Join 3,499 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)

Kevin Drum, by extension, shouts out to codacorolla
February 18, 2012 4:09 PM   Subscribe

Via David Ryan, a Metafilter comment on libraries and the digital divide. Here's a piece:
If you can take yourself out of your first world techie social media smart-shoes for a second then imagine this:...
A List political blogger Kevin Drum gives a link and name check to MetaFilter and, all posts belonging to their authors being considered, a nameless check and kudos to codacorolla:
It's worth a few minutes of your time to read the whole thing from the beginning.
posted by y2karl to MetaFilter-Related at 4:09 PM (41 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

Also on Hacker News.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 4:14 PM on February 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


I missed the original thread, but I saw this comment linked on Twitter. Excellent stuff.
posted by desjardins at 4:19 PM on February 18, 2012


Thanks for the post, since I wouldn't have seen that superb comment otherwise. (I wish I hadn't made the mistake of continuing to read the thread, though; much of it gave me heartburn.)
posted by languagehat at 4:44 PM on February 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


I found a link to codacorolla's comment on a great blog at Inside Higher Ed. The post was titled: Recommended Reading, Apocalypse Edition and was written by Mefi's own bfister.
posted by Toekneesan at 5:06 PM on February 18, 2012


Wow, what a great comment. I'm printing that out and distributing it to my class of MSW students on Monday. It has nothing to do with our class, but everything to do with the lives of our clients.
posted by OmieWise at 5:22 PM on February 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


That comment inspired my girlfriend to start volunteering at the library.
posted by grouse at 6:16 PM on February 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Hooray, it's been cool seeing that comment zip around the internet. I saw it on Inside Higher Ed after Toekneesan sent me the link.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:25 PM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd reckon this to be a canonical example of the high value of Metafilter's sideblog feature -- thrilled to see this getting greater circulation(sorry) readership attention & recognition.
posted by Tuesday After Lunch at 6:32 PM on February 18, 2012


I'm really glad it's getting wider recognition.
posted by rtha at 6:47 PM on February 18, 2012


Codacorolla's comment is currently front-paged on Reddit.
posted by killdevil at 7:44 PM on February 18, 2012


Drum's been thinking about the digital divide for a few days. He wrote this on Friday:
Moral of the story: the internet makes dumb people dumber and smart people smarter. If you don't know how to use it, or don't have the background to ask the right questions, you'll end up with a head full of nonsense. But if you do know how to use it, it's an endless wealth of information. Just as globalization and de-unionization have been major drivers of the growth of income inequality over the past few decades, the internet is now a major driver of the growth of cognitive inequality. Caveat emptor.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:57 PM on February 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


BTW, I'm a little annoyed that, as y2karl mentions, Drum gives credit to the blog where he found the link to codacorolla's comment, but not any mention of codacorolla himself. I complained a bit about this in a comment on Drum's blog (where I've commented numerous times in the past). I wonder if it's because codacorolla's real name isn't available?

But that's interesting because, for example, even NYT writers have in the past credited mefites by username when no real name was available (and a real name, as in my case, when it was).

There's something that annoys me about what might be an attitude that doesn't see commenters are writers worth crediting. Particularly so in the case of such a sterling example as this comment by codacorolla. But perhaps I'm being ungenerous to Drum. I generally like him, actually.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:09 PM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Who was the really rich guy the liked funding libraries? His belief, encapsulated in quote, was that their were great because they let a person come in with nothing and leave with everything.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:40 PM on February 18, 2012


Carnegie? Or did you mean someone else?
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:42 PM on February 18, 2012


I think so yes, but am probably mid remembering the quote. A search revealed several positive examples about libraries, but nothing close to what I paraphrased.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:54 PM on February 18, 2012


If you don't know how to use it, or don't have the background to ask the right questions, you'll end up with a head full of nonsense

That is itself nonsense. I understand there's a divide between people for whom the internet "comes naturally" and those for whom it is an alien, often scary environment. But the "head full of nonsense" lines implies that some information is dangerous and some people need to be protected from it. Always an interesting line of thought to hear coming from ostensible liberals.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:22 PM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I loved that comment (saw it thanks to graphfi). One of the best things I have ever read period, and one of the best things I have ever read on this site. I grew up in libraries, have librarians as family members and I am nearing double-digit library cards, so perhaps I'm biased. The comment was great to me because codacorolla did such a good job of integrating the details of the vignette so that it was an example and a sample. Just a fantastic piece of writing and explanation.
posted by cashman at 10:28 PM on February 18, 2012


Thank goodness we got that comment past the 666 favourites number... it had me worried there for a bit.
posted by Kerasia at 10:37 PM on February 18, 2012


But the "head full of nonsense" lines implies that some information is dangerous and some people need to be protected from it.

