after @bohyunkim: talking across boundaries and the meaning of “coder”

Bohyun Kim has a great post (and read the comments too), Why not grow coders from the inside of libraries? Interesting questions on why we’re not doing that and how our institutions could better support that sort of development.

The question that came up for me, though, reading through comments, was a question of vocabulary. Her post has attracted comments from both librarians and IT types — which is part of what makes it so worth reading — and I have the impression that these groups are using words like “coder” to mean different things, which is impeding conversation.

From where I stand, there’s a continuum of tech skills that goes something like this:
0. Little or none.
1. Comfortable front-end user: can find stuff in databases, set up a Facebook page or WordPress blog, et cetera.
2. Comfortable back-end user: know their way around a command line and a config file; think that angle brackets and octothorpes are perfectly reasonable things to encounter in a file.
3. Quick-and-dirty hacker: have dabbled in at least one programming language (HTML is not a programming language), can make a few dozen or maybe a few hundred lines of code do something useful, can mess around with an API.
4. Protodeveloper: can usefully contribute small things to large projects.
5. Engineer: can usefully contribute large things to large projects. (Of course there’s a continuum here from junior engineer through guru, too, but that continuum is not important for my purposes.)

I think when we talk about coders in libraryland, we typically mean #3 (sometimes #2, if we find tech intimidating, or #4, if the context is open source, but #3 will usually do). I think when IT or CS people talk about coders, they mean #4 at minimum and often #5. Some of the comments on Bohyun’s post are from computer types who are taking her to task over, e.g., oversimplifying the work that they do, and I think underlying this is a different use of terminology. If I may put some words in her mouth (and please, Bohyun, correct me if I shouldn’t!), when she says “I don’t think that coding is too complicated or too much to learn for any librarian regardless of their background”, I think she’s talking about level 3, and some commenters are upset because they think she just said level 5 is easy.

(I think, of course, they’re both right. Level 3 is straightforward enough as long as you have relatively logical habits of mind and — critically — are not afraid. Level 5, just like high-level proficiency at any complex task, takes years, and you need both hard work and talent to get past its lower end, too.)

I think it would be great if libraries had more of the 5s, but it’s not,on a large scale, realistic. (The starting salary for MIT bachelor’s graduates is $67,270 [pdf]. And your library pays what? I rest my case.) But I think far more widespread level 2 and 3 knowledge, and the occasional 4, is critical. It would empower us to make our libraries work the way we want them to in so many ways (a variety of patron interactions, staff workflows, reporting…). It would empower us to be far more critical consumers, and users, of news about technical advances. And it would empower us to generate far higher-quality demand of our ILS and other technical vendors, by understanding (even if we can’t implement it ourselves) what’s truly hard, innovative, cutting-edge…or easy, sub-baseline, last decade’s technology.

Oh — and it would empower us not to be completely marginalized in the public conversation about information. You know, the ones that the people who understand how to (technologically) manipulate it took over years ago.

an asymptotic approach to truth

Spent the weekend visiting the in-laws in Princeton, hence visiting my librarian crew down there; Monday lunch with Janie Hermann followed by Deep Thoughts with Peter Bromberg. Lovely! (As always: how lucky am I to have found this profession where people are so generous with their time, thoughts, and expertise?) And at one point Peter said, “Blog that!”, and so:

I spent much of library school in cultural whiplash between the library world, where I was being steadily acculturated, and the computer-geek world where my husband and so many of my friends work, and where, to an extent, my undergraduate background lies. And this is coming up again now that I’ve decided I really need to understand something about how ALA works.

Cthulhu Warning

Of course, the more I look into the committees and subcommittees and processes the more I get the sense that it is a Lovecraftian horror and if I ever understand it in full I will have lost my mind.

I have difficulty with bureaucracy. I see that ALA has a lot of it, and I don’t understand why — don’t know the historical antecedents that led to so many rules accumulated upon rules. (Please: do tell.) I sense there’s a story there, but I don’t know it, and even if I did I’d chafe against it.

I see, time and time again in the library world, the brittleness of perfection. If only we had the perfect rules — and then if we could implement them perfectly — and then everything would be great! And if something isn’t working, we need more perfect rules — we need thirteen years of committee process to write the perfect rules — and the cost of those years of inaction, the possibility that acting all along (however imperfectly) might bring more net benefit than waiting for the one true way, is politely not discussed.

