This document is Susan Howell's Personal Statement concerning course ILS -- 604 occuring Winter term 1996.
I enjoy analyzing incoming trends and technologies and I'm especially interested in the way we tend to attach personalities and other human qualities to our technological machinery. The media sometimes perpetrates a fear that the technology will "take over." I wonder how this will happen since we ourselves create technology. The machinery itself does not reproduce. But I think we like our technology to be like us. We like to customize it so that our PC, for example, will greet us in the morning and perhaps even "say" something friendly to us. We still have not decided whether or not a computer can really beat us at chess. I bet we'll continue to keep working on this problem until we come up with a computer that does, and then we'll be fascinated with it rather than those who programmed it.


The point for me is, and always has been, that technology is a TOOL. Like fire, we can use it to do useful things. I believe that we have had much success in the past and in the present using the technology we create. But now the race is on to see who can stay at the top of the market, who can come up with the newest, coolest fad. And everybody knows that people will buy things that they simply don't need. They will even buy things sometimes that they can't use. The money and the hype drive the market rather than consumer needs. The most useful technological tools may take the longest to create and therefore, unfortunately, may never be created. We need to bridge the gap between the programmers and those who offer public service, like librarians, who have experience helping people find and use information. Working together, I believe it is possible to do things such as standardize most user interfaces of searchable databases so that users can transfer their skills easily from product to product. It is possible to create useful technology that is also easy for almost anyone to use. It sounds simple but it doesn't happen often.