Virtually whose?

September 30, 2009

I started wondering this week about landline phones.  I don’t know of very many people under the age of 40 who still have them.  I approve of that decision, it’s kind of silly to be juggling numbers and phones when one of them is portable.  The portability intrigues me, especially when thinking about what we are losing when as a society we drop land-line phones.  It’s more than just a landfill covered in old phones.   Landlines give a physical place.  The area code identifies the caller as being from a specific geographic location.   Finding sites such as Anywho or many reverse address lookup sites depend on the phone directories to identify people.  We are going to lose our sense of place, identified by our area codes.

I am old enough to remember  dashing to answer the phone, waiting of course to make sure that it was our ring on the party line.  We then evolved to multiple phones, at least one in every few rooms.  There was a time when a backlash occurred to people using voicemail, when the cocktail party line was a sigh and “i don’t talk to those things”.   We went through an era of cutesy, when families sang the tag line on their answering machines, wrote sappy poems, or other kinds of trivia that now is placed on facebook.   The backlash reversed then, to people who did not use voicemail, so that they were impossible to keep up with.   Now no one really expects to answer a ringing phone.  My children glance to see who is calling, and then make a call back when convenient.  Leaving voicemail is passe’.   The caller ID will identify you as the caller, and you can always txt a message.   Life no longer has to be immediate or unknown.   The suspense of the first “hello” is gone for the most part.  We know who is on the other end of the phone.

Living virtually, in some parts, means being in control.  We control who we friend on facebook,  although we can’t control what they say.  We decide when to answer phones, and know who is calling when we do.  We can decide even what our phone number will be, and can take our North Carolina area code to Florida if we wish.  Long distance is irrelevant. 

Learning is also starting down the same path.  Asynchronous online or videostreamed courses are never inconvenient, since the learner chooses when to log on to class.  One can choose to listen to podcast lectures with a button in one ear while watching reruns of NCIS with the family.   The teacher can no longer use body language or eye contact to check for understanding or make sure that students are paying attention.  It’s a different way of learning, and a different way of teaching.

The place of the library in a virtual learning world has yet to be determined, and time is wasting away.  Virtual high schools are springing up in many states and large school districts.  What we don’t know is how these students will be granted quality information resources for their learning.  Even more important, we don’t know how quality school library services, which is as important as the resources, will be maintained.  We need information and models to learn from.  Otherwise, the school library of the future will go the way of the landline phone, a nostalgic reminder of the way life used to be.

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