DOCUMENTS IN THE DIGITAL CULTURE: SHAPING THE FUTURE
A Report On A Workshop Held At: The Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences January 1995
Copyright © 1995 by the Hawaii International Conference On System Sciences. Permission to make copies of this report in whole or in part is given provided that the making of such copies is not for direct commercial advantage and provided that this copyright notice is affixed to all such copies. To copy otherwise, or to republish, requires permission and possible payment of a fee.
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DOCUMENTS IN THE DIGITAL CULTURE:
SHAPING THE FUTURE
A Report on a workshop held at: The Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences January 1995 Conveners: John Seely Brown - Xerox Corporation M. Stuart Lynn - Consultant Ralph Sprague - University of Hawaii Participants: Daniel E. Atkins - University of Michigan Blake Ives - Southern Methodist University Anne Kenney - Cornell University Peter Lyman - University of California, Berkeley Clifford Lynch - University of California Patrice Lyons - Law Offices of Patrice Lyons, Chartered M. Lynne Markus - Claremont Graduate School Joe McGrath - Xerox Corporation Jay Nunamaker - University of Arizona Geoffrey Nunberg - Xerox Corporation Reporter: David Bollier
The first draft of this report was prepared by David Bollier who was the Workshop Reporter. Although the report has been through substantial change, editing, and rewrite reflecting comments of the workshop participants, this final version bears many marks of the original draft in both structure and content. The Workshop conveners are deeply grateful to David Bollier for his professional assistance, substantial contributions, and particularly his patience in allowing his creation to undergo so many changes in converging to its final form. We also are most grateful to a number of the workshop participants, especially Clifford Lynch and Patrice Lyons, who gave much of their valuable time to commenting on the various drafts of this report, and to all the participants for stimulating a lively and productive discussion during the workshop itself. Editors: M. Stuart Lynn Ralph H. Sprague
To inaugurate a new interdisciplinary inquiry into the role of digital documents in our changing culture, a workshop was held at the 28th annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, in January 1995. The workshop brought together a diverse group of thirteen thinkers, practitioners, technologists and humanists to try to develop a more insightful, holistic grasp of emerging forms of information encapsulated as documents. This report is an interpretive narrative of the workshop’s proceedings, with some post facto elaboration woven in as necessary to produce whole cloth. It is not intended as a literal transcription, and as such does not perhaps adequately reflect all the variety and conflicts of viewpoints that permeated the workshop. Nevertheless, it is hoped that the document captures the essential pattern of the proceedings and the most important insights that were presented. Neither is the report intended as a complete work of scholarship. Particularly, although we claim originality for the fabric of this report in its entirety, we do not claim authorship of all of its individual threads and patterns. We liberally draw on the ideas of others – and, indeed, of ourselves as workshop participants – without citation and without elaboration. The workshop was a fast-paced discussion and interchange of ideas that did not always pause to give attribution where appropriate. In some sense, this reflects a casualty of the age of digital networks, where authorship may be communal and ideas may often flow without appropriate citation or may receive inappropriate attribution. Nevertheless, we apologize to those who may see their own hand in parts of the report without proper attribution.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENT........................................................................................................iv FOREWORD.........................................................................................................................v SUMMARY............................................................................................................................1 INTRODUCTION..............................................................................................................1 I. II. THE DYNAMICS OF DIGITAL DOCUMENTS...........................................................2 SIX MAJOR ARENAS OF ENDEAVOR......................................................................4
III. BUILDING A NEW FORUM AND DISCOURSE........................................................5 INTRODUCTION..................................................................................................................9 I. THE DYNAMICS OF DIGITAL DOCUMENTS..................................................................12 A. B. C. D. E. F. WHY ARE DIGITAL DOCUMENTS SO DIFFERENT?..............................................13 SITUATING DIGITAL DOCUMENTS IN A SOCIAL MATRIX.................................16 TAXONOMIC CONFUSION AND THE DIGITAL CULTURE...................................19 THE MISSING CONTEXTUAL CUES OF DIGITAL DOCUMENTS............................21 THE FUTURE OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY........................................................26 THE TRANSITION FROM PRINT TO DIGITAL CULTURE.......................................31
II. SIX MAJOR ARENAS OF ENDEAVOR............................................................................34 A. B. C. D. E. F. ORGANIZATIONS AND THE WORKPLACE..........................................................36 COMMERCE............................................................................................................37 DISCOVERY, CREATION, AND DISSEMINATION OF NEW KNOWLEDGE.........39 LEARNING AND EDUCATION..............................................................................42 HOME AND FAMILY..............................................................................................44 CULTURE, DISCOURSE, AND COMMUNITY LIFE.................................................46
III. BUILDING A NEW FORUM AND DISCOURSE.............................................................50
DOCUMENTS IN THE DIGITAL CULTURE: SHAPING THE FUTURE
INTRODUCTION To inaugurate a new interdisciplinary inquiry into the role of digital documents in our changing culture, a workshop was held at the 28th annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, in January 1995. The workshop brought together a diverse group of thirteen thinkers, practitioners, technologists and humanists to try to develop a more insightful, holistic grasp of emerging forms of information encapsulated as documents. Documents lie at the interface of content, format, use, and technology. Whether in print, sound, video, electronic, or multimedia formats, documents are social and cultural artifacts, whose use and interpretation vary with content and context. Cyberspace is giving rise to new forms of documents - digital documents - as well as new ways of manipulating traditional documents. These new forms, coupled with the rapid change of the new technologies that improve and speed the effectiveness and efficiency with which these digital documents are handled, promise to have a profound effect on a wide range of human endeavor, breaking down barriers, of form, time, and space. The need for a new interdisciplinary discourse is critical. The topic is viewed much differently from the perspective of different disciplines. From all perspectives, there is a tendency to emphasize the new emerging technologies for handling documents, over the
social and cultural context of the document itself. There is greater need for discourse among technologists, social scientists, humanists, library scientists, economists, and the growing body of user/practitioners. The real challenge of the "information age," it seems, may be learning how to develop broader, more supple intellectual frameworks, strategies and language for understanding digital documents. The term "digital documents" was deliberately chosen to focus attention on the complex interactions among information, knowledge, culture and technology. It reflects a key assumption of the members of the workshop that the emerging digital document systems are most usefully understood as social technologies. This report focuses on three core issues that emerged in the workshop deliberations. • What terminologies and taxonomies can help better structure the dynamics of digital information? [Part I] What are the long-range implications of digital documents in specific areas of endeavor such as organizations, education, commerce, families and culture? [Part II] What are the best ways to nurture intellectual discourse and interdisciplinary research to understand digital documents? [Part III]
THE DYNAMICS OF DIGITAL DOCUMENTS What is it about digital documents that make them so different from traditional printed documents? This fundamental question arises because so many far-reaching consequences stem from the sheer capabilities of new electronic technologies. To help gain a
better understanding of the digital universe, Part I explores six key themes: • Digital documents can exist in many forms, most of which have no physical substance. Moreover, the technology for processing them is so versatile that it can be used in a variety of ways, and differently in different stages of the document processing cycle. These characteristics generally make digital documents far easier to capture, reproduce, manipulate and transmit than printed information, a profound difference that is helping create new cultures of communication. [Section A] Digital documents must be understood as integral products of complex networks of social, economic and other relationships, and not as isolated machines and words. In other words, context is important. [Section B] The dynamic nature of digital information, and its subtle relationships with a largely unseen social context, has resulted in a need to re-examine traditional taxonomies. There is a need to make more sense of the emerging genres of digital communication. [Section C] Much confusion can be traced to "contextual cues" that are missing or overlooked in the digital milieu. Digital document often contain fewer implicit markers about the origins and social meanings of a given document. [Section D] The special character of digital documents raises difficult questions about the future of intellectual property in the digital culture. [Section E]
The transition from a predominantly print/analog culture to a predominantly digital culture is complex, and will require greater understanding and refinement. [Section F]
II. SIX MAJOR ARENAS OF ENDEAVOR
How do digital documents, as carriers of information, affect the workings of organizations or commerce, for example, or higher education or family life? In what specific ways does it shift existing relationships of power; enable the emergence of new forms of professional collaboration; reconfigure the everyday habits in the home; or transform cultural and political discourse by creating new venues for public speech and interaction? Part II seeks to bring a sharper focus to how digital documents will affect six arenas of endeavor: A. B. C. D. E. F. Organizations and the Workplace Commerce Discovery, Creation, and Dissemination of New Knowledge Learning and Education Home and Family Culture, Discourse and Community Life
These six sections do not attempt a comprehensive overview of the challenges facing each realm. They do suggest some research topics that lie at the threshold of change; are not currently receiving adequate attention or funding; could benefit from an interdisciplinary perspective; and have global implications. A related topic, which cuts across all of these arenas in complicated ways, is how the technologies and practices of the print and digital cultures are likely to co-mingle and synthesize in the coming years. That issue is discussed in a concluding section, "The Transition from Print to Digital Culture."