And then I whiplash myself over to the computer science world and I see a merry agreement that things will be broken — that we will ship broken code, and we’ll know it’s broken, and we might not even know how, but that’s OK, because next month we’ll have banged out a new development cycle and shipped something else that — will be broken too, but will be better.

What the Real and Imaginary Parts of the Poles Do

It’s an asymptotic approach to the truth.

I was discussing this with my software-engineer husband after lunch and he said that, even in the wild-west world of software engineering, it was a tough paradigm shift, to go from implicitly to explicitly embracing this iterative mindset. But, we agreed, you have to have an iterative mindset if — following Lisa Carlucci Thomas‘s justly-retweeted Battledecks aphorism — failure is to be success in disguise.

If you aim do something once — perfectly — you either succeed or you fail, and failure isn’t an option, so we shy away from it — we shy away from even talking about it. I trace much of my networking success to having attended Andy Woodworth‘s Set Sail for Fail event at Midwinter, and I attended because that title was so striking — partly because it rhymed, but mostly because there was nothing else like it on the agenda.

Iteration liberates. Iteration frees us to walk toward the fail, to sit with it a while, to talk about it, and to take the time to understand how it’s success in disguise. Iteration means we have permission to fail because failures aren’t permanent, and because failures can be seen as mere perturbations of the system which tell us something more about how it’s shaped. Iteration means we always have the grace to fix things.

It means, as the world changes, we can change too, and our solution, so perfectly adapted for its little niche, need not die and fall apart when that niche changes.

I’m not going to be saying here that I wish everyone in the world would manage like a software engineer. (You engineers out there, I see you shuddering.) There’s a lot of deeply pathological issues in engineering management, and there’s a rough-and-tumble, high-energy aspect to the culture that is probably well-suited only to, well, software engineers. (And there are reasons we don’t generally let them near the customers.)

But I am saying that the perfect can be the enemy of a lot of things besides the good: things like learning, and adapting, and having the courage to look our mistakes in the eye. And I am saying that there’s a dovetail between the iterative mindset and something else Peter and I talked about — empowerment. You can’t empower your employees throughout the org chart unless you can be comfortable with everyone’s occasional failure, and you can’t do that unless you have a process wherein failure isn’t permanent, wherein there are second chances and we can boldly set sail for that fail because, when we get there, it won’t be a destination, but a conversation.

There’s some parallels crying out to be written here about Google Books metadata, and my experience as a teacher (and still-evolving understanding of what the culture of schools means), but this post is already long, and I’m eager to hear your thoughts on empowerment, iteration, cultures, fail.

internet culture vs. library culture?

I was writing a comment on an ALA TechSource post on library culture vs. internet culture (thanks to Buffy for bringing it to my attention), and it got long enough I figured it should be a blog post instead. Blockquoting from the post; the rest is mine:

The movers and shakers of Internet culture probably either don’t know about librarians or don’t care. If they give us a thought, they probably think of us as essentially not getting “it” – whatever it may be at the moment, Web 2.0, cloud computing, or the mobile revolution.

I spent a bunch of library school suspecting this was true (and I am married to a programmer, went to an engineering school whence my classmates mostly got snapped up by the dot-com boom, so I’m pretty familiar with internet culture). But now, I’m not so sure.

I was inside a tech company recently, noticed a completely awesome diagram on an executive’s white board, got to talking with him about it, and he said “you went to library school? Oh, then you’ll want to see this!” and pulled a book by Ranganathan off his shelf. (It’s worth noting that I read about Ranganathan in library school, but had never previously encountered a complete volume.)

I was talking with the husband once about libraries having trouble keeping up with the tech curve, due to budgetary constraints and not always having the in-house knowledge, and he said, why are there not more librarians leveraging the open-source community (as in, the coding community as a whole, not just the open-source-ILS community)? Specify a few projects that can be solved with a hundred coder-hours of time –which is both less time and more project than it sounds like — get them mentioned somewhere like BoingBoing, and there is a tremendous reservoir of goodwill to libraries among internet-culture people — because, let’s face it, most of them were quiet nerdy outcasts who spent their childhood feeling safe and welcomed and intellectually alive in…libraries.

And I was reading one of Page and Brin’s founding papers about the math behind Google once — I do not think you can get more “mover and shaker of internet culture” than they — and it’s straight-up citation indexing, and explicitly acknowledges its ties to library science.

