(Update) On the Future of Public Libraries

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I’ve done an update to my thinking on public libraries called ‘Novel Spaces: The Future of UK Public Libraries’, which can be found here. It’s for Quadrapheme, an online literary magazine. Apparently, the next issue features an essay arguing that public libraries are dead – or should be. Can’t wait for that!  Also on the site at the moment is a lovely essay about the importance of paper called ‘Surface Matters: Why I Buy Books‘ by Alexander Monro.

Memory & Understanding: Paper versus Pixels


A study by Pam A. Mueller of Princeton and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of UCLA has found that US college students who take notes on laptop computers are more likely to record lecturers’ words verbatim. Sounds like a good thing, but the study goes on to say that because notes are verbatim, students are therefore LESS LIKELY to mentally absorb what’s being said.

In one study, laptop-using students recorded 65% more of lectures verbatim than did those who used longhand; 30-minutes later, the laptop users performed significantly worse on conceptual questions. According to the researchers, longhand note takers learn by re-framing lecturers’ ideas in their own words.

This chimes with anecdotal evidence in the UK that some students aged around 16-18 are going back to index cards for exam revision because, as one said to me quite recently:  “stuff on screens doesn’t seem to sink in.”

Source: Sage Journals: ‘The pen is mightier than the keyboard: The advantages of longhand over laptop note taking’. See also Scientific American (Nov 2013) ‘Why the brain prefers paper.’ (summary here).

Photo cluster bombs

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What do you do if a violent suspect or terrorist runs around the corner or into a building? You might stick your head around the corner, or into the building, but that could be dangerous. You could call in a UAV surveillance drone, but this could take time. Or you could launch teargas or a grenade in the approximate direction of the suspect, but this could be dangerous not only for the suspect, but for innocent parties.

One solution is something called a ‘photo bomb’ from Bounce Imaging in Boston. This is essentially a small bouncy ball dotted six with digital cameras. All a user need do is press a button and throw it. Images are taken every 1/2 second and are relayed back to suitable portable device. Flash is available via near-infrared lights that are invisible to the eye.

Presumably also rather useful for paparazzi and teenage parties.

Wearable computing that isn’t



It’s not just me then. I bought a Nike Fuel Band a while back to see if it worked. It did. I walked a bit more. The dog often went out twice rather than once. But then it started to feel like another thing to worry about. And those “Go Richard!” messages can get really annoying. Half of American adults who own an activity tracker no longer use it, and one third who have owned a wearable product stopped using it within six months according to Mike Merrill, writing for The Big Think.

Back in the day

Have you noticed how people are saying “back in the day” all of a sudden? Even people that weren’t born “back in the day”. What does it mean? OK, it’s the title of a (2014) film, but surely that’s not it. My take on it is that it means back before things got complex and confusing (or perhaps pre-2008 when money went mad, in which case 20-somethings were indeed around then).

Will the phrase disappear and fast as it arrived (like “step up”, “Heads up” or “reach out”) or will it endure? I’ll give it to the end of this year.

Signs of the future

I try not to post more than once a day, but this is so good and related not only to my top extinctions list but also to the timeline of emerging technologies, which is coming out very soon. Click on this link for loads more images in a similar vein.
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Person responsible is B.J. Murphy at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies and designer is Fernando Barbella. Thanks for Chris Haley at Nesta for passing it along. We are not worthy!

Things that might disappear by 2050

Top Possible Extinctions by 2050

Some of you might remember the extinction timeline I designed with Ross Dawson a few years ago and perhaps even the update, which for some strange reason I did as an oil painting (it seemed like a really good idea at the time).

Anyway, here’s a further update featuring the possible extinction of privacy, handwriting, physical credit cards, video game consoles, the great barrier reef, malaria, commercial ocean fishing, surgeons, car accidents and perhaps even death by 2050. Thanks for Zeljko Zoricic for the visualisation.

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Why water can be good for you


As some of you might know, I’m a fan of clutter (“If a messy desk is the sign of a messy mind, what then can be said of an empty desk?” – Einstein or thereabouts).

However, things have started to get of control, so I’ve been cleaning up my desktop and my actual desk. A sense of inner calm, similar to that achieved when I throw lots of things away, has now returned.

On other news, the emerging technologies map is done and is off to the designer tomorrow and I’ve finished another brainmail issue, which will be up next week.

Two other things. First, a good article in the conversation about ‘Repair Cafes’, especially the Bower Reuse & Repair Centre in Sydney’s inner west. If you don’t already know about these, they are places where local people can drop in and get stuff fixed. You might relate this to economic conditions, but I don’t think that’s quite it. I think it has more to do with the need to touch things and understand how things work (a digital antidote).

The other thing has to with minds rather than making, although, of course, the two are always related. I seem to be spending more time these days thinking about and talking about innovation and creativity and, in particular, my book Future Minds about how digital and physical environments shape the way we feel and think.

Today, for example, I got an email from someone in Bangalore who had just read Future Minds and wanted me to elaborate my point that: “Being by moving water seems to work – it dilutes the effects of the digital era”.

My point here is that when I did some research for the book about where people did their ‘best thinking’, being alone come up quite a bit, but so too did water, especially being in or by moving water. What could this be about? One explanation someone once gave me (and this could be utter nonsense) is that moving water creates negative ions, which aren’t negative at all in the sense of how they make us feel. BTW, that photo above is making me feel very sad indeed – it’s Sydney.

More here if you are interested.

Map of emerging science & technology


Seems my trends & technology timeline from 2010 has made it to Iran (above).

BTW, my new emerging technologies timeline that I’m doing with Imperial College is done (below) and now just needs some design polish. It has been thought about very carefully indeed, especially by about a dozen PhDs, and should be huge. Far better than anything similar I’ve ever seen. Hopefully available as a free high resolution download in a week or two and good old fashioned A1 and A3 paper wall charts a bit after that.

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