III. BUILDING A NEW FORUM AND DISCOURSE Part III proposes the creation of a new forum and network that can bring together a diverse constellation of thinkers and practitioners, technologists and social scientists, and other eclectic adventurers of the digital culture. The chief purposes of this forum and network would be to: • • • • • • • Stimulate critical interdisciplinary research; Develop and critique integrated scenarios for the future; Shape future discourse and action; Nurture an emerging intellectual community; Orient foundations and funding agencies to important research priorities; Engage leaders of government, industry and education; and Disseminate key results and ideas.
Unlike conferences that convene a specific profession or discipline, this conference, entitled "Documents in the Digital Culture: Shaping the Future," will deliberately seek to bring together people with divergent, provocative critiques of selected themes. There would be no fixed categories or "tracks" of inquiry from year to year, but rather a fluid set of categories, chosen each year. Not only would this gathering create unusual opportunities for cross-fertilization among disciplines and professions, it would help build a new network of people with shared interests and help develop a new discourse about documents in the digital culture.
DOCUMENTS IN THE DIGITAL CULTURE: SHAPING THE FUTURE
A Report On A Workshop Held At: The Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences January 1995
DOCUMENTS IN THE DIGITAL CULTURE: SHAPING THE FUTURE
To inaugurate a new interdisciplinary inquiry into the role of digital documents in our changing culture, a workshop was held at the 28th annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, in January 1995. The workshop brought together a diverse group of thirteen thinkers, practitioners, technologists and humanists to try to develop a more insightful, holistic grasp of emerging forms of information encapsulated as documents. Documents lie at the interface of content, format, use, and technology. Whether in print, sound, video, electronic, or multimedia formats, documents are social and cultural artifacts, whose use and interpretation vary with content and context. Cyberspace is giving rise to new forms of documents - digital documents - as well as new ways of manipulating traditional documents. These new forms, coupled with the rapid change of the new technologies that improve and speed the effectiveness and efficiency with which these digital documents are handled, promise to have a profound effect on a wide range of human endeavor, breaking down barriers, of form, time, and space.
As a growing array of new electronic technologies insinuate themselves into business, education, government, and personal life, a growing challenge is how to make sense of the emerging forms of information. We intuitively understand that electronic 9
mail, databases, the Internet, CD-ROMs, cellular communication devices, personal digital assistants, and other digital systems function quite differently than traditional print documents, and that they enable people, communities and institutions to interact in intriguing new ways. But a more systematic, detailed grasp of the emerging information technologies – their dynamics, influence and long-term cultural implications – eludes us. The need for a new interdisciplinary discourse is critical. The topic is viewed much differently from the perspective of different disciplines. From all perspectives, there is a tendency to emphasize the new emerging technologies for handling documents, over the social and cultural context of the document itself. There is greater need for discourse among technologists, social scientists, humanists, library scientists, economists, and the growing body of user/practitioners. The real challenge of the "information age," it seems, may be learning how to develop broader, more supple intellectual frameworks, strategies and language for understanding digital documents. The term "digital documents" was deliberately chosen to focus attention on the complex interactions among information, knowledge, culture and technology. It reflects a key assumption of the members of the workshop that the emerging digital document systems are most usefully understood as social technologies. To probe this notion, the workshop brought together thirteen invited leaders in computer and information sciences, organizational theory, library sciences, strategic business planning, electronic document management, linguistics, intellectual property, public policy and the social sciences. This report is an interpretive synthesis of the workshop deliberations. It is divided into three parts that focus on the following questions: • What terminologies and taxonomies can help better structure the dynamics of digital information? [Part I] 10
What are the long-range implications of digital documents in specific areas of endeavor such as organizations, education, commerce, families and culture? [Part II] What are the best ways to nurture intellectual discourse and interdisciplinary research to understand digital documents? [Part III]
I. THE DYNAMICS OF DIGITAL DOCUMENTS
What is it about digital documents that make them so different from traditional printed documents? This fundamental question arises because so many far-reaching consequences stem from the sheer capabilities of new electronic technologies. To help gain a better understanding of the digital universe, Part I explores six key themes: • Digital documents can exist in many forms, most of which have no physical substance. Moreover, the technology for processing them is so versatile that it can be used in a variety of ways, and differently in different stages of the document processing cycle. These characteristics generally make digital documents far easier to capture, reproduce, manipulate and transmit than printed information, a profound difference that is helping create new cultures of communication. [Section A] Digital documents must be understood as integral products of complex networks of social, economic and other relationships, and not as isolated machines and words. In other words, context is important. [Section B] The dynamic nature of digital information, and its subtle relationships with a largely unseen social context, has resulted in a need to re-examine traditional taxonomies. There is a need to make more sense of the emerging genres of digital communication. [Section C] Much confusion can be traced to the paucity of "contextual cues" that are missing or overlooked in the digital milieu. Digital documents often contain fewer implicit markers about their origins and social meaning than print documents. [Section D]
The special character of digital documents raises difficult questions about the future of intellectual property in the digital culture. [Section E] The transition from a predominantly print/analog culture to a predominantly digital culture is complex, and will require greater understanding and refinement. [Section F]
WHY ARE DIGITAL DOCUMENTS SO DIFFERENT? The most salient fact about digital documents is that, conceptually (and often in practice), they are much easier to access, store, manipulate, reproduce, consolidate, and transmit than print documents. In an article in the journal Representations, linguist Geoffrey Nunberg succinctly summarizes two of the most significant differences between electronic and print technologies: “The first [difference] is the versatility of the technology: unlike mechanical antecedents like the printing press, the typewriter, or the telegraph, the computer isn't restricted to a single role in production or diffusion. In fact, the technology tends to erase distinctions between the separate processes of creation, reproduction and distribution that characterize the classic industrial model of print commodities, not just because the electronic technology employed is the same at each stage, but because control over the processes can be exercised at any point.... “The second important difference between the two technologies follows from the immateriality of electronic representations and the resulting reductions in the cost of reproduction....One important consequence of these [two]
differences is that with electronic reproduction, the user has a much greater role in the process of reproduction.” The versatility of digital document processing technology and the immateriality of digital documents are two of the new medium’s most engaging attributes. No longer must users be passive consumers of pre-formatted information, dependent upon a print publisher's choices. With digital technologies, users can exert much greater personal control in selecting the information they want and spurring creation and presentation. There are often separate, distinct technologies for each phase of the process – capture, storage, distribution, access and use. And yet, when digitized, a document can be manipulated, exchanged, used and “re-purposed” in different ways in a disparate array of electronic media, from CD-ROM to magnetic tape to floppy disk and more. Furthermore, digital technologies provide a common denominator to integrate previously disjoint technologies – such as print, audio, film, video –into multimedia documents, providing the basis for what has become known as the “convergence” of previously distinct industries. The emerging consumer sovereignty in information-generation is impelling a proliferation of choices – and a new user-driven "pull" of information creation and information dissemination at the expense of the traditional seller-driven "push" of information publishing. Furthermore, in the changing economies of this new digital domain, authors may directly link with consumers, bypassing or re-engineering the traditional value chain of print publishing. As yet, however, there is not a clear taxonomy for understanding this new "economy" of information generation, distribution and consumption. Not that this has mattered much. Armed with a versatile, decentralized architecture, millions of authors and users have lost no time in creating their own distinctive vehicles of communication, crafted to meet quite specialized purposes, often 14
re-shaping individual or community tastes. The convergence of technologies now enables bulletin boards for the narrowest affinity groups, distance-learning programs for rural residents, printing-ondemand to remote locations and a profusion of electronic pamphleteering. The new lexicon encompasses concepts such as hypertext, World Wide Web, net-cruising and a whole vocabulary of terms and technologies fueling an explosion in the varieties of digital expression and communication, including non-linear genres grafted over the linear sequencing of traditional presentations. Such technological advances seem to have outpaced our analytic categories and discourse, however. The transcript of a groupware discussion, gigabytes of instrument data, and electronic mail are now accepted documents of activities which were previously considered "traces" – essentially undocumentable blurs of processes. These documents are byproducts of an activity, not the direct, deliberate focus of activity. As conceptual anomalies in the traditional pantheon, these "documents" have an uncertain, even contestable, status under existing social and legal categories, which predominantly reflect the norms of a print culture. Should government e-mail be subject to the Freedom of Information Act – as several pending lawsuits argue? Should corporate groupware discussions be subject to discovery proceedings in lawsuits – as future plaintiffs will surely argue? Where does ownership vest in documents generated through remote electronic collaboration? The ambiguous social and legal standing of these "process documents" are beginning to pose serious quandaries for our society. And where in the electronic domain do First Amendment freedoms and rights to publish and express opinions traverse individual’s desires to be protected against excesses of publication, such as in arguments over the electronic dissemination of perceived pornographic materials? It is not just that there are many more types of digital documents being invented; it is that these types are not yet necessarily "situated" in a societal context and imbued with consensual meaning. Their identities – as recognized genres of communication, 15
articles of commerce, social objects, tokens of cultural significance – need to be more clearly defined through evolving consensus. Yet the rapid evolution and fluidity of digital documents seem to conspire against this need, there not being time for evolving consensus on one genre before it is replaced by another. The convergence of digital systems encourage the shuttling of digital documents from one container to another, as well as rapid mutations in use and presentation. Genres overlap and multiply, and few have been around long enough, or are stable enough, to acquire fixed social identities with widely accepted meanings. There is too much flux. Multimedia technologies facilitate and accelerate this trend. Even in the analog domain, presentation styles in many media such as film and music have half-lives of only a few years or even months; in the digital domain half-lives are even more ephemeral. Changes, furthermore, run deep: non-textual forms of literacy, such as visual and aural creativity, are being transformed in this new milieu of converging technologies – and are themselves in turn transforming modes of communication.
