Category Archives: USA

the first-world internet

I heard an interesting presentation today, but it concluded with a very developed-world, class-based interpretation of the Internet that I simply can’t agree with.

Although it’s true that more students are coming from abroad to study in the US (attributed in the presentation partially to budgetary issues in public schools in the US, another issue entirely), the idea of ‘globalization’, I’d argue, is really a concept based in the developed world. Yes, we have more students studying ‘cross-border’ topics, and interested in the world outside of the US. American students are coming into more contact with international students thanks to their presence in American universities, and perhaps gaining more cultural competency through this interaction. ‘Global studies’ are now a thing.

But this presentation talked at the end about the global power of the Internet, and globalization generally, about being able to reach across borders and communicate unimpeded. It doesn’t just have the potential to break down barriers, but already actively does so, this presenter posited. It doesn’t just encourage dissent but is already a channel for dissent, and an opportunity available to all.

International students in the US may be experiencing this power of the Internet, yes. But at home? Students from nations such as China and Saudi Arabia may not have experienced the Internet in this way, and may not be able to experience it back home in the same way as they can in the West, in Korea, in Japan, in other developed countries. (And I realize that’s a problematic term in itself.) Moreover, not all American students have experienced this Internet either. The students we find in universities generally already have opportunities not available to everyone, including their access to technology and the Internet.

There’s also the inherent assumption that this global access – and ‘global studies’ in general – takes place in English. While many students abroad are studying English, not all have this opportunity; moreover, their access to the educational opportunities of the developed world are limited to those opportunities they can access in English. Many undergraduates and even graduate students in the US limit themselves to the kind of global studies that can take place without foreign language competency. I realize that many do attempt foreign language studies and while the vast majority of undergraduates I encounter who are interested in Japan and Korea cannot read materials in their focus countries’ languages, they are often enrolled in language classes and doing their best. However, there are many more who are not. They do not come to the world – they expect the world to come to them.

And there are many, many students around the world who do not have access to the English Internet, or cross-border collaboration in English through the opportunities the Internet potentially affords (or doesn’t, depending on the country). They may not even have reliable access to electricity, let alone a data connection. This is changing, but not at the speed that the kind of thinking I encountered today assumes.

Related to this, another presentation talked about the power of MOOCs and online learning experiences in general. And yes, while I generally agree that there is much potential here, the vast majority of MOOCs currently available require English, a reliable connection, reliable electricity. They are by and large taken by educated adult males, who speak English. There is potential, but that is not the same as actual opportunity.

Overall, I think we need to question what we are saying when we talk about the power of the global Internet, and distinguish between potential and reality. Moreover, we need to distinguish exactly the groups we are talking about when we talk about globalization, global studies, and cross-border/cross-cultural communication. Even without the assumption of a developed-world, upper-class Internet, we need to recognize that by and large, our work is still conducted in silos, especially in the humanities. Science researchers in Japan may be doing English-language collaboration with international colleagues, but humanities researchers largely cannot communicate in English and cross-language research in those fields is rare. I can’t speak for countries other than Japan and the US, really, but despite the close mutual interest in areas such as Japanese literature and history, there is little collaboration between the two countries – despite the potential, as with digitizing rare materials and pooling resources to create common-interest digital archives, for example.

Even those international students often conduct their American educations in language and culture silos. Even the ones with reliable Internet access use country-based chat and social media, although resources such as Facebook are gaining in popularity. We go with what is most comfortable for us, what comes to us; that doesn’t apply only to Americans. Our channels of communication are those that allow us the path of least resistance. Even if Twitter and Facebook weren’t blocked in China, would they prove as popular as Sina Weibo and other Chinese technologies? Do Americans know what Line is or are they going to continue using WhatsApp?

If we find that English, money, and understanding of American cultural norms are major barriers to our communication, we might find other ways. Yes, that developed-world Internet may hold a lot of potential, but its global promise may not go in a direction that points toward us in America anyway.

Japan in Days of Yore

I found an interesting book in the library a while ago that I’d like to introduce before I return it. It’s entitled Japan in Days of Yore and is from 1887.

There are several interesting tidbits about this book. First of all is the translator, Walter Dening: he’s a mathematician and missionary who was friends with Lafcardio Hearn. Second, what on earth is the random text that has been translated here, a samurai tale? Who knows.

