#citylis Student Perspectives: The first weeks of DITA by James Hobbs

Student Perspectives is our series of guest posts written by current #citylis students.

This post is by current #citylis student, James Hobbs.


A room-sized computer from the 1970s (from http://www.computerhistory.org/timeline/computers/))

A room-sized computer from the 1970s – from http://www.computerhistory.org/timeline/computers/

“I am aware that my efforts to capture the profound intellectual novelties that we are facing remain inadequate,” writes Luciano Floridi in the preface to his book The Fourth Revolution: How the Infosphere is Reshaping Humanity (2014). It is strangely comforting to know that if Floridi, who is immediately conspicuous as a central philosophical presence in information science within days of our course starting, struggles to keep up, then those for whom it is new territory may need a bit more time.

I have no difficulty at all in remembering a time when a computer was something worth travelling to see. My school mate Richard would get the bus to Exeter University to find out more about the room-sized computer there in the late 1970s. And now, a few decades on, we talk in Digital Information, Technologies and Architectures (DITA) sessions about exabytes of data being generated every day, while smartphones sit on the desks next to us. My own small contribution to this digital outpouring has been through blogs, tweets and other assorted social media, along with the data trail we naturally leave without even trying. The first sessions of this module have highlighted for me how we ride (or try to ride) the crest of this informational wave, informing and being informed in as coherent a way as we can manage.

Although we are engulfed with this deluge of information, much of it arrives in small chunks, and it is tempting to consume a lot of those chunks rather than tackle the larger view by reading to the bottom of fewer articles or chapters. (Perhaps you’ve even stopped reading this post before you reach this sentence.) Just setting up this new blog to reflect on the DITA module over the coming months is an exercise in looking closely at how I present myself online, and how information architecture can be best used so that people are more likely to read right to the bottom of what I write.

And it makes me consider how honest I am about myself in my online presence. We refine our channels of interest by choosing what we “follow” or “like”, but that also has the inevitable effect of cutting off a stream of information that we could have found unexpectedly relevant and revealing to our own situation. Putting it another way, if we just turn on a radio, we may find ourselves interested and enlightened by something that happens to be on that we would never otherwise have heard. But if we only tune in to things we carefully select through the listen-again iPlayer, that element of chance and surprise is absent.

So what sticks with me for now, at least, is another line from Floridi: “The risk is that our digital technologies may easily become defining technologies rather than identifying ones” (Self-Fulfilling Prophecy, Schirn Mag, 24 April 2016).


You can follow James on twitter.

This post is an edited version of the original which was published on the author’s blog, James Hobbs at #citylis on October 9th 2016.

If you are a current #citylis student or alumni and would like to contribute a post, please contact our Editor, James Atkinson.

About James

Information Assistant (Academic Services) in the Library at City, University of London.
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