That's not how I read it. I read it as meaning: head full of confusion.
posted by Kerasia at 10:38 PM on February 18, 2012


Head full of confusion or at least, inaccurate facts presented as truth and perhaps accepted as such if someone has not been clued in on how to evaluate the credibility of a site. The danger is when "I read it in the papers" becomes "but I saw it on the internet".
posted by infini at 10:43 PM on February 18, 2012


the "head full of nonsense" lines implies that some information is dangerous and some people need to be protected from it.

As someone who's had to explain to a frightened mother that the potential of "viruses in the computer" pose no physical threat to the health of young children, I don't agree with your assessment of the comment.
posted by distressingly thick sheets at 10:46 PM on February 18, 2012


"That is itself nonsense. I understand there's a divide between people for whom the internet 'comes naturally' and those for whom it is an alien, often scary environment. But the 'head full of nonsense' lines implies that some information is dangerous and some people need to be protected from it. Always an interesting line of thought to hear coming from ostensible liberals."

Did you actually read the post that I quoted from, or did you just decide to form your entire opinion on the basis of a quote and one word choice?

He was specifically relating what happened when he used Wolfram Alpha to attempt to learn the average price of milk:
But what to ask? Hmmm. How about asking it to check the price of a gallon of milk?1 So I did. Answer: $20 million gal, whatever that means, which converts to $4.62 billion cubic inches, whatever that means. If you ask for the price of a quart of milk, it tells you the milk production budget for the Quart region of Italy. Thanks, Wolfram Alpha!
Then he tries Google:
But does Google do any better? Sort of. I typed in the same question, and one hit was from an elementary school class project telling me that a gallon of milk costs $2.99 in Bakersfield, along with conversions of that amount into pounds, lira, and punts. Which suggests this data might be a wee bit out of date.
Then finds Yahoo Answers as one of the Google results:
Another hit was from Yahoo Answers, which informed me that the price of milk was "OUTRAGEOUSLY TOO HIGH," and then provided a range of prices from around the country. The "Best Answer," garnering two votes, was $3.50. That was in 2008. Ask.com provided answers for 1917, 1950, and 2007.
And then explains:
In a way, this is the internet in a nutshell. One site provides a very precise answer that's spectacularly wrong. Another site provides a fantastic wealth of answers, all of which are sort of wrong in various different ways. But if you're smart enough to reformulate your search as "usda milk price retail," as I eventually did, you'll get this extremely authoritative-looking document from the USDA that provides average retail whole milk prices in 30 different U.S. cities for January 2012. The average is $3.69 per gallon. Other reports are available for reduced fat milk, organic whole milk, and organic reduced fat milk.
...and then the paragraph I quoted earlier follows.

Drum is not at all arguing that some people "need to be protected from the Internet". That's your incorrect inference. He's arguing, just as codacorolla did and others have, that the digital divide is not just about access, but also about the skills and experience to make use of access if you have it. This is what sociologist Eszter Hargittai has called the "second-level digital divide":
It is clear from the findings that there is great deal of variance in abilities to locate content online. Merely offering people a network-connected machine will not ensure that they can use the medium to meet their needs because they may not be able to maximally take advantage of all that the Web has to offer. Policy decisions that aim to reduce inequalities in access to and use of information technologies must take into consideration the necessary investment in training and support as well. Like education in general, it is not enough to give people a book, we also have to teach them how to read in order to make it useful. Similarly, it is not enough to wire all communities and declare that everyone now has equal access to the Internet. People may have technical access, but they may still continue to lack effective access in that they may not know how to extract information for their needs from the Web. Although providing Internet access may help alleviate some problems of the digital divide, information presented in this paper demonstrates that a second-level digital divide exists relative to specific abilities to effectively use the medium.
I hope this alleviates some of your frustrations with liberals.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:25 AM on February 19, 2012 [25 favorites]


I'm glad that comment has taken wings.

I read it yesterday, thanks to the sidebar mention, and since then I've been turning it over in my mind in a "OK, so what can we do about this?" kind of way. Seems like I'm not alone.
posted by philipy at 4:38 AM on February 19, 2012


some information is dangerous and some people need to be protected from it

Bradley Manning is currently in deep shit, allegedly for behaving as if he did not believe this.
posted by flabdablet at 4:46 AM on February 19, 2012


Who lurks among us? We'll never know.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:09 AM on February 19, 2012


I understand there's a divide between people for whom the internet "comes naturally" and those for whom it is an alien, often scary environment. But the "head full of nonsense" lines implies that some information is dangerous and some people need to be protected from it.

