Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media

Selection from Cites & Insights 8, Number 10: October 2008


Pointing with Pride, Part 6

May 2001: Number 6

The highlight of this issue may have been Getting Past the Arc of Enthusiasm.. But I said I’d provide the followup to Copyrights and Wrongs, together with cases where I’ve changed my mind since 2001:

Scenarios 1-6

Take one of Roy Tennant’s columns in Library Journal—since, as he notes, those columns are posted on LJ’s Web site for anyone to read or download.

   I find one of the columns so magnificent that I extol its virtues on my own Web site and provide a link to it.

Appropriate and a fine thing to do. Citing someone else’s work has always been appropriate; providing an explicit link offers contemporary convenience.

   As part of my new Libraries 2.0 commercial Web site, I link to the column—but bring it up within my own frame, so that it appears to be material prepared for Libraries 2.0.

Questionable. Tennant’s byline still appears, but by suggesting that it’s part of Libraries 2.0 rather than LJ Digital I’m at least partly in the wrong. I wouldn’t do this, and quite a few site owners object to being “framed” in this manner.

   Rather than linking to it, I download it and include it—in full, including Roy’s byline—in the next Cites & Insights.

Clearly unethical. I’m now reusing the material (albeit with byline) in a situation that I don’t regard as fair use and without Roy’s knowledge or permission. Using one paragraph from an article (with citation) would be ethical and legal; taking the whole piece goes too far.

   I think it’s a wonderful article, so I mention it in “Press Watch 1” with a brief description, a pointer, and some commentary.

Appropriate and traditional.

   I realize that I wish I had said that first—so I download it, strip off the byline, and include it in Cites & Insights—or, better yet, send it off to another publication under my own name.

Outrageously unethical and probably illegal. Pure theft, even if the source material is “freely” available on the Web.

   For an article in Libraries 2.0, I use each of the facts and interpretations in Roy’s article, including his best phrases, but I revise the actual sentences so that it’s not a word-for-word copy. I run it under my own byline.

Ethically questionable—and a case where I think the law and ethics differ. At worst, this is plagiarism rather than direct theft. You can’t copyright facts or ideas (at least not directly), but an ethical writer would at least give credit for the inspiration.

Scenarios 7-12

The wonders of digital technology.

   I buy a DVD and take it home to play on my Linux PC. Oops: there’s no DVD software for Linux. So I download DeCSS, which indirectly makes it possible for me to enjoy the DVD.

If the red light goes on, it should. I regard this as entirely ethical behavior—but there’s considerable doubt that it’s legal, at least as cases stand in the courts. I find that appalling. Once I’ve purchased a DVD, it should be mine to enjoy as I see fit.

   I think CDs cost too much, so I find the songs I want using Gnutella or other peer-to-peer technology. I’m deaf enough to think that 128K MP3 is high fidelity, so I’m happy.

Unethical as far as I’m concerned, even though I agree that the big record companies have acted outrageously in maintaining high prices for CDs even though costs are lower than for LPs. Overpricing does not justify theft.

   I burn those Gnutella-acquired MP3s onto CDs and give them to my friends.

Slightly more unethical than the previous situation, as it adds distribution of stolen material, albeit distribution without personal gain.

   I encode my own favorite songs, from CDs that I’ve purchased, in high-rate MP3 (256K), then create my own custom CDs to use with my portable MP3/CD player.

Appropriate. I’m reformatting songs that I’ve purchased for my own convenience. I don’t know of any legal issue, and there’s certainly no ethical issue.

   I copy my own favorite songs in .WAV form (essentially audio CD format) and burn them onto audio CDs for my own use.

Equally appropriate. Note that audio CDs do not contain copy protection, so there’s not even a legal issue of circumventing protection.

   My mix of songs is so great that friends offer to buy copies, which I sell to them for a reasonable price—say, $6 for an 80-minute mix CD.

Oops. Unethical, as far as I’m concerned. There’s one conceivable ethical justification—that I’m creating a new work of art by rearranging existing material—but that’s a tough sell when you’re just choosing a group of complete songs. I don’t know of any anthologists who have successfully claimed that they’re creating new works of art and therefore don’t need permission from the writers anthologized!