B. SITUATING DIGITAL DOCUMENTS IN A SOCIAL MATRIX An important concept is that digital documents consist of much more than their encoded symbols and support technologies; their impact is not confined to discrete, utilitarian tasks, such as facilitating contact with colleagues or improving organizational efficiency. Rather, digital documents must be understood as products of a vast, dense network of social, economic and other relationships. We are only just beginning to see how far the new digital capabilities radiate into our culture, remaking many of its basic elements: social relationships, organizational behavior, commercial activity, government and political life, intellectual property norms, cultural values.
Perhaps the clearest way to envision such changes is in microcosm, through a specific "community of practice." Consider how remotecontrolled digital instruments installed in Greenland transformed a community of space scientists, their research practices and knowledge. Historically, small teams of scientists mounted periodic expeditions to Greenland, hoping that weather conditions would allow them to conduct their experiments. With the development of remote-controlled digital instruments and electronic networks, however, an even larger group of scientists are now able to join this research community, working together from a variety of dispersed locations. Digital systems enable them to control the instruments, consult with each other, modify the course of experiments and annotate their documents as a group. If some abnormal data blip appears in the middle of the night, a scientist can schedule a "replay session" at a later time, inviting scientists who were not present when the data was originally acquired to come together (electronically) to review the data. In a real sense, the multimedia data streams flowing from instruments in Greenland and their "collaboratory" records represent new kind of digital documents around which a new kind of scientific community and discourse has organized. The documents represent the tip of a very large iceberg; the tip is visible above the water only because there is a large mass of complex social relationships "underneath" it – many of these being new relationships facilitated by the technology – that generate, use and give meaning to, the digital documents. In a sense, the documents serve as a principle of organization for a whole nexus of social practices and roles, institutions, property relations and personal attitudes and emotions. This social and cultural dynamic is replicated in all sorts of other academic specialties, professions, businesses, and communities. The multitude of digital documents now being generated are "digital artifacts" around which communities of practice choose to organize themselves in distinctive ways. The documents and the 17
communities interpenetrate and become mutually dependent; the documents would not exist but for the communities of practice, and vice-versa. The sub-culture of boys who read superhero comic books is literally made possible – called into being – by that distinctive popular document. It provides one means by which they constitute themselves as a subculture and sustain their identity. Traditionally, these communities have formed and evolved slowly; in the digital milieu they form and re-form rapidly. They overlap and transform, and, paradoxically, break down barriers of culture, form, time, and space while facilitating emphasis of differences. Perhaps nowhere does this become more apparent than in the international context. Documents exist in social, cultural, and national settings. Digital documents transmitted instantly across networks and electronic communications are breaking down barriers among and within these settings, raising global questions and issues that require international discourse for answers and resolution. For example, varying national or cultural attitudes towards pornography, freedom of access to information, or intellectual property rights raise questions as to whether it is even possible for any one country to enforce its own rules and laws in isolation. Or to what extent such laws may conflict with the practices and directions of transnational cultures, such as the scientific community. Are there identifiable patterns of reconfiguration at work when digital documents are introduced to a given community? Can those patterns be generalized? Can influential social or economic factors be isolated? The answers are not self-evident. A good example might be the potential changes the use of interactive learning technologies might introduce to educational settings. Encouraging interactive access to information and knowledge invites, or perhaps demands, that teachers revert to a more Socratic role as mentors guiding active, self-directed students, the metaphor changing from teaching (or professing) to learning. 18
Interactive access, whether through use of CD-ROM’s or across global networks, unlocks large storehouses of information to be used however the user sees fit, but almost certainly in a non-linear fashion. There is no "correct" order for "reading" the information contained within it. Interactive learning is an inevitable consequence. New cultural disciplines and norms may need to emerge to ensure that students do not simply ramble among and assemble what Neil Postman calls “context-free information”, but find new ways to represent synthesis and rhetoric.
C. TAXONOMIC CONFUSION AND THE DIGITAL CULTURE Taxonomies and frameworks – even metaphors – are valuable mechanisms for understanding complex subjects. Unfortunately, digital technologies are evolving more rapidly than our ability to expand relevant taxonomies. The intellectual tools by which we assess digital technologies – our language, analytic categories, disciplines and cultural myths – often lag the evolution of these technologies. Terminologies such as "electronic publishing" and "video programming" have the archaic ring of "horseless carriage." They do not recognize the unique properties of digital documents. They do not reflect the actual social meanings that many users have come to assign to these systems (which may partly explain why digital communities generate so many creative neologisms). Our reliance on such terms as "information superhighway" suggest taxonomic uncertainty with no immediate resolution in sight. New taxonomies cannot simply be announced; they must evolve from analytical thinking and community consensus, and that takes time. One of the most salient deficiencies of our discourse in this arena, for example, is its inability to understand the dynamic, evolutionary character of many digital documents. As noted above, digital documents can increasingly capture processes and actions – "traces"
which were previously too volatile to document. Many digital documents tend to be constantly evolving, as seen in the ebb-andflow of bulletin board conversations and the ongoing annotations made possible by groupware programs. Knowledge tends to be generated as part of an organic process, mutating and evolving all the time. Fixed instantiations of knowledge, the customary practice in the print culture, are not necessarily useful or highly regarded in digital cultures. How can our discourse begin to acknowledge some of these special properties of digital documents? Peter Lyman, University Librarian at the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that we emphasize verbs, not nouns, when describing the use of digital technologies. To focus solely on the digital document as, for example, the “CD-ROM”, the “software program”, the “videoconferencing system”, etc. – nouns all – isolates technologies from the social relations and organizational practices which give rise to, and sustain, them. Attention is not really paid to the larger matrix of people who collaborate, learn together and participate as a community of practice. It is this matrix that really "creates" the digital document and gives it meaning. Relationships and practices are built on actions that are best represented by verbs. Focusing on the "verb" – the process of doing something, instead of the noun alone – may help shift attention to the dynamic matrix of relationships that undergird all digital documents. This may imply that the very idea of a taxonomy for digital documents is inappropriate, to the extent that a taxonomy implies a static, enduring order of phenomena. Emphasizing relationships among evolutionary processes, as enabled through "verbs", may help underscore the great importance of context in shaping digital documents.
