While I’m not one for new year’s resolutions, my first-day-back brain has been mulling over a few things I’d like on a mental to-do list for this year. The first of these comes on the back of reading this article, which strengthened my suspicion that most people operate under some degree of misconception about things (myself included). The following are three bugbears of mine which I would dearly love to begin debunking this year:
This is a contentious one, because I know that there is a certain experience in a paper book that involves all senses in a way that eBooks do not, and it is something I still enjoy. However, if, as in the above article, you are arguing that paper books are better because of their permanence or value, think again. I suspect that the idea that computer files are somehow transient or vulnerable harks back to the pre-internet no-backup days when they effectively were. These days? I suppose it depends on how you manage your data, but generally I feel digital content has a leg up on physical in terms of permanence. I can think of any number of ways in which I can quickly and irreversibly destroy a paper book – in my case, it tends to involve unfortunate encounters with water. I can also imagine, from experience, any number of scenarios involving a required book not being in the same location as myself. Yet my eBooks are synced via various services – my iPad (current reader of choice) could be dropped in the ocean, set on fire or run over by a bus, my house could burn down and I could be on the other side of the world, and I would still have access to every single one of my eBooks. In a hundred years when my paper books are faded and unreadably fragile, my eBooks will have emerged in (presumably) perfect copy via whatever legacy file conversion system is in place then. I know which gets my vote for permanence. And value? Perhaps there is an argument for cheap secondhand texts, but without exception every eBook that I have purchased has been vastly cheaper than the equivalent paper copy in my local bookshop. The overheads for digital text are so low that it seems madness to suggest paper books are somehow better value. The only other thing I will say on eBooks for now is that I just don’t get how anyone who has to go anywhere to do anything with books can’t be swayed by the immense convenience of having multiple texts on one tiny device.
Time and time again I talk to people who are wary of the cloud – who feel the need to either have a physical paper copy of something or a stand-alone file on their own computer for their data to feel ‘secure’. To me, this is the same idea as stuffing all your money into a mattress rather than keeping it in the bank. We all adapted to digital currency years ago – I don’t understand the resistance to cloud-based data. What is more secure – your own computer, with one point of failure, and perhaps a backup on an external hard drive or server in roughly the same location, or a large multi-site cloud service with the ability to run yottabites of storage with triple redundancy and insurance? One power surge, fire, flood or theft at your home/office and it’s all over, red rover in the first instance. I know there’s a lot of scare-mongering that goes on re: hacking and identity theft, but two things come to mind: your own computer is just as vulnerable; and one of my favourite authors’ catchcries – ‘distinguish possible from likely’. For me, the benefits (of insane convenience and security) outweigh the risks every time. I know where I’m putting my data.
By this I don’t mean weighing in on the argument that digital natives theory is a load of crap – it’s been done and those of you reading are likely well-versed in the arguments and are aware of my views. What I’m referring to is the somewhat largely held belief that mature-age students are somehow fundamentally different to fresh-out-of-school students. I often hear lecturers saying ‘Well, yes, I know we’re supposed to be using technology but I only have mature-age students and they’re not interested in all that’. Yes, and before they came to uni they probably didn’t use the APA style guide, read textbooks or write critical analyses either. Basing course design on the predicted tool preferences of a student demographic is madness. Do we ask ourselves if students like using Bunsen burners before engaging in lab work? Do we ask if students prefer to read magazines before assigning textbooks? We need to stop assigning ‘special other’ categories to students, and we need to stop doing it for tools as well.
That’s my list for today. Feel free to weigh in with your own misconception bugbears in the comments.