Then your understanding is pretty off. There is no one in the world "for whom the internet 'comes naturally'" -- in much the same way that there is no one for whom driving "comes naturally" or reading a book "comes naturally." These are skills that require a good deal of exposure and training before they seem natural. Now, it is possible that some people have aptitudes (intellectual curiosity or hand-eye coordination or whatever) that direct them toward these activities when they are available, but it's not like they have some sort of inborn skill or comfort. Additionally, life-long exposure and normalizing of these technologies affects how you think at a very basic level -- access to cars, buses, trains, and planes have affected how we imagine distance, for example, but this is not the same as "coming naturally," it's just a familiarity so basic it seems natural.

Furthermore, comfort and familiarity does not equal skill. Every day I see drivers do insane things with their cars, risking their lives and those of others to, say, get one car length closer to a red light. Being able to read does not mean being able to understand what you read (many Metafilter threads are evidence of this, and the Mefites are, as a whole, more critical readers than most people). I teach a lot of undergraduates, and I guarantee that most of them think they are pretty skilled at using the internet. They are not. They can find pages that share words with their concept of what it is that they are seeking, but that doesn't mean those pages are correct, timely, non-deceptive, sane, etc. After all, a monkey with a computer, a web connection, and a bit of HTML can make a web page. That doesn't mean the monkey is an expert in the effects of pharmaceuticals. And, lest I be thought to be sneering at the young, there are many faculty, staff, and administrators whose kills are also shaky.

And, honestly, a "head full of nonsense" can be very dangerous. Ask the people of Jonestown. Ask those who use medication improperly and end up with resistant infections or liver damage. Ask people accused of witchcraft across the globe -- the nonsense in your head can hurt yourself and others, and pretending otherwise is delusional.

I believe that information is important. If I didn't believe that bad information has a negative effect, how can I believe that good information has a positive one? If bad stress data is not going to make for a shoddy bridge, why should I worry that the engineer had accurate information? If an informed electorate is vital for democracy to function, then isn't a misinformed electorate a problem? Not all nonsense is equally bad (and some is fun and some is just legitimately divergent opinion or interpretation), but you need to be able to recognize nonsense.

So I wouldn't suggest banning bad web sites because people, as a whole, aren't very good at evaluation anymore than I would suggest banning cars because people, as a whole, aren't very good at driving. I would say that more and better training are needed, so people can efficiently find the information they require, confidently evaluate it, and effectively put it to use. Pretending that "people just know how to do this" is not helpful, and ignoring that many people who are already disadvantaged are made much more so by lack of access to electronic resources (and the nasty feedback loop where less access means less skill, which means less access, repeat) is even less helpful.

More education is desperately needed, but we seem to have a political and social sense (in the US but also elsewhere) that is determined to devalue and eliminate education. Which is good for no one, not even the "elite" in the long run.

(And, to get back to the point of this thread, codacorolla's comment was truly awesome and deserves every favorite and positive response that it has received. If I could go back and favorite it again, I would right now.)
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:17 AM on February 19, 2012 [15 favorites]


I have to say, first thank you to everyone who's engaged with the comment and passed it along, and secondly this is a little bit overwhelming.
posted by codacorolla at 9:32 AM on February 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


codacorolla, it was a great comment that gave lots of people some needed perspective on libraries and maybe motivate a few to take action. Having read your comment and the rest of the thread, I've spent some time doing researching on the state of libraries here I live. Turns out that lots of libraries have been closed here too and that your typical library is more like a community center that fulfills all kinds of important needs. Currently looking into how I can get involved in some small yet meaningful way.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 11:29 AM on February 19, 2012


I have to say, first thank you to everyone who's engaged with the comment and passed it along

Absolutely. You managed to sum up a perfect vignette that I think a lot of people can't quite get their heads around and followed it up with some straight talk about what's going on, in the real world. One of the things that library workers see a lot that other people may not are the real challenges and edge cases that may fall through the other cracks, such as the person you described. Multiple aligned edge cases can really disenfranchise a bunch of people even when the system should be working at least okay.

Being someone who works for the public, the whole public, means you need to find solutions for these situations, not just be all Coca-Cola and say "It's okay, we just don't need your business then" for the people most difficult to serve. I find personally that more and more Americans seem to lack if not empathy then at least a true understanding of some of these situations that librarians, and other people who work with the public, face almost daily. From my own personal perspective it's just nice to know that other people are seeing what I see and able to speak about it clearly and effectively.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:13 PM on February 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


I find personally that more and more Americans seem to lack if not empathy then at least a true understanding of some of these situations that librarians, and other people who work with the public, face almost daily.