D. THE MISSING CONTEXTUAL CUES OF DIGITAL DOCUMENTS The taxonomic uncertainty discussed in Section C may be partly due to the ambiguous social context of digital documents, which are not necessarily seen in their native habitat, as tools and totems of functioning communities of practice. Digital documents contain fewer contextual cues, a consequence perhaps of intrinsic properties of the underlying digital media. We infer attributes of printed documents from physical characteristics. These inferences have accumulated over a long period of time. Digital documents, on the other hand, generally do not yet bear markers or cues about their origins and social meaning. It is generally difficult to assess, from looking at a digital document in isolation, the credibility of the source or its standing within a political or social hierarchy. Conventions have not been fully established or universally accepted – or are rapidly rendered obsolete by changing genres. Will the typographical cues, such as smiley faces, introduced into electronic mail to convey mood and meaning survive an eventual shift to synchronous or asynchronous videoconferencing? This contrasts with the print culture, where, for example, certain types of paper have an implicit and established social meaning. Words typewritten on formal letterhead stationery may carry a different meaning than the same words handwritten in a personal letter or scrawled on a Post-It. The frequent "flaming" that is permissible – or at least forgivable if preceded with the right symbol – on e-mail could destroy a person's career if conveyed in a typewritten office memorandum. Or the significance ascribed to a news story may differ according to whether it appears in the New York Times, a local newspaper, or a supermarket tabloid. Documents are social enactments of meaning, not just context-neutral words. As an example of how print documents carry subtle and implicit meanings, John Seely Brown considers what makes a dictionary authoritative. Its physical appearance contains many cues to suggest
its reliability. As a carefully bound, handsomely produced book that has hundreds of pages, it is recognized as a commercial object that clearly required a large research staff and capital-intensive corporation to write, print and distribute. It is printed in huge quantities and sold on the national market by a well-known book publisher. All of these facts, implicit in the physicality of a dictionary, help persuade that its contents are rigorous and trustworthy. Such contextual cues impute meaning to the contents of physical documents. The type of paper (glossy, heavy, newsprint), page layout (attractive, dense print with no photos), fonts (small, bold, refined) and point of distribution (book store, street corner, mailbox) each serve to confer a certain social meaning to a document and situate it in our culture. Digital documents are different. They are shorn of such implicit context, or perhaps more accurately, that context may not yet have been socially established. Hence the stature and credibility of a given digital document are often culturally or socially ambiguous. All the contextual cues that were once implicit in the physical embodiment of a document now have to be explicitly supplied or inferred. The provenance of e-mail, for example, and other digital documents is uncertain, and their ultimate destination, readership, or even authenticity may not be controllable or predictable with any certainty. When documents are no longer instantiated in a particular physical form that has a recognized social significance, it can become more difficult to ascribe larger meanings to a given collection of words. Without contextual cues, the social significance of a given segment of digital information is often problematic. This is why "personalized electronic newspapers" containing only articles of personal interest selected “knowbotically” are something of an oxymoron. A newspaper is not just a collection of timely news articles. It is a conspicuously public statement of community values, a daily enactment of common social concerns, as reflected in which stories are printed on the front page, how long various stories are, 22
and so forth. They reflect an editorial perspective that is intimately bound with a readership community: the editor of the New York Times, for example, cannot radically change that newspaper's editorial perspective, any more than the National Enquirer can publish thoughtful op-ed pieces on social issues. This example illustrates how "knowledge" is not a self-evident mass of fungible content. John Seely Brown points out that "knowledge" is a set of "warranted beliefs" that are certified by diverse "warranting structures" whose basis is ultimately social and informal. A newspaper editor and her staff – who are linked to community leaders, businesses and readers in countless ways – serve as a warranting structure for the community, declaring what kinds of knowledge constitute "news." Scholarly journals select the "best" articles; sports magazines confer their mantle of authority on rising stars; rap music DJ’s in the inner city certify for audiences what records are hot; and so forth. The judgments of warranting structures are sometimes communicated implicitly (the physical markings of a dictionary) and sometimes explicitly (overt endorsements). Sometimes the warranting of beliefs is inherent in the medium of communications itself ("as seen on TV"). Seen in this fashion, the transfer of information from one medium to another is not a neutral act. Both the aesthetics and "warranting structures" of the respective mediums are implicated. Meanings change. Comic book artist Art Spiegelman deliberately chose to write his fable about the Holocaust, Maus, in a comic book format (albeit in a regular book binding). When a CD-ROM of Maus was also published, along with supplementary materials on the same CD, one workshop participant found it entirely unreadable and inaccessible. But when the same person later received a book version of Maus, he was gripped by the narrative, devouring it in an hour or two. For him, the non-linearity and random access features of the CD-ROM were ill-suited for the linear narrative of the Maus story. The aesthetic meanings and artistic experience that Spiegelman sought to instill in his work had been altered in a 23
fundamental way. On the other hand, for that reader the nonlinear CD-ROM became an interesting supplement once he had absorbed the linear original. When linear print “content” is “repurposed” into digital containers there is a need for new "markers" that can provide explicit cues for social meaning and value. Authorship is one cue that helps to validate value: a given database may be ascribed greater or lesser value by subscribers according to who or what company is supporting or providing access to the database. “Electronic newsletter” editors may provide independent guidance to value and be rewarded for their efforts. Indeed, databases may be assigned independent “Standard & Poor” electronic ratings. Society may demand that “suitability” ratings be ascribed to accessible materials, rather like movie classifications for “parental guidance”, etc. Such ratings, in turn, would cause authors and editors to use greater discretion with regard to content if they wished their materials to be accessed. All of these approaches have counterparts in the print and analog domain: they would just work differently across networks. But these sorts of marker systems alone may not adequately substitute for the “canonization” processes associated with traditional print media As Geoffrey Nunberg explains: “Electronic publication by itself can't canonize an article in the way that publication in a prestigious print journal or review can, partly because of the reduction of editorial authority, and partly because the form of publication provides no guarantee that other members of the community will have seen the article..[I]t's striking that the most prestigious places for scientific publication are general journals that run articles on a range of topics transcending even the broadest delineation of scientific fields.” Magazines like Science and Nature, Nunberg points out, acquire their authority precisely because they have a large, heterogeneous 24
readership. This implicit framing for the words of a given article, the social significance of being published in Science, carries at least as much authority as the words of the article themselves. There is a need for new processes to provide the same degree of authority in the electronic environment. The very malleability of digital documents provides clues to new possibilities. An electronic draft could evolve very rapidly based on comments received over time from members of the community, converging to a final form only after initial publication. The missing social framing of digital documents is even more acutely felt in discourse "in which the reader's interests are shaped less by explicit topicality than by tone or point of view," writes Nunberg. "The type is epitomized by the Atlantic Monthly or the New Yorker, say, whose chief purpose is to bring us articles we had no idea we wanted to read, about subjects we would never search out or set our reader profiles to flag for us – and more to the point, to bring no advertisements for commodities we had no idea we wanted to buy." The significance of articles in such magazines are subtly intertwined, then, with adjacent advertising, its gestalt and, indeed, with the publication's larger public identity. "The transformation of such genres to electronic distribution is not just a question of finding other ways to present advertising or new economic models for publication," says Nunberg. "When the physical contiguities of texts are altered or removed, the discursive forms themselves may become pointless or uninterpretable." An electronic version of New Yorker articles is literally no substitute for the real thing. The markers contained in print documents may inadvertently serve another important cognitive purpose as aids to information retrieval. In trying to locate an article they once read, people tend to recall what was on the magazine cover, the positioning on the article on the page, contiguous photos, etc. Physical cues (context) may be just as important as content in information retrieval. That is 25
why full-text search engines are often ineffective; they cannot easily deal with context or the irrationality of human memory. Which raises a provocative question: Could a database be designed to retrieve an article on cold fusion from publications of the genre or aesthetic sensibilities of PEOPLE Magazine?
