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Two Fascinating Posts From Sitelines

:: Rita Vine, of Workingfaster.com, writes and maintains the weblog, Sitelines - Ideas About Web Searching. Two recent entries on Sitelines are worth mentioning here.

"Two Articles on the Negative Impacts of Technology" links to the April 2005 issue of CIT InfoBits, to a post called Read EMail, Lose IQ Points? The CIT entry in turn links to two pieces. The first is a press release from Hewlett-Packard, "Abuse of technology can reduce UK workers� intelligence", which reports on research revealing that 62% of adults are addicted to checking messages while away from the office or on holidays. Also of interest is this:

In a series of tests carried out by Dr Glenn Wilson, Reader in Personality at the Institute of Psychiatry, University of London, an average worker�s functioning IQ falls ten points when distracted by ringing telephones and incoming emails. This drop in IQ is more than double the four point drop seen following studies on the impact of smoking marijuana.
The other piece mentioned in the April 2005 issue of CIT Infobits refers to the article, "Knowing When to Log Off" by Jeffrey Young (The Chronicle of Higher Education, vol. 51, issue 33, p. A34, April 22, 2005). Young quotes David M Levy, U Washington Information School:""We're losing touch with the contemplative roots of scholarship, the reflective dimension . . . . When you think that universities are meant to be in effect the think tanks for the culture, or at least one of the major forms of thinking, that strikes me as a very serious concern." It's an analysis of information overload caused by email, blogs, and websites, and the negative effect these can have on scholary research.

The other post from Sitelines is rather ironic, given what I just posted above this paragraph, and is fuel for further study, discussion, discourse, and beyond. The entry is called "If Weblogs Have Limited Impact on Public Discourse, Should We Bother Reading Them?", and is worth reprinting here:

As part of an online course that I teach on keeping current in library science, the class is asked to search and identify weblogs that are valuable for professional reading. It's amazing how uniform the class's feedback has been about how little most weblogs add to either knowledge or discourse. Most weblog watchers will agree that the VAST majority of weblogs (not just in library science, but pretty well any topic) simply restate news and information, without much analysis from individual weblog writers.

So it's particularly interesting that the latest research from Pew Internet, titled "BUZZ, BLOGS, AND BEYOND: The Internet and the National Discourse in the Fall of 2004" concurs with my students' informal findings. Despite the current buzz out there promoting blogs as the "new" journalism, and ascribing to bloggers the power to influence the world's take on events, Pew's findings suggest otherwise. Instead, the report suggests that any evidence that bloggers affect decision-makers is circumstantial; and that bloggers are as much "buzz-followers" as they are "buzz-makers".

Although this is early-stage research, the results beg the question -- should serious searchers bother searching the blog literature? Sure, there are a dozen or more blog search tools (e.g. Bloglines), and some meta-search tools (e.g. Clusty.com) are devoting parts of their meta-search tabs to blog search tools. But really, if the content is so lacklustre and barely differentiated from the other noise on the web, is blog searching worth the effort?

Food for thought? I love the mention that most blogs simply restate information and news, without much analysis from the writers. Fair enough, but in many cases, that may be the function of the blog. Consider the first entry: I linked to Rita's post, which linked to the CIT Infobits post, which in turn linked to the Hewlett-Packard and Chronicle of Higher Education posts - in effect, my post is three steps from the original items of interest. But if I wasn't subscribing to Rita's site via Watch That Page, I wouldn't have necessarily learned about these items.

With exceptions like this one, most entries in The SciTech Library Question are, I hope, of interest to those working in science and technology libraries. Most of what I post is information from elsewhere, but I also write short reviews and rants, like the recent one on Chemical Market Reporter.

That Rita's library science class finds little on library-related weblogs of value as "professional reading" doesn't surprise me, nor do I think it should be cause for alarm. The weblog is one more way to communicate, and in one sense, levels the playing field for participants. Finding the gems is the hard part. It's also worth noting that the Pew report cited in Sitelines "studied the impact of political blogs on the national agenda during the last two months of the 2004 presidential campaign."

The only thing that never changes is the number of hours in the day.

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