I do think there’s a lot of disconnect between internet culture and library culture, but it has less to do with not caring than with simply having very different toolkits and cultural approaches to things. There’s also a lot more points of connection than we realize, but not enough being done to leverage them.

what Google ethnography and research oncology have in common

Here, we have an ethnographer talking about why (outside of academic/elite contexts) Google is not widely adopted in China. (A variety of reasons: the Google name is hard to pronounce and spell in Chinese and there is not a widely accepted, Google-promoted canonical form; many, many users have their primary internet access through mobile technologies and are accustomed to an instant-messenger/Facebook-like paradigm, not an email/browser paradigm; Google is identified with a set of western values appealing to elites, but not appealing to the majority of the population, particularly in the presence of a heavily marketed, nativist alternative; Google hasn’t done a good job of outreach and market positioning vis-a-vis these difficulties.)

And here, we have an oncologist blogging about how he doesn’t (any longer) need to use particular library services, and ways proactive and tech-savvy librarians could insert themselves into his workflow, helping him while raising their profile. The thing I really liked about this post is that it’s an outside perspective on what the information workflow looks like — I think it’s too easy to just see our own parts of a workflow (and there’s a lot of information workflow in a library), but the library-external parts are where the new opportunities for relevance are. It’s a good reminder of the importance of having good relationships with your patrons and seeing things from their perspective, seeing where the needs are instead of hypothesizing about what they might be.

I read this article first, closed the tab, read a dozen more tabs (oh, eventful week, how you have destroyed my tab-reading flow), got to the one about China, and thought, hey, this is the same thing. Here, too, Google has its set of habits and expectations, and is finding itself irrelevant in a population which has a very non-complementary set of habits and expectations.

I’m looking forward to being a liaison between the library and…some outside, whatever it is. Seeing that outside’s perspective. Is this some sick, twisted aspiration — will it all just be herding cats? Still. There are reasons for the tagline Across Divided Networks.

structure of open source community

So my husband (a software engineer) and I talk a lot about this library stuff, duh, and it’s useful for exposing underlying assumptions that differ between these two fields of information geekery…

One of the things I’ve been thinking about is the structure of open source development communities. I’ve run Linux (albeit no more) and a lot of my friends are the kinds of codemonkeys who will merrily write a script when the world doesn’t do something they want it to do. I’m used to thinking of open-source development as people encountering things that are personally bothersome and fixing those themselves, when the software in question is something computer geeks use — Linux, Apache, funky lightweight apps to do whatever, et cetera.

But the assumptions in my head about how Koha and Evergreen and OPALS are developed are, I realize, different. I think of integrated library system development and I think of a small number of coders — from library consortia, academe, and ILS support companies — contributing to the codebase; I think of the vast majority of (potential) users as simply not having the ability to do that. In other words, I think of there being some latency and information loss in the communication between user and developer in a way there’s not with, say, Linux (where user and developer are the same person). In fact I imagine it must go both ways — that developers are not necessarily embedded in a library context (e.g. if they work for support companies) and therefore may not be heavy users of the system, and may not be developing that sort of intuition for the workflow imposed by the system.

Am I right? Am I wrong? Because I really have no idea, and it’s fun to use the blog as a way to learn things. (Thank you to all my lovely commenters who have pitched in on this. 🙂

It seems to me the nature of an open source development community, and the possibilities for the software, must be interestingly different depending on how greatly the user and developer communities overlap, but I do not really know how (aside from the suddenly crucially central role of support companies in the low-overlap case). Certainly, though, the idea that if software is broken or stupid you cannot just write something to fix it is a paradigm shift for software engineers, but not for librarians, which does complicate some of these conversations.

discovery interfaces in the Chronicle

Chronicle of Higher Ed article on discovery layers in library catalogs. Doesn’t say much I haven’t already seen (although if you have no idea what I mean by “discovery layers” do read it; it’s a good overview). I did like this bit, though:

“It’s sort of our answer to, Why it is you need a library when you have Google?” said Ms. Gibbons [vice provost and dean of the University of Rochester’s River Campus Libraries]. “What this is going to do is show how much you’ve been missing.”