I suspect those people feel that if they have a computer at home, then what do they need to spend much time in library for? The internet "offers" free music, research and you can do without having to mingle with all "them", where them is the people who really need what a library offers.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:11 PM on February 19, 2012


But if you're smart enough to reformulate your search as "usda milk price retail," as I eventually did, you'll get this extremely authoritative-looking document from the USDA that provides average retail whole milk prices in 30 different U.S. cities for January 2012.

I don't know that this is correlated with intelligence so much as experience. I see some less experienced people (hi Mom!) seriously struggle with this. My mom had to find some social security documentation for my grandparents. She spent about an hour looking and then called me. I found a PDF and emailed it to her in less than a minute.

Basic searching skills are probably more important than technical competence when it comes to using the Internet, and somehow this slips by people. Sometimes I'm treated like a rockstar at work when I figure out why someone's getting an error message in Excel. All I do is type "[content of error message] Excel 2010" into Google and scan the first page of results. I tell people I do this and it still amazes them.
posted by desjardins at 1:13 PM on February 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


Basic searching skills are probably more important than technical competence when it comes to using the Internet, and somehow this slips by people. Sometimes I'm treated like a rockstar at work when I figure out why someone's getting an error message in Excel. All I do is type "[content of error message] Excel 2010" into Google and scan the first page of results. I tell people I do this and it still amazes them.

So, so true. Also applies to producing summaries of global media reports on $TOPIC thanks to Google news alerts. Some people at my work think I am browsing through all the world's newspapers looking for stories on $TOPIC, and marvel at my ability to produce excerpts from local news in little known places in faraway countries. I told them about Google news, but I don't think I did a very good job with the explanation.
posted by vidur at 3:57 PM on February 19, 2012


When I go to codacorolla's comment itself right now, it has 808 favorites - but on the "popular favorites" page link, it says "457 users marked this as a favorite". That's such a marked discrepancy - but other elements on the page are updating when I refresh it - is there a bug in the system?

That comment directly affected my position this past week on a particular issue - considerations in moving from being mostly paper-based in our forms/information/etc. for our members, to mostly web/email based, within a local community organization I'm involved with. It wasn't a 180-degree-turn, but since to me, having everything online is easier, saves paper, etc., I was rather privileging my POV over others who might not be as comfortable with being online or find it as easy to navigate as I do. It's so second-nature to me that it's easy to forget it may not be for a lot of people.

I find MeFi excellent for exactly this sort of thing - exposure to points-of-view and nuances I might not otherwise see or consider, presented clearly and in-depth. The intelligent discussion here is so valuable. Not only does it keep me sharp and informed, it helps give me examples and lines of discussion with others. This really was a fantastic comment, so thank you for taking the time to write it & explain so well, codacorolla.
posted by flex at 8:55 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


but on the "popular favorites" page link, it says "457 users marked this as a favorite"

That total is only the number of favorites received in the last 7 days.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 1:42 PM on February 20, 2012


Thanks for explaining that.
posted by flex at 3:24 PM on February 20, 2012


neil gaiman has posted it.
posted by nadawi at 12:39 AM on February 21, 2012


Well, okay then.
posted by rtha at 6:19 AM on February 21, 2012


Gaiman is great, and a constant advocate for libraries. I sent him a thank you note on Tumblr about that.
posted by codacorolla at 8:16 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


More in this vein, for those sharing:

N.J. state librarian reflects on changes over her 36-year career [Page 1, Page 2]

"Some people don't even know how to use a mouse," she said. "I had one gentleman in his 50s who wondered why the keyboard wasn't in alphabetical order."
posted by cashman at 10:29 AM on February 21, 2012


"Some people don't even know how to use a mouse,"

I taught someone how to use a mouse today! And I helped someone else send their first real email (their first actual email was a test email to me)! And I'm helping someone use a scanner for the first time! And I helped someone send their first attachment! This is at the local school where I work a few hours a week staffing an open lab, not at the library, but I'm sure that my library training and general service orientation help out. Once people get the mouse and scan and email basics THEN they can go to the public library and take advantage of the free computers and internet. None of these people have computers at home, much less internet. Rah rah libraries!
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:22 PM on February 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


"Some people don't even know how to use a mouse," she said. "I had one gentleman in his 50s..."

Perhaps this guy?
posted by philipy at 6:20 AM on February 22, 2012


« Older Eety beety babby pony....  |  delmoi has posted 30,000 comme... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments