Ted Nelson, like the other authors we’ve read in this seminar, offers a vision of computers that seems to have three elements that exist in some tension with  each other: the great potential to expand capacities for intelligence and creativity, the danger of routinizing behavior in ways that become dehumanizing, and the advantages of performing simple repetitive tasks with less effort.  I’ve been dealing with all three elements with my Russian Flu research project. On the one hand, the project is taking advantage of new tools such as digitized source materials and shared editing of documents to work in new and different ways. On the other hand, it seems that often these new tools take as much time to learn, and to regularly monitor and update and correct, that at times it seems easier to do things the old fashioned way. And, on the third hand, it is so much easier to do more that it is hard to imagine how we ever worked without this technology. Here’s my latest example of these tensions at work. Tomorrow morning (the van leaves at 6 am) ten students and I are going to the National Library of Medicine on the NIH campus in Bethesda Maryland for a day to work with their collections and meet with some scholars. On the one hand, we’ve been able to prepare for this trip and to generate a report using shared content and editing in ways that would have been much more difficult in the past. On the other hand, we are putting a lot of time and effort (fortunately, not much money) into setting up in person meetings and time to work with non-digital library materials, in ways that would have been very familiar to scholars twenty years ago. And, on the third hand, the primary goals of this project are to generate an online database of source materials and to prepare postings for the History of Medicine Division blog, Circulating Now, both of which are new forms of scholarly output that facilitate exactly the ease of movement and creative engagement recommended by Ted Nelson. So these issues of what’s new, what’s better, and what’s different are recurring concerns of mine as I continue working with these students. Now if only we had the technological to fold Virginia so it didn’t take 4 hours to drive from one corner to another…..

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