Tuesday, July 22, 2008

8:00 in Boise, Idaho

OK, it isn't 8:00, but I've been dying to work that Lynyrd Skynyrd lyric into a blog post ever since I touched down in Boise. Let's just call it journalistic license. Oh, and I had to look up the spelling of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Let's just call that pathetic.

I'm here for a library meeting on the next generation of integrated library systems (that's library catalogs to those of you who didn't get your library school indoctrination). It's been a good meeting, a nice mix of presentations and group discussions. I've been impressed with the energy and ideas of the attendees, all of whom seem ready to make some big changes to deliver better services. I'll be interested to see if the momentum generated at this meeting translates into anything real. I think it just might.

Interesting though the meeting has been, two days of butt planted in chair makes me restless, so I'll be glad to get off the airplane in Portland and get moving. At least I got out of the hotel last night. It turns out that there are a few graduates of my high school here in Boise (interesting since I went to high school in Northern California). Last night I had dinner with one of them and his family. I hadn't seen this guy since about 1983, so it was a lot of fun to chat and share old stories. I love reconnecting with old friends, and I always come away with new insights on life, growing up, aging, adolescence, and how we all got to where we are now. It's funny how a bunch of small-town kids have traveled some twisted roads in life. There's fodder for at least two books in the lives of my friends and me, though I have no talent for writing fiction, so someone else will have to do the honors or let these stories go untold.

I've spent two days in a meeting devoted to the effects of technological change in libraries. That, along with getting reacquainted with a bunch of old friends over the last couple years, has me reflecting on the connections that are possible through today's technology that were virtually unthinkable 20 years ago. Twenty years ago, I would have kept in touch with two or three old friends, and my only option for reconnecting with the others would have been a high school reunion. We would have sat around the table, drinking and reminiscing and promising to keep in touch. Then we would go back to our lives and forget to call, write, or visit. Then 10 years later we'd repeat the process at the next reunion. Now, each time I find someone online (or he/she finds me), we can keep in touch easily and connect each other with other people we know from back in the day. There are very few people I hung out with in high school that I haven't had some contact with over the last few years -- and I live 700 miles away from my hometown. Sure, Classmates has tacky web ads and makes you pay to contact someone -- but they also provide a valuable service for millions of users. Yes, MySpace and Facebook are in the news regularly, portrayed by blow-dried local newscasters as havens for pedophiles and cyberbullies. But they also provide a way for us to be part of our friends' lives, even when those friends are far away. Now we can share the kind information we used to share while dashing to our lockers or hanging out at lunch: the movie we just saw, the latest news about our families, what we're reading or listening to. Trivial? Sure. But that kind of smalltalk builds connections between people, whether face-to-face or online, separated by a few city blocks or a few states.

As I write this, people are talking about how libraries can build communities--and use technology to do it. I suppose that's the theme of my trip: building community through technology. Lately I've been griping about how my generation was sold a bill of goods, with movies, TV shows, and magazine articles promising us the ultimate in futuristic technology: hover cars, teleportation, and time machines. I'm still waiting for those--especially the time machine and teleportation. Boy, I could get in trouble with those! But I have to admit, no one predicted a global computing network that would link us together across space and time, enabling me to hang out in person with an old friend I could never have found otherwise. I still want my time machine and transporter, but I don't think I'd trade away the internet to get 'em.

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