E. THE FUTURE OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY If the preceding sections are true - that the meanings of digital documents depend critically upon their presentation, implicit markers, social context, and the medium itself - then the implications for our traditional legal system are great. This is not just the familiar issue of whether intellectual property rights and interests can be enforced in a digital milieu, although that issue remains quite germane. The larger question is whether traditional intellectual property law – including copyright, patent, trademark, semiconductor chip, trade secret, communications, customs and other laws – can adequately take account of the special characteristics of information and other material expressed in some digital format, and the new markers and cues that may come to be associated with digital representations. Fundamentally, digital documents are sequences of bits. Besides being made accessible across newer pathways, such as electronic networks or CD-ROM’s, they can also be distributed through traditional channels such as television programs, records, songs, movies, books and industrial designs, all of which may be created from digital masters. They are thus affected by the many different bodies of intellectual property and communications law that affect these traditional channels and that are evolving to meet the new challenges that arise. They are also affected by differences among national laws in these areas – we must face the likely specter of the reconceptualization of intellectual property in the digital world proceeding at very different paces from one nation to another, a
particular problem in the context of global networks that tend not to respect physical boundaries. Intellectual property exists in a social matrix and is influenced by social pressures. Consider, for example, the case of the VCR, where it was clear that case law followed a general social perception of appropriate use of intellectual property. An important question is whether, under existing law, the full potential of digital documents can be exploited to society's net benefit, or whether these laws will stifle that potential. Some commentators such as John Perry Barlow – in an article on copyright published in Wired magazine – suggests an extreme approach toward reconceptualizing existing law, in particular, copyright law. However, it may be more effective to reevaluate existing legal structures and to encourage an evolutionary approach to meet the new challenges of the digital environment. An evolutionary approach would be less disruptive to business relationships and may promote an orderly progress toward a system of regulation that meets the needs of the consumers. Consider, for example, U.S. copyright law, a body of law that has evolved since its inception. Generally, this law provides protection for original works of authorship that are fixed in some material object. At least in the United States, a work containing what may be viewed as "knowledge" is generally protected only to the extent that it is fixed in a container of expression. Early U.S. copyright law did not provide for performances of works, but this changed with the extension of the law to include musical and audiovisual works. With the introduction of the public performance right, the copyright law took on a more dynamic character, which became particularly important in the 20th century with the application of the right of public performance (and to a limited extent the display right) to new media of communications such as broadcast stations, cable systems and satellite carriers. New rights –“communicators’ rights” – were also introduced into communications law such as
the retransmission consent provisions added to the communications law by the Cable Act of 1992. Since the container of expression and the content itself became harder to separate, an interesting interplay between the copyright and communications law has emerged. This is particularly evident in connection with the cable and satellite compulsory licensing schemes introduced into the law in recent years, where certain concepts defined under the regulations of the Federal Communications Commission apply for purposes of collecting royalties under copyright. Where do digital documents fit into the current law? As noted, with traditional documents container and content are intertwined, and the same technology is typically used for all phases of capture, storage, transmission, and use – print in paper, for example, in the case of books. Digital documents are inherently immaterial, decontextualized, highly malleable and dynamic, and different technologies can be used in different ways and at different times for each of the above phases. The notions of fixation become harder to define. Knowledge may easily be moved on a global basis in the form of digital representations, perhaps changing and evolving in the process to where it is hard to establish at which point, if any, a new work comes into being for purposes of copyright. Indeed, the very notions of "edition" or "snapshot" that are at the heart of fixation (and of citation) become more ephemeral notions in the digital milieu. The focus of digital technologies is more on processes and relationships (which may generate transiently valuable digital documents). What may matter more are the flows of information and other material in the form of sequences of bits among interested parties, and the ongoing relationships among these parties with respect to these sequences of bits. Is it even possible to apply, current copyright law to protect rights in the world of digital documents without so constraining their use as to deny a large part 28
of their enormous potential; or will it be necessary to develop new legal and technological frameworks to accommodate the different concepts that arise? The problem is amplified in a global networked environment where digital documents can be accessed and the results of such access disseminated worldwide at the touch of a button, and where copyright "violations" can become cheap, ubiquitous, and harder to monitor and control. Furthermore, the potential overlap between copyright and patent laws raises new and interesting questions: for example, patented processes may be implicated in performing operations on sequences of bits that may be subject to copyright protection. This situation will be exacerbated when the results of distributed executions of computer programs incorporated into digital documents are made available over communications pathways. Indeed, it may not be possible to distinguish between digital documents and computer programs. Patrice Lyons, a former Senior Attorney in the U.S. Copyright Office and now the head of the Law Offices of Patrice Lyons, Chartered, believes that, for commercial enterprise to take full advantage of the global information infrastructure, it is helpful to separate out, on the one hand, the need for clearance of copyrights or other rights and interests that may be claimed in connection with the contents of digital documents (or, more generally, “digital objects”) from, on the other hand, compliance with procedures for accessing digital documents viewed as packages that incorporate and identify contents. A " digital object is simply a set of sequences of bits, plus a unique identifier for the object called a 'handle.' Formally, a handle is just a unique string that identifies the object.. . . For a given work, there may be several handles or unique identifiers assigned depending on the different versions, e.g., a work may be given a handle of Postscript, a second handle for the Word Perfect version, and a third handle for Group IV facsimile." These handles become means for locating digital documents, and providing an audit trail of their provenance and use. 29
Digital objects – and the legal framework under communications law that regulates access to such objects – should be considered in their own right and apart from the licensing of any rights and interest in the contents of such objects under copyright or other bodies of law. Advocating a new framework for the provision of communications services having computational capabilities, Lyons suggests that the regulation of "access to perform stated operations on a set of sequences of bits" appears to fit comfortably in the context of what is now called simply communications law. An incorporeal work of authorship may be fixed in various digital formats. The core "digital object" (usually implemented as computer programs) may be accessible using different access modes and procedures. Access to sequences of bits may be regulated even in situations where there is no knowledge of contents. What makes this scheme attractive in an age of converging media is its ability to expand on existing synergies between communications law and copyright law. More importantly, perhaps, is that it provides in the digital domain a common legal framework for addressing the convergence of various existing categories of information such as text, audio, music, video, and designs. This legal framework for the digital environment would supplement, rather than replace existing law in the print and analog domains. It is becoming harder to justify disparate legal and regulatory schemes for publishers, libraries, broadcasters, cable systems, telephone companies and others, as each increasingly traffics in a common coin, digital communications. Lyons anticipates that the notion of "access to perform stated operations on a sequence of bits" – through "handles" in "digital objects" – will honor the terms of traditional copyright and communications laws, while facilitating the expansion of commerce in digital communications. Lyons developed her approach in conjunction with the Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI), and CNRI's Computer 30
Science Technical Reports project involving a number of universities and the U.S. Copyright Office. Her work is discussed in a forthcoming article in the Annual Survey of American Law. The discontinuities between the digital culture and intellectual property law are likely to grow in the future. Although the Gordian knot is not likely to be cut soon, it seems clear that some changes in intellectual property law will be needed to take account of the special properties of digital documents. The larger question is whether mere changes will suffice or whether the entire body of law may need to be reconceptualized. It is certainly an issue meriting further investigation and discussion.
F. THE TRANSITION FROM PRINT TO DIGITAL CULTURE Exciting as the new digital technologies are, many people have a false expectation that they will simply supersede existing print documents, much as prognosticators of the 1970s predicted a "paperless office." The truth about new technologies replacing old ones is, as we have seen on previous occasions, more complex. The most likely scenario is of a side-by-side coexistence and interpenetration of print and digital media. But this hardly clarifies the situation. The specific ways that print and digital documents will co-exist and complement each other is an issue that deserves much greater scrutiny. There can be many new synergies between digital systems and print documents, not a simple either/or choice between the two modes. Digital systems have made possible new modes of print production such as distributed printing. Document scanning allows a print document to be digitized, reconfigured into different formats, and transmitted elsewhere to be instantiated once again into a paper document. Thus the genres of print document may grow, and co-exist indefinitely alongside digital documents (screen-viewed) in complex new ways. This raises interesting
questions about how the co-mingling of print and digital technologies will transform the overall marketplace. The introduction of VCRs and audio cassette recorders did not diminish the sales of existing media (films and vinyl records); they helped expand overall consumer demand for such intellectual property by creating ancillary, complementary markets. Will such dynamics come into play as digital and print technologies jointly expand? The transition stage that our commerce and culture now occupies demands that we ask certain strategic questions about the future architecture of print/digital systems. It is clear that much historically printed knowledge should be converted into digital formats. But which ones? Premature or ill-advised commitments to certain technologies or digital conversions could squander resources, jeopardize existing records, disrupt institutions and lock in non-optimal solutions or standards. The timing of an organization's transition to digital systems can be critical. This places a greater premium on studying the "transition dynamics" of moving documents from print to digital formats. This is not just a matter of technical conversion, but equally a matter of understanding how the transfer of content into new containers may or may not preserve original meanings and uses of the print documents, and may, indeed, create unintended new uses for formerly printed documents. For example, some periodicals that are available to library users in both print and on-line formats are both used, but for different purposes. At a study conducted at the University of Southern California, patrons read the Chronicle of Higher Education in its print version to get a broad cross-section of knowledge of the field, and consulted the on-line version as needed to answer reference questions. The overseers of print/digital transitions need to be keenly aware of such dynamics of both print and digital cultures so that new systems serve their intended purposes and so that digitization does not cause unwitting casualties.
