Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Convenience at the Cost of My Head

Maria Konnikova's "Being a Better Online Reader" prompts readers to consider the negative effects digitalized mediums such as computers or e-readers can have on reading comprehension. She encourages readers not to reject electronic reading altogether, but suggests instead that "good" digital reading skills can be practiced and learned through self-control along with the assistance of other technologies whose purpose is to help annotate via the web.

Online annotation tools are vast in number and intended application, some working exclusively for particular types of documents or machines like PDFs or iPads. I decided to test one of many cloud-based Google Chrome highlighting and annotation extensions called Diigo. I chose this extension because of its ability to annotate live websites, rather than having to first screenshot and upload or change the document.  A small box in the upper-right corner of the browser allows for the reader to easily annotate text.

When editing is turned on, a reader must simply select with the mouse the text he or she wishes to highlight or annotate and a small menu bar will appear allowing him or her to do so.

After a few "test" highlights and annotations, I felt comfortable attempting to annotate Konnikova's article on my PC. The article soon transformed from a sterile white wall of text into a colorful and interactive creation. The article and Diigo became vehicles in my own pursuit of critical thought and development, not much unlike a bound book and a pen.

Although romantic to equate my modern technological tools to the classic pen and paper, there were unarguably some huge differences. First I noticed that my annotations did not remain visible after saving them, instead they collapsed into small buttons that would expand again only when hovering over them with the mouse. 

I like that this feature makes for a more "clean" re-read, uninterrupted by my past annotations. I do not like that this puts me at risk or neglecting ideas should my finger happen to be too lazy to move the mouse over each expandable button. On the other hand, Diigo does offer a feature that collects all of my highlights and annotations of a given website into a mini scroll-able box (as shown below) as well as a larger "library" organized by website. 

This feature allows for organized large-scale collection of websites, highlights, and annotations that is retrievable on virtually any digital platform. This is the beauty of any cloud-based interface; however "clouds" are extremely at risk of being observed and hacked by strangers and shady governments alike. Should I be afraid to house my fragile developing ideas in a "place" that makes them susceptible to being stolen or manipulated? Can I trust my government not to use my raw annotations against me some time in the future, should it decide it does not agree with the ideas it believes them to represent? 

Cloud-based annotation is equally convenient and dangerous. To resist technology altogether is to reject modern society, but to make use of it without conscious questioning leaves readers and thinkers susceptible to losing the one thing these softwares claim to provoke: ideas. 

1 comment:

  1. I like your attention to the issue of storage. If your annotations are on the web, in what ways might privacy/ownership be affected? Another way of thinking about it, though, is what is the scholarly value of making all of your notes and thoughts public? What powerful sharing opportunities might the web-based platforms enable, and how could that sharing transform scholarship and learning as we generally think of them? Anyway, sounds like a useful app. Will you have to find something different when dealing with pdf's or does Diigo offer a method for annotating other kinds of e-texts besides websites? Thanks for getting the blog off on the right foot, Jess!