If you disagree on the ethics, I’d be interested in hearing why—but I have little patience for arguments that boil down to “Two wrongs make a right” or “If it’s easy, it’s ethical.”

On the final Tennant scenario, I’d now say I regard that as unethical—plagiarism through paraphrase. The same day I’m preparing this, I was writing a piece on blogs and libraries for my “day job” and noted that Meredith Farkas had offered a good list of characteristics of most (but not all) blogs. I used the names of the characteristics and either paraphrased what Farkas had to say or offered entirely new comments—but I also explicitly credited Farkas as the source of the list.

Midwinter 2002: Number 16

This was the issue with my New Year’s Resolution: “No more guilty pleasure!” To wit:

I’m not suggesting that you change your viewing, reading or listening habits unless that suits your own needs. What I’m suggesting is that you shouldn’t feel guilty about your pleasures. (Unless it gives you pleasure to feel guilty about them.)

Credit where credit is due: I got the idea from Mick LaSalle, a movie reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle. When each reviewer was asked to admit to and discuss his or her guilty pleasures for the Sunday entertainment section, he refused—on the basis that he didn’t feel guilty about liking B movies and other “trash” that suits his fancy. Neither do I; neither should you.

Back in 2002, I was having more fun with predictions—in this case, a 1989 book of forecasts for 2000-2001 and some less futuristic projections. As far as I could determine, about 20% of the 1989 specific predictions were right, which I thought was a pretty good record for eleven-year forecasts. Then there were some of the others, and I’ll repeat a few of them:

   We’ll have more leisure time, with 32-hour work weeks and half of us working “flextime / flexplace” jobs.

   “Modular plastic housing will allow people to move more easily and frequently. People will simply pack up their houses and ship them to new locales.”

   Planes will carry 1,000 passengers (and many of them will be supersonic), the average life of a car will be 22 years, separate lanes for trucks will be enforced.

   “Magazines in the year 2001 will be on floppy disks that allow the reader to interact, play with, and manipulate the information on his or her PC.”

   “By 2001 there will be only three major domestic [air] carriers.”

   “By 2000, there will be three major corporations making up the computer hardware industry: IBM, Digital, and Apple.”

Remember Digital? (You may have known it as DEC.) Compaq acquired what was left of it in 1998. Remember Compaq? (Not the brand name for some HP computers—the company.) Heck, remember when there was an “HP Way” that actually meant something?

September 2002: Number 26

It almost makes me dizzy seeing these issues with eight different essays in 20 pages. I’d like to think more recent issues have deeper thought and fuller discussions, but maybe I’m just more verbose. In any case, the longest piece in this issue was Copyright Currents, with the title “Avast, Ye Maties!” It was about the Berman bill, which would have legalized malicious hacking on the part of Big Media, overriding both Federal and state laws to do so.

I made fun of Segway’s lobbying to make the powered, 12mph Human Transporter legal anywhere people walk—an effort in which Segway largely succeeded. I suggested that people who spend $3,000 (which turned out to be low) “for a high-tech electric scooter so they don’t have to walk anywhere are likely to be the same self-absorbed fools who bump into you because they’re on their cell phones or grooving to their MP3 players.” Fortunately, most of those self-absorbed fools didn’t buy Segways. (I’d say they don’t want to look like dorks, but they’re willing to wear their Borg attachments—er, Bluetooth headpieces—even when they can’t use their cell phones, such as on planes, so clearly dorkiness isn’t the issue.)

June 2003: Number 36

A May 2003 advertisement in ComputerShopper was so bemusing that I did something that might now be called fisking. Here’s what I had to say, under the title (for a 16-page ad) “Why 1 Windows is simply not enough!”:

What the hey? That was my initial reaction to this sixteen-page essay-advertisement from HyperOs Systems in the May 2003 Computer Shopper. I believe the company is touting HyperOs 2003 (yes, it’s a small “s”), a “boot environment redirection system” that lets you mount multiple copies of Windows, in various versions, that can all view the same data files. (The software works by “dropping to DOS,” a novel feat under XP or NT/2000, since there is no native DOS in NT-based Windows.)