Positioning libraries to stay relevant is, of course, a major obsession these days, and I liked how she phrased it — not exactly as “let’s present ourselves in ways that are familiar to the users” (although I do think that matters), but “by presenting ourselves in ways that are familiar to the users, we can better showcase ways that we are already awesome.”

Comments section is kind of disheartening. I shouldn’t be surprised that the demographic that reads the Chronicle is the demographic that is conversant with old-school catalog searching ;), but so many of the comments read as “fix the user, not the catalog” and…that just never works. Even if the user is uneducated about, e.g., subject headings (and let me tell you, one semester of library school showed me it is amazing how undereducated you can be about catalogs after even a humanities MA), even if the existing technology works really well once you put in the time to learn it — fixing users just never works.

It would make me sad if discovery layers made it impossible to do the sort of precise, controlled searching library nerds get good at, but another of the lessons of Google (or, for that matter, of any number of intimidating databases) is that your clean searchbox doesn’t mean you can’t have that functionality. But if you say to users “you can’t even play until you’ve spent a couple hours learning how” — well, just like my last post — that means there will be a lot of users you never get at all.

Make it easy. Or, at least: make the first hit free.

NISO Forum 2009: Annette Bailey, and women in CS

I was at the NISO forum with my Library Automation class yesterday. Couple of interesting talks, particularly Annette Bailey‘s, and my notes have all these “blog this!” memos, none of which I’m blogging about right now because it turns out what I’ve been thinking about overnight is how her presentation reminded me of a chat I had with Jon Herzog once about women (or, more particularly, the lack of them) in CS.

One of the things that struck me about Bailey’s talk is that she’s made geniunely interesting and useful widgets, but she characterized her programming knowledge in very modest terms — not much above what I would use to characterize mine. And it was eye-opening to me that you can actually do something worthwhile without being some kind of a ninja.

Because my experience of programming in high school and college was that you could learn a little bit of code, and then make something that didn’t do anything useful, assuming it even worked, which, if it was one of those BASIC things out of a magazine, it usually didn’t. (“Hello, World” is charming, but not fulfilling.) And all the people who were actually doing interesting things with code knew multiple programming languages, and OSes, and had knock-down drag-out arguments about which commands were better in which situations and why. And, indeed, the ability to have those sorts of arguments seemed like the marker for membership in the club. And I didn’t want to be in the club, because arguments like that don’t play to my strengths, and anyway it seemed a bunch of obnoxious posturing. And if the bar for being in the club was that high, I was so far behind I might as well give up and do something else. So I did.

(Oddly enough, this hasn’t been my experience of post-collegiate code. I taught myself enough perl one summer to limp along making something partway functional. And I was able to do something actually useful and comprehensive for my databases class with shockingly little SQL and PHP. But mentally, I’m still in the “not a coder” camp.)

“Make it easy,” Bailey said. She can figure out enough stuff to do what she wants to do in a world without standards or APIs or any kind of handholding. She’s not dumb. But she just wants to make a damn widget to extend user experience in the midst of a busy job that doesn’t pay her to be a full-time programmer. She doesn’t, it seems, want to have to be in the club to make something meaningful.

And neither do I. And I don’t think I realized before last night that being in the club, and being able to do something worthwhile with electrons, aren’t the same thing.

the perfect is the enemy of the good; the good is the enemy of the perfect?

In my Library Automation class yesterday, the concept of satisficing came up.

Digression: satisficing is where I feel most acutely the cultural conflict between the librarians I read and talk with in school, and the software geeks I socialize with. So any time that comes up, there’s a lot going on in my head.

Someone noted how the nature of research was changing as new search tools become available — not, to be tactful, that the quality was suffering, but that people are drawn to accessibility over exhaustivity. A favorite classmate of mine leaned over and said, “How is that quality not suffering?”

Well, class is not the time to go into that, but here’s my answer to her:

It depends.

Making search easier, making records and then content more accessible, means that more searches come up with something. It means that people are more prone to treat searching for information as a realistic tactic. It means that the generation of ideas, and the development of content and other products based on those ideas, is easier. It means we will have a world with more generation, more creativity, more content, more entrepreneurship.

And that content will cover our world with information kudzu which, like kudzu, will often have to be macheted away. Some of that content, those prototypes, those ideas, will be horribly flawed (broken, misleading, decontextualized) because they were based on incomplete or inaccurate information. But sometimes, the idea that exists, the product that exists, even if broken, is better than the idea or product that does not. I’m typing this on a browser with bugs on an operating system with bugs on hardware that’s getting increasingly apoplectic, but my life is better for having these.