II. SIX MAJOR ARENAS OF ENDEAVOR
Part I sketched a broad, provisional framework for understanding the dynamics of digital information; Part II seeks to bring certain areas of that canvas into sharper focus. How exactly does the digital document affect the workings of organizations or commerce, for example, or higher education or family life? In what specific ways does it shift existing relationships of power, enable the emergence of new forms of professional collaboration, reconfigure the everyday behavior in the home, or transform cultural and political life by creating new venues for public speech and interaction? These questions cannot be answered within the confines of a single discipline. Many cultural, social, legal and political issues are implicated. Fruitful exploration requires the insights of sociology, cultural anthropology, library science, organizational theory, law, linguistics, communications, political science, and public policy, among other perspectives. A more supple, interdisciplinary approach is needed – one that can draw new linkages among different order of phenomena, one that can see beyond the conventional boundaries of existing disciplines and professions. This capacity is essential if only because a central dynamic of digital technologies is the breaking and reconfiguring of boundaries. Just as printed text brought a unification of languages and propelled the rise of a popular vernacular, so digital documents are breaking down barriers that formerly separated different academic disciplines, professional endeavors and government activities from 34
the wider, uninitiated public. The digital language of 1s and 0s is a new Esperanto of the lowest common denominator, drawing oncesegregated milieus into a new, more popular mainstream. The styles and sensibilities of popular culture, as purveyed through electronic technologies, seem to be influencing everything from education to commerce to community life. Intellectual inquiry must be flexible enough to forge some new directions. What kinds of change will occur? What kinds of new issues arise? This section raises these questions in six major areas. A. B. C. D. E. F. Organizations and the Workplace Commerce Discovery, Creation, and Dissemination New Knowledge Learning and Education Home and Family Culture, Discourse and Community Life
The sections that follow do not attempt a comprehensive overview of the challenges facing each realm. Rather they are meant to sketch a few scenarios of change, most of which raise questions for study; some of which may not currently receiving adequate attention or funding; most of which could benefit from an interdisciplinary perspective; and most of which have global implications. The central theme throughout is that the digital document is at the center of these changing scenarios, and that investigating the role of the digital document in the change process – from a cultural, informational, and technological perspective – will require broad inter-disciplinary collaboration. A related topic, which cuts across all these theaters of change in complicated ways, is how the technologies and practices of the two cultures – print and digital – are likely to "map onto" each other and achieve a new co-existence and closer integration. Part II concludes with a brief look at "The Transition from Print to Digital Culture." 35
A. ORGANIZATIONS AND THE WORKPLACE
Digital systems hold a demonstrable potential and can provide important benefits for improving organizational performance. Organizations ignore digital technologies – accessible through the generic digital document – at their peril. This is not only true of commercial businesses – large or small – but also of government organizations, universities, hospitals and other institutions. One important issue that requires further exploration is what new kinds of organizational structures – with improved performance – are made possible by digital technologies. Many large-scale businesses, for example, are already positioning themselves as "virtual organizations," outsourcing portions of their work in pursuit of new cost-efficiencies and quality improvements. Clearly this creates new problems for the design and functioning of an organization's digital communications infrastructure and related security issues. The rise of virtual organizations also affects the structure of future jobs, the skills and behaviors needed for them, and the nature of business decision making. Another emerging kind of digitally driven "organization" is the self-employed independent contractor. Individual professionals increasingly work for multiple organizations at the same time, and their primary place of work is the home or "on the road," rather than in a traditional workplace. This development raises a host of social, organizational and economic issues requiring further exploration. The digital future will see an explosion in the quantity, quality, and nature of digital documents produced, stored, and transmitted by organizations. The complexity of structure and content of those documents will correspondingly increase, creating entirely new kinds of challenges for business, government, higher education, libraries and other organizations. These new kinds of documents will lie at the nexus of institutional communication and
collaboration, underscoring the need to understand the design principles for network and information technologies that can facilitate group communication, collaboration, access and dissemination of information. What special problems do users encounter in computer-mediated collaboration? How will organizations maintain internal management control via electronic systems? What new standards should evolve for the storage, categorization, maintenance and purging of information? Since the data architecture possibilities are becoming more plentiful and discretionary, it makes sense to develop more systematic criteria for assessing what documents are valuable, incriminating, worth saving, etc. How should "organizational memory" function in the digital document world? Work has began in addressing some of these questions, but as new technologies and forms of digital documents evolve the same questions will need to be explored over again in new contexts. Organizational memory, and the organizational technology infrastructure, for example, are frequent topics of journal articles and conferences, reflecting collaborative efforts of computers scientists, social scientists, and others.
B. COMMERCE Commerce is increasingly becoming information-intensive and dependent upon information flow. It is also becoming more global in scale, facilitated in no small part by digital communication. The volume and speed of information flows across national boundaries are changing international economics in many ways, including the reconfiguration of industry boundaries and trading patterns and the stimulation of microeconomic performance and cross-cultural ferment. Again, digital documents lie at the nexus of much that is happening and will happen. It is no exaggeration to say that understanding the future of much global commerce will require a more sophisticated understanding of digital documents.
Perhaps the most dramatic changes will be in the reconfiguration of industries and markets. In the most obvious case, for example, the printing and publishing industries are expected to undergo major upheavals over the next five years as they grapple with the farreaching implications of electronic printing, publishing and communication. New industries and niche businesses are expected to arise, propelled largely by emerging technologies that perform existing tasks more effectively and cheaply. In many cases digital technologies will change the basic methods by which commerce is conducted. For example, electronic data interchange is fueling the growth of purchasing over the Internet and home shopping. Early activity may be minimal, but as tools, technology, bandwidth, and reach change and expand, networkbased commerce may herald a substantial shift in consumer behavior – as well as in the ways purveyors of goods can manipulate or cater to that behavior. Sellers and buyers are being brought closer together, and are understanding each other better. In essence, a whole new marketplace is emerging whose special dynamics are still being explored. In this new commercial world, it is likely that there will be more "information pull" (discretionary consumer-driven requests for information) than "information push" (traditional seller-driven marketing and programming). Distribution channels for goods are likely to be more focused, to the point of actually serving market segments of one. Levi Strauss, to take one notable case, recently announced it would be selling custom-made jeans on request, with rapid turnaround and delivery. Digital technologies are also expected to change radically the research methodologies that businesses use to make strategic decisions. A company's ability to forecast the speed and impact of changes will have dramatic effects on its ability to lead, or react to, global competition. This will require a more holistic understanding of markets and especially their context, since a wealth of new factors, many small and easily overlooked, are now able to trigger 38
significant changes in markets. Accordingly, business research may increasingly seek a crude picture of the whole and its general dynamics, rather than seek speciously rigorous forecasts drawn from parochial, limited sources. One topic for speculation is whether the digitally-dependent commerce will create new markets in digital documents along the lines of financial and commodity markets. Will information be structured and commodified in such ways as to allow such trading?