We learn that Windows 3.0 was “originally designed by 6 people at IBM” and that “the IBM PC has dominated the personal PC market ever since,” which will come as a shock to Dell, Compaq/HP, and for that matter IBM. The ad seems to say you can boot today’s Windows from a diskette—and that you can’t “start your PC without a few Kilobytes of computational code on an ultra slow floppy disk.” We learn that “It has been argued that all of the increase in PC performance predicted and achieved by hardware over the last 20 years has been all but wiped out by the increase in complexity and size of the code that it runs.” In other words, today’s PC doesn’t really run programs any faster than a 1983-model PC? Right.

Later, the anonymous but apparently British author (given spellings and word usage) tells us that the “article” was written in Word 6 on Windows 3.1. Why on earth would anyone choose to do that? “Why should you have to throw away decades of computational experience?” Well, if you have “decades” of experience with Windows 3.1 (1992?) or Word 6 (mid-1990s), I guess that’s a good argument—but somehow my decades-old word processing experience works a whole lot better in Word XP under Windows XP.

I, for one, was not aware that I had to drop to DOS to do a backup, since I’ve always done it within Windows, but here I learn better…and that backups always run from a DOS interface and at the slowest disk mode. I’m told that we’re now in 2001. It’s implied that having more than a few applications on your system automatically slows down Windows, including XP, and can make it unstable—even if those applications aren’t running. (The “benchmark” was created by loading in all the “cover disk” software that comes with British PC magazines, willy-nilly. Don’t you just load freebie programs at random to see what will happen?) And we learn that, if you force Windows to run entirely in RAM (with files in a RAM “drive”), surfing with a 56K modem will “feel like…surfing with Broadband. Various windows open and close so fast it is like there is no one else on the Net!” And here you thought dialup speeds had to do with transmission. Apparently, according to HyperOs, delays are because Internet Explorer is spending too much time writing to disk.

I have no idea whether HyperOs is a good product. This endless blather, filled with unlikely and questionable statements, was enough to tell me that I want nothing to do with the company.

Remarkably, the company is still around.

February 2004: Issue 46

The piece that still speaks to me is a Perspective: The Way We’re Wired:

In the Cites & Insights Glossary Special entry for “top technology trend,” I quoted a couple of paragraphs from a Cory Doctorow posting at the Boing Boing weblog. Doctorow argues that, for the next couple of decades, policy and social norms are more interesting than technological developments—and also argues against certain technology developments. Many people commented on Doctorow’s posting…including Joi Ito. Here’s part of what Joi Ito had to say, as quoted by Jenny Levine, the Shifted Librarian:

I remember when everyone shouted into their cell phones and thought that their batteries drained faster when they made long distance calls. I remember when people (who now have cell phones) swore to me that they’d never have a cell phone. I remember when cell phones looked more like military radios. I think it’s fine to gripe about technology, but I would warn those people who swear they’ll never use a technology. Technology evolves and so do social norms.

… New technologies disrupt our habits and our norms and what we feel comfortable with. I am an early adopter type who uses every technology possible and I try to wrap my life around it all. Some people try the technology and point out the tensions. Some people ignore the technology. Technology evolves along with the social norms. When it works well, we end up with a technology that contributes to society in some way and becomes a seamless part of our social norms. When it doesn’t work well it either damages society or does not integrate and is discarded. [Emphasis added.]

Jenny Levine emphasized the last two sentences in the first paragraph—and added: “Think you’ll never use IM for reference? Think ebooks will never go mainstream? Think you’ll never need a wireless network at home or at work? Do you have a cellphone?” Back to that in a bit, although it’s peripheral to this perspective.

A Minor Epiphany

My Aha! moment was the second (quoted) sentence in the second paragraph: The notion of wrapping your life around all the new technologies you adopt. I had never thought about early adopters that way and it helps me realize why I’m unlikely to become an early adopter (although, to a limited extent, I may have been one when I was younger).

Ito describes a range of appropriate responses to new technologies, although most of us respond to different technologies in different ways. Ito’s groups are:

          True early adopters, people always on the lookout for something new.

          Inquisitive adopters/skeptics, those who try out new technologies and point out problems. Some skeptics point out the tensions, and maybe even the advantages, without necessarily trying the technologies. I don’t have to test-drive a Hummer2 to tell you it’s ecologically offensive or participate in IM reference to believe it’s likely to be a useful tool in many libraries.