So satisficing, yes, you are my little love for what you bring to our lives. But I think the cataloguers and old-school library theorists of the world have a very real point as well when they decry you. Because sometimes, the incomplete search really isn’t enough. There are objectives and applications for which good-enough is good-enough, but if I’m talking academic research (at least, past the undergraduate level)? If I’m talking, good heavens, medical research? Intelligence and security work? I would really rather the investigators not satisfice. And to this extent, the easy availability of patchy search, the least-effort temptation, really is a problem, and even a threat.

So there you go, M: the answer behind my expression.

Create Your Own Economy (part I?)

I’ve just started reading Tyler Cowen’s new book, Create Your Own Economy. (That is to say, I’ve just finished Chapter 1.) I should preface this by saying that Cowen is one of my great intellectual crushes and his blog, Marginal Revolution, has taught me a lot and strongly influenced my thinking on some matters (as well as introducing me to one of my other great intellectual crushes, Sudhir Venkatesh). And I say all of these complimentary things because I’m going to spend the rest of the post cranky.

Chapter 1, roughly speaking, is about two things: the information explosion in modern society, including the tools that both generate and help us manage it; and the autism spectrum as a frame for helping Cowen understand his own thinking, and all of us better manage that information explosion in our own lives.

Now, I’m fascinated by the autism spectrum. I will download/read anything I come across with Temple Grandin in it, I’m fascinated by the way non-normative minds both illuminate the norm and broaden the meaning of humanity, and reports (particularly self-reports) from that spectrum tend to be the most personally gripping of all dispatches from non-normative terrain. But I can’t stand the way geekdom, a few years back, flocked to the spectrum — or, rather, the metaphor of the spectrum — for self-understanding. There’s a reason the DSM includes differential diagnoses, and therapy, outside (and perhaps neutral) observers. The faddishness of self-diagnosis, the appropriation of the metaphor as an explanation (or perhaps excuse) for oneself without the actual diagnostic process and its consequences, the cherry-picking of personally useful or (dare I say) sexy elements of a descriptive sketch on a web site without taking into account the full picture…right. Drives me crazy. For all that it’s a fascinating spectrum and, even, sometimes, a great metaphor.

And then (page 9!) I hit the word “catalog”.

Librarians have a passionate conversation going on the nature and meaning and management of information overload. Part of this passion surrounds the idea of cataloguing. And one of the key things here is — a lot of librarians get apoplectic about the lack of cataloguing online (in the very services Cowen refers to — Flickr, del.icio.us, iTunes, among others. Cataloguing’s a technical term, a technical idea in librarianship. It involves high (often very exacting) standards for metadata which facilitate precise and comprehensive searches. (Which are, really, often neither as precise nor as comprehensive as some librarians would like to think, but let’s leave that aside for the moment.)

Cowen sees a world of technical tools helping us to manage information overload…I see a world of tools which, don’t get me wrong, I spend a ton of time on and am madly in love with, but which create as many problems as they solve in that. I can get freakishly excited about crowdsourcing and folksonomies and what-have-you, but they also have very serious flaws with regard to some of the problems that cataloguing, in the librarianship sense, aims to solve. The tools we have now are very nascent. Our ability to organize information with them is in some ways very limited. (Why does my iPod have three different genres with names like “Electronica/Dance”, except differently punctuated? Did the geeks at the wedding I was just at get around to creating a hashtag for their photo uploads of the event — and if not, how will I find out what happened after I left, and even if so, how many sites is it scattered across, and how many photos will I miss because they missed the message? Why does my task management software not freaking integrate with my calendar?)

The fact that I can even ask these questions is, don’t get me wrong, pretty cool. This sort of participatory, decentralized information culture is going to lead us in all sorts of great directions, even though few to none of them will, I expect, resemble cataloguing (and somewhere in the dusty corners of librarianship, people will be shaking their fists at the sky about this). But Cowen’s view of what is going on in information tools is so very, very different from a lot of the views I encountered in my Information Organization class.

