Thursday, January 27, 2005

Monkey Hamlet

I'm sure you've all heard the parable that if you give a room full of monkeys a bunch of typewriters, in time, one of them will bang out the works of Shakespeare.

It's been used to describe various aspects of the Internet, usually to mock it, especially with the idea that most of what is online are the monkey's non-Hamlet rejects. But it leads one to wonder: which non-"Hamlet" draft did the monkeys themselves like best?

In "Information and Equity" Lievrouw and Farb conclude that to achieve some degree of equity, information professionals should "develop the ability to interact with diverse individuals and groups so that they can facilitate, broker or navigate those groups' various interests and practices -- again, to achieve whatever people may value doing or being, in whatever contexts and to whatever degree people consider important. Information practice should include not only indentifying and accessing existing resources, and teaching people to be 'users' of those established resources; it will also require the ability to recognize and bring into play a heterogeneous range of social, cultural and documentary information resources -- interpersonal and family networks, informal links among experts, and sources of local and universal knowledge."

The question I have is: If access and education were unversally available (and yes, that's a big if with lots of issues in and of itself, but is encouraged earlier in L&F's 'implications' section ) why wouldn't this just happen on its own? If so, shouldn't the question be "how can information professionals get out of the way?" A libertarian distribution model to be sure (if you can distribute information) -- but is there any other practical way to diversify content and interest online?

By the way, try the Monkey-Hamlet thing out for yourself


  1. If accessibility and education were both available, I don't think that equal information would necessarily still be received. There are some individuals that disagree with information provided on the internet in worry that what is stated may not be factual. With this in mind, those people and others may not want to take time away from work and their daily lives to get the trained education to use technology to receive information or simply attend classes. Even if the opportunity was out there for everyone, even if it was completely free, there will be individuals that would not care to take the classes or get the information. In stating this, the people would still be at the same point in an information gap that stands today. The number might slightly increase, but other things such as time and money (as stated later in Distributed Justice) would be necessary as well. A certain combination would be needed to completely appeal to the public. What kind of things would be the bottom line to change peoples minds to want to get more information?? It might just be soley mentally and based on the difference between wanting and needing, people receive the information that they have to.

  2. Lievrouw and Farb also stated, "Information resources are valuable only insofar as they are meaningful or useful to the people who have access to them. They ability to derive a benefit from a resource depends to a great extent on people's skills, experience, and other contextual factors." So even if access and education are universal--say, if everyone DID go to classes to receive training on using the Internet or other technology--it's still not a given that an individual's experience with information will be the same as anyone else's. Think about how you behave in your classes. Maybe there's one class you really enjoy, so you are engaged and pay attention and take notes and are able to use what you've learned when you leave that class. But maybe the person sitting next to you finds the class incredibly boring, so she doodles in her notebook or thinks about what she has to buy at the grocery store or even falls asleep. Whatever information is being presented in that class is being absorbed (or not absorbed) very differently because it is meaningful for you but not for your neighbor. There is no way to ensure that equal information is received because of individual differences between all people. However, that's not to say that providing more opportunities for training to more diverse populations couldn't have a positive impact. This is where librarians and other information professionals need "the ability to recognize and bring into play a heterogeneous range of social, cultural and documentary information resources" that could reduce certain populations' boredom with training that may have been designed without their culture in mind. By bringing in more heterogeneous resources, librarians may provide learning opportunities that fit individuals' varied backgrounds more appropriately and allow for more equitable (if not equal) information access and use.

  3. I guess I am not going to school to 'get out of the way' of glaring inequality. I think it's incumbent upon all of us to extend a hand to those who, for whatever reason, have been unable to gain access to our newest information medium. Should public libraries 'get out of the way' and provide no resources to their patrons who otherwise have no access to the Internet? Government 'getting out of the way' only works if there is a level playing field to begin with, and we know that to be light years from the truth. -mc