          Late adopters, those who ignore a technology until it’s become so mainstream that they don’t think of it as new.

There are other categories. Some people deliberately (or unconsciously) avoid new technologies, even when they are both mainstream and beneficial to these people—in essence serving as counterbalances to early adopters. Avoiders also shape their lives around technology, negatively, although I’m sure they would disagree.

These aren’t clearcut categories. Most people fall in between. I doubt that Joi Ito actually seizes upon every new device or even “every technology possible.” Few technology avoiders, including those who avoid technology for religious reasons, avoid every new technology. Many (most?) of us have some areas in which we’re inclined to buy into a technology relatively early, others in which we’re likely to wait a while, and others we just don’t care about. For that matter, relatively few people bother to point out problems and benefits with new technologies; they use them or don’t.

If I had had more money and time when I was young, I might have “wrapped my life around” some new technologies. Now, I can’t imagine it—for me, for now. I “wrap my life” around people (particularly my wife), places we go, books and magazines, work, writing, thoughts, TV, music, and the like. When a new technology makes that life better, I’ll get around to trying it—sometimes sooner, sometimes later…

I’m not making fun of Joi Ito or other early adopters. But the fact that I can’t imagine wrapping my life around new technologies may explain why I have problems communicating with those who do. We’re wired so differently that it’s hard to talk across the interference. That doesn’t make them wrong or me right. It makes us different.

The Questions

What about Levine’s questions? I commented with an offhand response. Here’s a slightly more thoughtful one.

          If I worked in a library and in public services, I would almost certainly try out IM reference…

          I think some forms of digital text distribution will “go mainstream” and some won’t. I’m inclined to place dedicated ebook appliances (outside the K12 and higher education markets) in the latter category, at least for a long time to come.

          I don’t know whether I’ll ever need a wireless network at home; I might or might not want one at some point—presumably after we go broadband. (At work? We’re working on that, as we should be.)

          As for a cellphone, I don’t currently feel the need to have my own, although there is one in the household (almost always turned off).

And as Joi Ito notes and I sometimes forget in a fit of sloppy writing, “Never” is indeed a very long time.


If you choose to wrap your life around a set of technologies, that’s your choice. Problems arise when you attempt to universalize your own choices: When you want the world and the people in it to wrap themselves around your preferred technologies…

There are people who’ve fallen in love with HDTV to the extent that they won’t watch TV if it’s not HD—even if their favorite shows are low-rez. There are music “lovers” who disdain classic performances (within genres they love) that aren’t stereo. There are people who believe that TV news keeps them adequately informed—and others who disdain newspapers because they’re not up-to-the-minute sources. There are far too many people who believe that Google does it all and that if it isn’t on the web, it doesn’t exist (although Pew and other studies suggest that this attitude is nowhere nearly as widespread among students as some doom-cryers would have us believe).

Make your choices to suit your preferences. But everyone else isn’t you. Don’t assume they’ll modify their preferences or behavior to suit your choices.

November 2004: Issue 56

This issue includes a bunch of interesting commentaries that might deserve repeating. I’m going to include only the last one—one that’s not really about libraries:

Does the Music Matter?

Rogier Van Bakel wrote an odd essay in the New York Times on July 17: “Can an MP3 glutton savor a tune?” He notes, “Almost everyone knows hundreds of recordings that are time machines”—songs that resonate within you, bringing back memories at the deepest level. “By virtue of repetition over weeks or months, music can become a soundtrack for a particular time in your life.”

He notes that music fans can now “indulge boundless appetites” and—even legally—expand their collections at relatively little cost. “But with so much worthwhile music pouring into my computer and from there into my iPod, none of it seems quite as long-lasting or momentous as the old tunes. I’ll come across sets of MP3s I have no recollection of having downloaded just weeks earlier.”

When he was a student and money was tight, “virtually every album I bought came to stand for something.” After seven or eight years, he had 150 to 200 albums—2,000 songs, more or less. “I own a hundred times that much music these days. Question is, was I somehow getting more out of my tunes when all my albums fit into a duffel bag?”

He believes that’s true. He thinks it makes sense to buy two or three CDs (or download a short playlist) and let them sink in before you go on to more.