C. DISCOVERY, CREATION, AND DISSEMINATION OF NEW KNOWLEDGE Digital technologies are rapidly changing the "intellectual infrastructure" now responsible for creating, disseminating and preserving knowledge. This is especially evident in research scholarship, which is increasingly orienting itself around the dynamic capabilities of digital systems, argues Blake Ives, from Southern Methodist University. Ives predicts: Publications, long a major component of the knowledge dissemination process, will become increasingly less important as people learn from doing than reading and as information becomes more and more dynamic. A documentation writer in a corporate research lab explained: "You can spend 20 pages describing your three-dimensional modeling application to someone or you can click on the application and let the model demonstrate and teach." By contrast, a paper (or electronic) publication takes time to create, likely contains errors, and is quickly out of date. In essence, producing byproduct publications can hinder rather than facilitate the scholarly process. New electronic infrastructure will provide new means to demonstrate that new knowledge has been created. If Ives is correct, then the future of archival journals will assuredly change. And so must the larger "intellectual infrastructure" that now undergirds printed documents, a system which assumes
identifiable authors, fixed physical embodiments of knowledge and standard reference citations. The faculty reward system for tenure and promotions will also have to change to take account of new scholarly venues using digital systems. Knowledge creation and dissemination through such venues will have to be accorded new stature and formal recognition. But the development of a new intellectual infrastructure for creating and archiving knowledge and recognizing scholarly achievement in the digital milieu entails a massive re-conceptualization of the scholarly enterprise – not a challenge to be undertaken lightly. Much scholarly research and communication has already migrated to on-line networks, which place a greater premium on collaborative modes of scholarship in real-time than on publishing in print journals, which can be plagued by uncorrected errors and rapid obsolescence. The documents produced by many scholars today tend to be "living documents" that are open to comment and annotation, rather than definitive, enduring statements. There are those – including Geoffrey Nunberg in his 1993 Representations article cited above – who argue that the book is not about to be supplanted by digital documents. Neither has the new electronically oriented system of scholarship as yet acquired sufficient presence and prestige to become the primary locus of scholarly endeavor. Others argue that this may at best be true of formal scholarly communication, but that informal communication has already been revolutionized by the new technologies. Informal digital documents may already be assuming a central role in a number of fields and even acquiring a new kind of formal status. Yet many important questions must therefore be addressed. How, across all disciplines, can new electronic networked information acquire the authority that historically has belonged to academic journals alone? How can research collaboratories and their processes be appropriately nurtured and honored within academia? It is often pointed out that one focal point for reform must be the reward structure for academic careers. Will promotion and tenure 40
committees across all disciplines consider electronic documents as a basis for their decisions? What are the obstacles that stand in the way of uniformly replacing the print journal by the electronic journal? Rewards accrue to knowledge dissemination – publishing – and secondarily to knowledge creation, which may or may not result in printed articles, monographs and books. What will be the new modalities for knowledge creation and dissemination, and how rapidly will they be accepted? The future role of university research libraries is another vital issue. As many forms of scholarship go on-line, libraries face a redefinition of their mission as well as numerous technical challenges. What are the most appropriate research tools in the proliferating universe of on-line, CD-ROM and other digital resources? What is the proper role for a university library when the "collaboratories" of various disciplines serve as "digital libraries" of their own, functioning as new loci of knowledge creation and exchange? The co-existence of print and digital documents also presents knotty new issues for libraries. Clearly, existing collections of manuscripts, print, and other materials will continue to be central to future research, especially, for example, in the humanities. But how will this dependence change, how indeed will modalities of research change, as new kinds of digital sources become available? Which retrospective sources ought to be converted into digitally accessible formats, and what criteria should guide such decisions? Since the original context of information can be vitally important, how can librarians assure that the surrounding corpus of material is preserved in some fashion, so that future users will be able to evaluate content in its proper context? How do we archive – a function at the very heart of librarianship – digital documents? How do we maintain continuing accessibility in the face of changing media, formats, and software? As more platforms/delivery mechanisms arise to manage information and 41
provide access to it, another set of questions arise in the "crossmedia" management of digital documents. Multimedia formats may present difficult technical issues in transferring its contents to other digital formats or to print documents. Assuring the integrity of context as information goes cross-media is difficult too. When large collections of digital documents are being viewed and used in very different environments than their creators ever imagined, what can librarians do to help assure that critical contextual meanings are not lost? How can the integrity of original source material be preserved? Given its location at the epicenter of so much digitally driven change, library science is a discipline facing some identity transformations. What exactly is the relationship between library science, computer science, and information science? Now that the locus of research and publication is shifting into new realms, what specific roles should libraries in higher education perform? The kinds of professional education and training received by nascent professional librarians is being rethought in library schools across the country. But is there a need for re-thinking the academic disciplinary boundaries in this and related areas?
D. LEARNING AND EDUCATION Section C suggests that digital technologies are bringing change to the processes of discovery and the creation of new knowledge. This in turn has the potential for remaking – and indeed is already starting to remake – much of education in general and higher education in particular. Three major types of change seem likely: in the administrative structure of higher education; in the nature of instruction and learning; and in the relationships between higher education and business. By making it easier to gain access to “digital” libraries and other learning and scholarly resources from remote locations, and by the
use of digital video teleconferencing – digital technologies can theoretically make the centralization and location of educational resources less important. If this trend evolves to any significant degree, educational institutions might be encouraged to share curricular obligations, and even pursue joint ventures, mergers and acquisitions and international linkages. Seen from a market perspective, universities must adapt to changing societal needs (and even these needs will likely be redefined in part by digital technologies) to avoid losing "market share" to other educational venues, not only, for example, those that offer MBAs and executive education, but even some undergraduate education. The private sector may shoulder more of its own education and training to the extent it perceives that higher education is not providing services relevant to its needs. It is quite possible, also, that these trends will empower students, who will have greater leverage and options to craft their own educations. The most adventuresome of educational futurists even see the possibility that professional societies could become “virtual” universities, and be accredited to grant graduate degrees, particularly as network communications strengthen bonds among distant colleagues and further erode institutional allegiance. Digital technologies are calling into question many norms of pedagogy and learning as well. Howard Gardner has suggested that there are "multiple intelligences," only one of which is highly valued by the education system but all of which are potentially of great social value. The new technologies prompt us to ask whether new sorts of "learning systems" can nourish these multiple intelligences. Can learning systems be designed to attract more diverse students and keep them in the educational system? What new ways of researching, analyzing and communicating can be developed within educational settings? One theory about electronic technologies as learning tools is that they naturally encourage some, many, or even all students to be more active and engaged in learning. Instead of instruction about a broad set of potentially useful knowledge ("just in case learning"), 43
students can learn to seek out the specific knowledge they need or want ("just in time learning"). The role of teachers is transformed from "experts dispensing knowledge" to "facilitators helping students navigate oceans of knowledge." Students and teachers become partners and collaborators, both of them learning and teaching each other. But how valid are these speculations, and under what conditions? It is also conjectured that digital document technologies will help integrate working and learning. If true, this suggests new instructional missions for higher education, perhaps through partnerships with industry. Alternatively, many businesses may supplant schools by creating their own education and training programs. Given the new points of access to learning resources made possible by computers, many observers predict that life-long learning will become more feasible for millions of people. This, too, may imply a reorientation of the administration of higher education, the kinds of resources needed, and the instructional methods of faculty. The pace of change will certainly depend upon the pace of evolution and reach of the required infrastructure, but it will also depend upon the pace at which new document literacies become recognized and adopted by teachers and scholars. Document literacy may depend to some extent upon mechanical factors such as ease of use and readiness of access, but to a greater extent it depends upon a cultural shift. The complex interaction among all the factors involved requires a combination of experiment and study.
E. HOME AND FAMILY The new "digital appliances" that will enter a significant number of households will shape much of the future of the family and the home. An estimated 35% of American households, or about 33 million, have personal computers, and an estimated 7.8 million
have CD-ROM equipment. Many others have home offices with fax machines and on-line capabilities, and home satellite dishes. Already the growth of home offices is affecting families, raising important questions about the future. What happens to a family when one or two parents work from their home? Do electronic technologies liberate and expand opportunities, or do they paradoxically circumscribe personal and work space in new ways? When geographic location is less relevant to employment, will more households migrate to more bucolic settings? An inevitable question is how personal everyday life will change if personal connections into multiple interactive media becomes more the norm. There is speculation that the marriage of television and the personal computer will give birth to some new sort of offspring from the full convergence of communication technologies. The digital exploitation of cable connections to the home, which will provide high bandwidth connectivity, is on the horizon. This raises questions about the future of home entertainment and its effect on families and children. Will this new appliance encourage passive watching, or is likely to be more interactive, educational and empowering? How might it affect relations among family members, particularly power relations between parents and children? How will leisure time be filled in households of plentiful interactive media? Will the "cocooning" trend identified by professional trendwatchers increase? New national telecommunications policy is being shaped. To what extent will this lead to “universal” access to a network cornucopia, or to what extent will it result in societal divisions among haves and have-nots. New issues are being raised regarding who should have access, and to what, and how. Will the "virtual extended families" become the personal equivalent of the virtual corporation or the virtual university? Will this bring families closer together or create new schisms? The 45
notion of a virtual extended family perhaps implictly assumes that digital documents can evolve to a full medium of communication that includes immediacy and uninhibited interactivity, not just an exchange of information and records. Will such an evolution widen generation gaps between youth facile in the new technologies and their elders less willing to adapt – surely not a question unique to the digital age, but perhaps brought into sharper focus by it? What will happen to the psychological environment in which children develop a sense of self and form bonds with the larger world, as boundaries blur between reality and virtuality (a term that may be preferable to the oxymoron, virtual reality)? Such a blurring may be orders of magnitude greater than that experienced in the age of television. Will education, both formal and informal, migrate from the schools to homes, particularly if public education continues to deteriorate? What are the prospects for "edutainment," which combines meaningful instruction with entertainment, the very term misleading us to believe that learning must be easy to be acceptable or successful? Will technologies change how families situate themselves in larger communities of interest, communities defined by electronic rather than geographic boundaries? Will the home become linked to health care providers in new and significant ways?
F. CULTURE, DISCOURSE, AND COMMUNITY LIFE One of the more subtle yet profound influences of the new digital technologies is on culture, discourse and community life. These areas tend to evade systematic empirical study; they cannot be pinned to an examining board like a butterfly. Yet there is little question that our sense of public life, connection with strangers, continuity with the past, and civic possibilities will be affected by how new electronic technologies invisibly structure public consciousness. This issue can be approached from many directions.
One timely project would be to articulate the meaning of community in a digital context so that a system architecture could be designed to foster "good" communities. Since the new modes of communication will change the dynamics of community, culture and political life, it is imperative to develop a policy structure that will foster a constructive evolution of possibilities. Just as the national system of broadcasting helped forge a common national community, we must ask how electronic document technologies can reinvigorate localism and community commitment. How can digital technologies be deployed in ways that encourage people of diverse backgrounds to come together for common purposes? One can glimpse the rich possibilities for robust community-building through the Internet. Is the Internet a broadcast medium or a narrowcast medium – and what are the implications of this distinction for public policy and the larger culture? Distinctions of this sort made now will have far-reaching ramifications in the future. The structure of the new electronic technologies could have particularly important consequences for national discourse, civic life and politics. Because electronic networks can create new platforms for speech and new aggregations of publics, they are potential platforms for political movements. Citizens who were previously isolated and without public embodiment, can now find each other and organize themselves politically. Meanwhile, easy access and dissemination of information suddenly introduces new forms of democratic accountability. Congressional documents, EPA reports, SEC databases and hundreds of other taxpayer-sponsored information can be accessed and used by ordinary citizens. Taken together, these sorts of capabilities suggest the potential of the reordering of political constituencies and power. It also suggests some new "riverbeds" for public discourse, as well as a political culture with a different character and tone. But even as more public information becomes widely available, there becomes less that we hold in common. What will our 47
common cultural landmarks be in an age of fragmented public information and images? Society is largely shaped by its documents or "metadocuments." They not only record the footprints of where we have been, but also the guideposts to where we are going. We are on the verge of transforming the notion of metadocument, and this in turn could transform our entire culture, without our even deliberating or choosing such an outcome. As new kinds of documents arise, many of them images, which ones are likely to dominate public culture – and to what effect? The design of the public architecture for digital documents will be a fateful matter. It will shape the "politics of knowledge": who participates in the creation of knowledge, and how; who learns, and how; who has access to knowledge, and how. Now is one of the few moments in which our society can make conscious choices about the shape of an "information society" and "knowledge-based economy." One way to enhance our insight into the future may be to deepen our knowledge of the past: What can the history of communication tell us about our future as a "digital culture"? Over the centuries how has civilization evolved in response to new developments in the communication process – i.e. the storyteller, early writing, the offset press, etc. It might also be worth examining how civilizations maintain a cultural memory – a formidable challenge to us as our cultural and documentary records become both more transient and immaterial (while also, ironically, more accessible). What institutions will help us preserve our cultural heritage? Since culture is generally seen as the record of human expression and artistry, it would be worth inviting the arts community and leading cultural observers to speculate about the cultural implications of digital technologies. Are print authors, particularly popular fiction and nonfiction authors, apprehensive or excited about writing for multimedia? Do different artistic enclaves – community, academic, avant garde, Hollywood – regard the digital future in different ways, and why? 48
III. BUILDING A NEW FORUM AND DISCOURSE
Parts I and II suggest the large, diverse array of provocative issues posed by digital document technologies. But through what means can existing academic disciplines and "knowledge institutions" begin to grapple in a holistic, interdisciplinary way with phenomena that are still emerging, and not necessarily defined by formal systems of thought? There appears to be a distinct void in this area. What would be extraordinarily useful is a new forum and network that can bring together a diverse constellation of thinkers and practitioners, technologists, humanists, policy-makers, library and social scientists, and other eclectic adventurers of the digital culture. The chief purposes of this forum and network would be to: • • • • • Stimulate critical interdisciplinary research; Develop and critique integrated scenarios for the future; Shape future discourse and action; Nurture an emerging intellectual community; Orient foundations and funding agencies to important research priorities; Engage leaders of government, industry and education; and Disseminate key results and ideas.
The conference would select one or two timely themes each year as the focal points of discussion. Unlike countless conferences that 50
convene a specific profession or discipline, however, this conference – "Documents in the Digital Culture: Shaping the Future" – would deliberately seek to bring together people with divergent, provocative critiques of selected themes, such as those outlined in Part II. Thus there would be no fixed categories or "tracks" of inquiry from year to year, but a fluid set of categories, chosen each year. Not only would this gathering create unusual opportunities for cross-fertilization among disciplines and professions, it would help build a new informal network of people with shared interests. These informal personal and intellectual linkages would themselves be catalytic in helping to develop a new discourse about documents in the digital culture. This process would help define and advance the study of digital documents in ways that existing disciplines and professions simply cannot do. The result would not only be new kinds of interdisciplinary research, but also the stimulation of fresh thinking among foundations and other research funders. The discourse would inform action, and viceversa, in an upward spiral. The discourse would necessarily be international and multi-cultural – motivated by the global or borderless character of many of the issues that arise. Our understanding of digital documents, we must remember, is critically influenced by our "intellectual infrastructure," the institutions that generate and guide knowledge creation. This forum aspires to create a new self-consciousness about the subtle structural biases and limitations of our respective disciplines, professions, intellectual categories and language. If civilization is the culturing of self-awareness, as the sociological historian Orlando Patterson avers, then this forum seeks to "culture the selfawareness" of the emerging digital civilization. A critical premise of the forum is its hospitality to a robust pluralism of perspectives. The new technologies are extraordinarily rich and multi-dimensional in their potential. This means that 51
there are many uncertainties and contestable assumptions – of both analysis and future goals – that need to be addressed in interdisciplinary ways. The intellectual frameworks that govern the new technologies should not prevail by default, simply because they are familiar, apparently neutral, or favored by the powers-that-be. "Shaping the future" requires the most searching analysis, debate and self-awareness. A spirited discussion of divergent viewpoints is needed to clarify critical distinctions and sketch their long-term implications. This calls for participation by a wide spectrum of expertise: information scientists, library and computer scientists, lawyers, sociologists, psychologists, organizational theorists, economists, public policy analysts, and more. The results of these debates can then radiate out into other disciplines, various public arenas, and the larger culture. One striking metaphor for this enterprise might be a set of interlocking Boreamean rings, a topological construct in which several rings are embedded synergistically: none is fully contained in the other, and removing any one of them destroys their synergy. Technology, social sciences, and societal needs all retain their respective identities, but all must find a mutual accommodation to create new synergies. Pursuant to this vision, "Documents in the Digital Culture" would sponsor several specific processes: Workshops : These gatherings would bring together approximately twenty key people from different backgrounds with expertise in the theme under discussion. Invited papers and presentations: The conference would invite key experts to apply their thinking to the chosen topic.
Research Paper Sessions: The conference would widely distribute a "Call for Papers" to solicit formal research papers from a variety of discipline. Papers would be refereed and published in a proceedings (in electronic as well as paper form.) This element in the conference program would publicize the topic in a broad set of disciplines, stimulate research by leveraging the engines of promotion and tenure, and begin building the knowledge base that this field will require. Exemplars and Scenario-Building: The conference would be an occasion to showcase "exemplars" of a given technological application – case studies that exemplify "best practices" worth investigating and replicating. Participants would be invited to build integrated scenarios of the future to guide action, drawing upon the lessons learned from exemplars. The scenarios would not be of the sort commonly used to guide business planning, which feature measurable benchmarks and the like. They would, instead, be provocative scenarios for thinking about the future – sets of extreme cases, with multiple options and probabilities, designed to spur speculation and reflection. Critiques: Exemplars scenarios should be subject to systematic analysis and critique. Although the conference would not be a venue for vendors, transformative new products, could also be critiqued, eliciting a range of perspectives on specific technologies and their future evolution. This process would help start new conversations and build new linkages between academics and industry, and between both parties and user/practitioners. It could also provide an "auditing" of technologies that have been mis-applied, or a group exploration of what may have gone wrong in a given case. This sort of public discussion of real-life projects could be quite valuable and distinctive.
Bibliographies: The conference may also bring together bibliographies of the best literature for a given theme, perhaps with interpretive annotations and mini-reviews as well. An interdisciplinary conference that examines the very terms of discussion for understanding the digital culture could focus and propel discourse in new directions, invigorate existing disciplines and professions, build linkages that result in fruitful new collaborations, and bring new coherence to an influential realm that each day becomes more fragmented and perplexing. It is an experiment worth attempting.