Guest lecture: Paul Wouters

by Maren Hunt

Paul Wouters

VKS director Paul Wouters

Paul Wouters, director of the Virtual Knowledge Studio in Amsterdam, was our inspiring guest lecturer today. He talked about a lot of really fascinating things, but one thing that really struck me was at the very beginning of the lecture. Paul mentioned how in the U.S., we use the term “information technology,” while Nederlanders use the term “information and communication technology” (ICT). Americans’ omission of “communication” in connection with technology seems pretty significant to me. After all, if it were not for communication, it would be nearly impossible for people to get information using the technology we currently have. (I could go off on the  meaning of information here, but that’s best left for MLIS classes.)

Technology does, in fact, change the ways we communicate. Look at the front page of a newspaper — any newspaper you like. Now look at the website of the same newspaper. What stories are given prominence on the printed page? What is the first thing you notice on the website? Every once in awhile, there may be some overlap in top story choice, but often you’ll notice and read completely different stories. The newspaper company uses the technologies (yes, I consider the printed word technology) differently to communicate news to readers. It has to. Newspapers have tried to replicate the printed page experience online, but it doesn’t translate.

Paul explained that there are four perspectives on ICT:

  • conservative – ICT as a neutral container
  • pragmatic – ICT as a tool
  • critical – ICT as technology of control
  • radical – destabilizes importance of ICT by deconstruction

All perspectives, Paul claimed, are important and useful.

Going back to my newspaper example, I think it would be short-sighted to claim that ICT is a neutral container, especially in the communication of news. The technology used partially shapes how communication takes place, which changes the reader’s experience in receiving information. Newspapers definitely take the pragmatic perspective: They use ICT as a tool to convey news (and ads — gotta make money). I’ll have to think a bit about how critical and radical perspectives could be taken on newspapers’ use of technology. I may come back to that.

One other quote from Paul that I really liked: “We like to stick ICT into the chicken coop and see how the chickens behave.”

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About netherlanders2010

We are 21 students, one teacher, and a few info-groupies on a study abroad program in the Netherlands from August 22-September 17 2010. We will be working with faculty and researchers from the Virtual Knowledge Studio, the Erasmus Studio, and the Continuous Access to Cultural Heritage (CATCH) in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Hilversum, to study the ways in which research informs design in information systems and practice in the Netherlands. Plus, we'll spend a lot of time wandering around, going to libraries, museums, and the Oude Sluis, and doing whatever strikes our individual and collective fancies. Alstublieft!
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