I see his point, although my situation is a little different. As a student and shortly thereafter, I was a little music-crazy: not only pop, folk and rock, but also even more baroque and 20th century classical. At one point, I owned every album of Stravinsky conducted by Stravinsky except for one TV ballet, “The Flood”… I was buying the Telefunken Bach extravaganza as it came out, pocket scores and all. I think I hit 1,300 albums—all in great shape, and not played all that often even if I did spend way too much time just sitting and listening.

Then I got a life. Tastes, desires, and time changed. I sold most of the collection before CDs came along; the rest went when I converted. At this point, we own something like 150 CDs (and a few dozen classical CDs that don’t contain “songs”)—in other words, we’re about where Van Bakel was as a student. I mostly listen to CD-Rs drawn from a subset of the CDs, most of which I’ve ripped (at high bitrates) to MP3 and reconvert to CD audio when burning. I make up mixes for various reasons, one of them being to approach songs freshly.

A few dozen songs bring back history. A few hundred are memorable from my past. A surprising number are memorable from more recent times because the music resonates with my feelings. I’ve thought about the possibility of really restoring the old songs I liked—probably roughly doubling our collection—and adding some new ones. And I realize that I’d rather explore the 1,500-odd selected songs, at least for a few months.

Is it possible that having all the music you could ever want means that none of it matters as much? Is this another unintended consequence of technology: Cheapening the emotional impact of music by making it so much more available?

I think Van Bakel may be on to something. I’d like to believe otherwise. The music should matter, just as certain books and certain movies (and maybe even certain TV shows) should touch us more deeply than “Oh, I liked that well enough.”

September 2005: Issue 66

The biggie was an investigation of 60 liblogs chosen based primarily on their “reach.” I calculated reach using a set of metrics that isn’t possible any more, then noted some other items for each blog—starting date, frequency of posts during April, May and June 2005, total and average length of those posts, number of comments and comments per post—and a few odd ones. I listed standouts in most categories and offered brief comments on each of the 60 liblogs.

This exercise started me on a series of liblog investigations, a series that continues to this day. It exposed some blogs to people who weren’t aware of them. It was also misinterpreted by quite a few people who insisted on calling it “Walt’s Top 50 blogs” or something of the sort.

The next year, I avoided the “top X” issue altogether by looking at 200+ liblogs falling “somewhere in the middle.” In 2007, I didn’t do this, but did include “visibility”—defined very differently largely because web conditions changed—as one element in two book-length studies of library blogs.

I’m in the middle of the largest liblog survey I’ve ever done. I did use visibility as a cutoff, a way to ignore liblogs that operate “under the radar” and whose owners may prefer it that way. I’ve now decided to eliminate any links between visibility and individual liblogs (although I’ll probably do a chapter on the visibility issue).

Spring 2006: Issue 76

The Open Content Alliance/Google Book Search saga continues. (And, in a contemporary digression, may I say how delighted I am that OCA has named a director?) I discussed Angel Rivera’s article-length commentary on a C&RL News article just full of generation generalizations and Mark Lindner’s somewhat shorter and maybe even more emphatic response. A celebratory essay discussed the return of the Journal of Electronic Publishing after a 3.5-year hiatus.

Oh, and a long Net Media piece had a great title: Blogs, Google and Porn. There’s no good way to summarize it. Sorry.

February 2007: Issue 86

Conference speaking. One chapter from The Balanced Librarian, before I’d decided to make it a book. And reports on some predictions and scorecards, including Wired’s remarkable “Wild predictions for a wired 2007. Those included “HD-DVD wins,” which was a dumb prediction even in late 2006, at least as far as I could tell. As I said at the time, “I’m already on record as saying that Blu-ray is the likely ‘winner’ if there is one.” Of course, I don’t have the salary or prominence of Wired’s experts.

November 2007: Issue 96

I probably made more enemies among copyright aficionados with “Sometimes They’re Guilty,” an essay on one of the few cases where an RIAA filesharing infringement lawsuit has gone to a jury. (The first time, actually.) By far the biggest section was Net Media: Thinking about Blogging—roughly half on blogging in general, half library-related.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 8, Number 10, Whole Issue 107, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, Director and Managing Editor of the PALINET Leadership Network.

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