And that’s the other thing that made it hard to read this chapter — hard because some little bat of an idea was beating its wings against the cage of the book, wanting to argue and break and go off some other way. It’s one of the major difficulties I had in 415 in reverse. In 415, I read librarians’ conversations on these themes, and they had so little in common with conversations, on the same topics, that I’ve seen socially, in the worlds of computer geeks and online communities; I kept ranting at the papers I was reading, when they’d say something was obviously impossible but I could point to real-world examples, when they’d make statements with fundamentally different assumptions than those I’m used to seeing and take them as absolute truth. And here, I read Cowen’s piece of the conversation, and it has so little in common with what librarians have to say. “Libraries” appears precisely once in the index (page 43!). A brief scan of the index suggests that none of the philosophies and technical contributions of librarianship make an appearance in this book at all — and Cowen has a tremendously wide-ranging intellect and is a heavy user of his local libraries. Among non-librarians, he seems one of the most likely to really know things about library ideas.

I kept having the feeling in 415 that if librarians and non-librarians are having separate conversations about information tools, culture, philosophy — and if non-librarians are the ones out there generating and using the tools, with or without the theories, in a flawed but fecund creative explosion — then librarians, convening slow committees to generate precise tools — will be obsolete and never even notice. Cowen’s book, thus far, does not bode well for this.

How do we bridge those divided networks? How do we bring some of those conversations, and conversationalists, into a common sphere?

objectivity vs. transparency

The always fascinating David Weinberger blogs on transparency vs. objectivity. Worth reading the whole thing — the argument gets deeper as it goes along. But here’s the part where I really started thinking:

Transparency prospers in a linked medium, for you can literally see the connections between the final draft’s claims and the ideas that informed it. Paper, on the other hand, sucks at links. You can look up the footnote, but that’s an expensive, time-consuming activity more likely to result in failure than success. So, during the Age of Paper, we got used to the idea that authority comes in the form of a stop sign: You’ve reached a source whose reliability requires no further inquiry.

Hence — to move the opening sentences from that paragraph to the close:

We thought that that was how knowledge works, but it turns out that it’s really just how paper works.

Of course just about anyone nerdy enough to chase footnotes knows that appeal to authority is a fallacy, but he’s got a point there: when it’s hard to do, you’re more likely to rely on the authority of the source, to seek out authorities who are trustworthy (or who have a cultural aura of trustworthiness clinging to them, like his newspaper example — at least for certain newspapers), and to have an intellectual edifice that depends on your ability to, well, trust without verifying. Blogs let wacky opinionated perspectives proliferate, but linking and searching substantially lower the cost of verifying, so objectivity’s role and importance decrease.

(The searching is key, though — link ecologies can, I expect, be navelgazing, and they often do a poor job of getting beyond our love of confirmation bias…)

So where’s the library connection? Libraries have historically been, I think, edifices built on objectivity. We’re the neutral observer. We’re the place you can trust, full of the sources you can trust. Authoritative knowledge! Come and get some.

I come across a lot of articles in my class readings written by librarians who are clearly getting the thrashing heebie-jeebies from this transition away from objectivity (and also, as it happens, comprehensiveness). Tagging, from faceless wild-west Internet crazies, versus sober and structured subject headings, assigned by trained experts? Wikipedia…(same argument)? And I admit, when I was teaching, it was frustrating to see my students head straight for Google when we went to our beautiful library with its excellent collection…

…but it wasn’t because they were going to Google over books; it was because they were going to Google without having developed the sophisticated cognitive apparatus you need when you can’t just trust a source. They didn’t have tools for evaluating the reliability of sites, nor even for situating their content within a broader body of knowledge they could have used to do that evaluation. Appeal to authority is lame, logically speaking, but it’s a good starting place while you work on appeals to your own intuition.

Anyway, that’s a digression. The point is, libraries have, I think, bought heavily into this culture of objectivity — historically, culturally, even architecturally. Many librarians relish their roles as gatekeepers, want the catalog and metadata that give you brilliantly precise searching if only you will master idiosyncratic syntax — and then bemoan users’ tendency to flock to an unadorned search box and keyword-search without a delimiter in sight — something they can do by themselves and, increasingly, anywhere.

I don’t think a lot of librarians, or libraries, know how to position themselves in this shift. So, ideas? What’s the role of a cultural institution, a neoclassical edifice, a, dare I say, neutral authority in a world of omnipresent always-on kudzu-like explosions of transparent information? Can the question even be answered with that set of adjectives and nouns? If not, how do they change?