mobile tools, form, and rewriting the web

One of many who was remotely following the Computers in Libraries conference last week, I was intrigued by the notes I’d seen on Megan Fox’s presentations on mobile tools. Everyone says that mobile devices are going to change the way we use the internet, either by presenting the web in smaller scale or bringing the browsing capabilities of a laptop to an affordable tiny device. It’s totally exciting to see this- Frontline’s piece on Kiva.org briefly discussed how the organization is working to facilitate micro-loans with mobile tools.

These past few weeks, my local hip-hop station has started using Meebo as their default line of communication with listeners. “Be the ninth Meebo message and win tickets to see Pretty Ricky!”

It’s exciting to witness rapid changes, but I’m so ambivalent. I worry that the digital divide isn’t going to go away, just permutate into something we have even less of an idea of how to fix. I worry about a version of the Web on mobile devices that exists mainly to sell things and exploit poor people. So I think it’s important to address information delivery across platforms, but I worry about hasty experiments, new glosses on old, bad tools. Why make a mobile adaptation of your library Web site when no one really knows how to use the old one? I also wonder about who we’re really serving- the advantage, and the duty that non-commercial enterprises have is that they can be thoughtful-and thus reflect the social ramifications of shifts in technology.

At a party last weekend, I met Tristan Perich, who had just performed at the Media Archeology festival. He carried with him his Portable Telephone, a working cell phone housed in a classic push-button phone. It’s a clever yet unobnoxious experiment in form and technological function. People peer at someone carrying around a bulky plastic telephone, but Tristan is happy to demonstrate its functionality. “These telephones are really well designed,” he said, “it makes people really happy to see that it works. “

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