, etc.. According to Bates, information can be thought of as, “an objectively existing phenomenon in the universe, which is also constructed, stored, and acted upon by living beings in countless different subjective ways, each way distinctive to the individual animal having the experience” (Bates, 2006). Audio tour guides have been utilized in these spaces for a long time, serving to both provide information, and maintain the integrity of a silent shared space. However, the information that typically makes up the contents of audio tours follows the museum in a single direction, providing all consumers with the same information in the same progression. I see this as an opportunity to use UX design to improve upon an existing way in which information is transmitted in these spaces, and to make museum goer’s experiences more customized to their interests with the use of more specified user interface design and AI technologies.
To gain more of an understanding of other people’s experiences with audio tours, I conducted an interview with an avid museum goer, Suzanne. Suzanne, who loves consuming information about art and history in many different forms, explained to me that the main issues she has with following audio tours are: a.) an abundance of information, not all of which is interesting b.) a predetermined path through the museum space c.) a pre established pacing based on the length it takes to transfer the predetermined information. From her experience, her critiques can be broken down into dissatisfaction with the current “affordances” of the existing technology into issues of content, use of and transmission through space, and time (Sengers, 2000). For Suzanne, the perfect audio tour would be one in which she could autonomously control where in the museum she would like to be, which pieces she would like to hear information about, and the duration spent at each piece. This idealized vision is similar to what Senger calls the “AI Dream”, or the hope that, with the use of artificial intelligence, technology will be able to take on some human characteristics and make things much more enjoyable and personalized for the consumer, learning what they like and dislike through continuous use and data collection (Senger, 2000). However, when applying Bates’ definition of information as “some pattern of organization of matter and energy given meaning by a living being (or a component thereof)”, how does this conception allow for the “semiosis”, or linking of different components of information, with AI and other technologies that also take on life like characteristics (Bates, 2006)? It is a question for which the answer unfolds as these technologies are applied in real time.
For this reason, it is important to look at Yvonne Rogers’ detailed work in theoretical approaches to Human- Computer Interaction. Rogers highlights the fact that many people who are at the forefront of developing technologies, although they are aware of and wish to apply certain theories, often are competing with the race to be the next innovation, and do not always have the ability to develop a technology completely theoretically before it is demanded on the market (Rogers, 2004). Rogers concludes her in depth account of theories with a call for those developing technologies, particularly user interface design, to discuss and research which theories to apply and why. By doing such work, Rogers hopes a more universal language for developers will be created in order to be able to use and integrate these ideas into technology as it is being developed, instead of conceptualizing the effects after users are already engaging with it. After a theoretical framework is established, different decisions can be made to expand and refine the affordances of technologies in relation to what users need and want from said technologies (Rogers, 2004). I believe this is pivotal in order to create user interface designs that are useful and specified to the desires of the user. It is through interviews, like with Suzanne, that developers on all levels of technology can get a better understanding of what people want, where technology can improve, and inspiration for where new technologies should be aiming. In order to more fully develop how audio tours could be improved and what consumers are looking for, it would be very useful to conduct more interviews in museum spaces and work to create a version that takes into consideration all variables that are considered important, and make an audio experience that is catered specifically to each individual user. I hope to be able to continue exploring theoretical approaches to human computer interaction.