Posted by: Steven Harris | October 16, 2008

Future Shock Therapy

I recently read a spectacularly scary post by Adam Greenfield about Future Shock and the current presidential campaign. One particular paragraph struck me:

What you get when you swallow too much change too quickly isn’t a mass outbreak of twitching, hebephrenic breakdown, nor some neo-Amish wave of technological renunciation. You wanna know what it looks like? A hockey mom and former beauty queen with an upswept ‘do and a pregnant daughter in high school. Sarah Palin is future shock personified.

While this political sentiment is not far from my own, I don’t want to dwell on that. Another point that Greenfield makes is than Americans (or U.S. citizens, I should say) are, in many instances, fairly backward technologically speaking, that some things that seem “new” and “innovative” to Americans are fairly common and banal in other parts of the world. But worse, that in some cases Americans are willfully ignorant of scientific and technological developments. Future Shock isn’t necessarily about technology actually ruining your life, but rather, the assumption that it will do so.

I wouldn’t say this is an especially common sentiment among library staff. Libraries have always ingested and implemented a lot more technological change than is credited in the popular media. The staff of the library where I currently work has endured tremendous technological change is recent years. Nonetheless, I get the sense, simmering just below the surface, that if asked to undergo any more change, they might freeze in their tracks (implode would be too strong a word). I wonder if the Future Shock sentiment is a kind of moving wall that can contain change up to a certain point, or a certain level of intensity of change, but eventually a point will be reached beyond which the individual or group cannot go. The wall stops and begins to push back.

What I wonder is, what can I do to keep the wall moving? What can I do keep our staff learning about and adapting to new technology? How can I prevent that “glazed eyed” look from appearing? I think in the library world, if we adopt a head-in-the-sand attitude about change, we will be in real trouble. OK. I admit, I feel the same way about our country. Can we really pretend as though sciences like geology and biology don’t exist? Can we succeed in the world while believing that the world is only 6,000 years old? Can we change successfully as a culture if we reject the theory of evolution? I doubt it.



  1. Is there an academic version of the 23 Things that Charlotte-Mecklenberg did to inspire their staff to love the tech or at least have fun with it?
    Okay, maybe I’m the only one at our library who embraced Web 2.0 because of one tech workshop and the 23 Things our director implemented at our library. And maybe I have gone a teeny bit overboard.
    The staff needs to find something that they can relate to (photo-sharing usually works) in their everyday lives. They need to be reminded of things they use now that they would never have guessed they’d want, much else wonder how they ever lived without it (how many of them depend in at least some way on a cell phone?).
    Then ask them if they’d want to go back to Old Technology, if it meant Old Dentistry or a Course of Leeches.

  2. Ya, LL. They could give up computers in favor of typewriters!

  3. LL, we did a version of PLCMC’s program for the library staff at McMaster University. More info on our Emerging Technology Group’s blog:

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