Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Electronic Envelope

In working at a library with people whose ages range across a span of sixty plus years and whose experiences derive from multiple cultural and socio-economic backgrounds and geographical locations, it's clear that we utilize, to varying degrees, layers of technology, some ancient, some new, some borrowed, some blue. Yet we all are, as much or more than anyone in the greater global society, living within the aura of an electronic envelope, as Marshall McLuhan prophetically observed in the 1960s and 1970s. 

It's also clear, from direct observation, that many, perhaps most people, shuffling or stumbling around as they stare into flickering mobile devices virtually everywhere they go and regardless of what else they may be hoping to achieve (indeed, if they are hoping to achieve anything at all), take their present state of consciousness for granted. That is, they are used to it -- rather than fresh to this provisional and incomplete state of their reality, nor are they refreshed by their techno-social links and life-perceptions.

The Electronic Envelope: we are all utilizing some kind of technology, but with different expectations and proficiencies and to wildly and widely varying outlooks.

Some adults still write letters, send cards, email (& doesn't it sound more beautiful in French? Courrier électronique, or courriel?). They make voice phone calls, text. Others just post on social media like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, &c. Click "Like" buttons and emoji icons to express our feelings or lack thereof. 

Some even speak with other people in a three dimensional sense, though if you go to an American post office, the chances are greater that you'll be speaking with a postal worker than a fellow customer. 

For purchasing stuff, you can go online, or use an app, or use a magic card, or use a mobile device, or draw cash from a so-called Automatic Teller Machine (ATM), or interact with a human teller, or negotiate, bid and barter. And I know about all of the above because I engage in all of the above. How about you? 

Marshall McLuhan pointed out that it's good for one's sanity -- and autonomy as a person and human being -- to remain vividly aware of the electronic envelope that surrounds us. This is partly what he meant with his various quips, such as "The Medium is the Message." This is how we perceive, or filter, or translate, social life itself. Which means there are also other ways, so let's not confine ourselves, or box ourselves in, from other means of perception. Seems like a good idea, eh? Oy!

The Electronic Envelope. Some things are quaint, obsolete, art objects, or no longer even in operation -- if so, just barely. Of the first three categories, consider the typewriter, the vinyl record, the fountain pen. Of the fourth type, consider the 8-track, Beta videotapes, telegrams, facsimiles (fax machines) and beepers.

I recently asked student workers about voice recognition services. They were aware of these and laid out the following. Are you?

Amazon: Alexa (via Echo)
Apple: Siri (via iPhone, iPad, iPod, &c.)
Windows: Cortana
Google: Google assistant / Google Home
The Internet of Things

Different workers have different preferences and some don't use any at all. 

I also asked about dictation (speech recognition) systems: you dictate or speak and your device "types" or keys out the words into a text document that you can then edit and refine. I remember using a Dictaphone system in the 1990s, for a temp job: this involved a tiny cassette recording of a boss's voice, played back with foot pedals while listening with headphones and word processing my interpretation. I also remember trying an early version of Dragon speech recognition software to mixed results. 

Google Docs has a function if you have a microphone built in your device, or attached. Google Cloud Speech API (application program interface)
Dragon -- multiple versions
Voice Finger (is this a good image?)

Do you work with or have you tried any of the above? Does any of this "spark joy?" (As Marie Kondo aka KonMari might ask).

When I was working with international documents at Duke University's Perkins Library in the Public Documents and Maps Department, there were a variety of machine translation systems coming out. Now, Google Translate is highly useful for basic translation. But these have a long way to go as far as nuance and slang, &c. Hardly the Universal Translator envisioned on the original Star Trek fifty years ago. 

Do you utilize translation systems?  Why or why not?

Any further thoughts about the Electronic Envelope?

Looking Back but also: Onward!

Today's Rune: Harvest. 

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

Definitely living in an SF world now. And it has crept up on us almost invisibly. I like the concept of the Electronic envelope, although I'd not thought of that before. Primitive humans likely often had a feeling of the numinous all around them. It's different today, but there is still a feeling of a world surrounding me that I can't completely tap. Electronic messages flying, whirling around us like an invisible hurricane of information and disinformation.