The book contains a pull-out illustration at the beginning, an “old-fashioned” woodblock print that is in keeping with both the book’s content and its binding. Despite being a hardback book, the paper is bound in Japanese style, with pages printed on only one side and then folded in half, with the edges bound in the spine, instead of being single sheets printed on both sides. This means that each page edge is a fold, creating “double” pages that one can peek into (although there’s nothing printed on the inside).

This isn’t the only book in the Days of Yore series. There are at least five books, three of which are a three-volume life of Miyamoto Musashi. Japan in the days of yore definitely consists of epic samurai tales. The last volume I’ve found was published in 1906, but even then, the traditional Japanese-style paper binding persists even within Western hardback covers. It’s a fascinating combination of technology, American missionaries, ideas about tradition and past, and the persistence of Edo-period (1600-1867) fiction into the 20th century – even in translation.

Given the dates, these stories are some of the first Japanese literature translated into English. Yet they would have been considered light fiction, adventure stories. They’re not considered the great literature of Japan’s past, like The Tale of Genji (which was first translated by Kencho Suematsu in 1900, contemporaneous with Days of Yore). They’re not even generally read anymore: they’ve disappeared into the mass that is samurai tales from the Edo period, hundreds upon hundreds of titles – not to mention the massive amount of parodic fiction and love stories that also exist from this time. Edo literature is often skipped over these days, save for Ihara Saikaku (who only became part of the canon after these translations were published). We read Genji and Kawabata and Murakami Haruki instead. But at the turn of the 20th century, these stories are what Americans in Japan found worthy of translation and publication, and clearly Japanese publishers felt the same way. Days of Yore came out around the same time as Hearn’s translations of Ueda Akinari’s ghost stories, again from the Edo period. Samurai and ghosts: Japan of yore to American missionaries of the late 19th century, and Japanese translations of yore to us now.

post office as information central?

The future of the post office – and of snail mail generally – is a frequent topic these days. (Well, it has been for a while.) I listened to an excellent show from On Point the other week that had on several people, including someone with the post office. It was excellent in that the guests made several really strange points that were extremely thought-provoking, and I’d never heard them before. I think they deserve to be discussed widely: they broaden the conversation from just “post office or not?” and think about the actual role of this institution in serving its consituents. What is the point of the post office, anyway?

The post office delivers information, reliably (mostly) and often securely. It provides a way to get delivery confirmation and insurance on your stuff, rents out mailboxes (especially important for people in neighborhoods where mail delivery is unreliable, often due to the lack of safety and lack of access to mailboxes – and lack of maintenance by landlords). It lets you get stuff where it’s going, fast. I know that UPS and FedEx and DHL do these kinds of things too, but for general purpose information delivery, the post office is here to serve all of us, no matter where we are, no matter what. This is its mission.

As time goes on, demand and form of information changes, obviously. We’ve already had new technologies and new regimes of categorization that bave been developed to accommodate changing needs. I have only to look at pre-ZIP code letters to be reminded of this. Honestly, for someone who has grown up with ZIP codes, it’s shocking. Within my lifetime, moreover, the place of ZIP codes on the envelope has changed (no longer a need for a new line; in fact writing it along with the city and state is encouraged). We have even more, better technology for reading the messiest handwriting, for distinguishing that ZIP code (and now, a 4-digit code afterwards that means it’s your house) from the text written next to it. We’re getting pretty advanced, here, if you think about it.

So now there is the fairly dramatic change of declining mail volume, which has not been accompanied by a high enough increase in stamp prices to keep up with the times (really, every other country in which I’ve mailed a letter has been close to $1 for even domestic mail). We have a lot of people conducting their information needs online, even those bits of information that must be kept secure: banking, shopping, student financial aid and loan applications and processing, university business (I’m thinking of my own stuff here). We need secure document delivery, and we need it to be a lot better than it is now. Recent break-ins to companies that are holding customer and credit card information (ahem, SONY) are making this abundantly clear.

In light of this, do we need some kind of central, trusted authority that we can go to for secure document delivery?

I argue yes, and I argue that this is exactly a natural place for the post office to step in. I’m not talking about printing out PDFs and making sure they get securely to their destinations. I’m talking about a secure information infrastructure provided as a public service for all of us. No, it will not replace our banking or our insecure game network accounts. But don’t you think that this would be a great service, one that we can’t quite imagine now what it would look like… and one that exactly fits the mission and history of the post office?

Through any kind of calamity, no matter what, we will get your stuff securely and reliably to where it needs to be. We will make it available to you, no matter what.

This sounds a lot like the current mission that surrounds the delivery of paper mail and packages. I am not arguing that this should replace what they’re doing. Don’t close all the post offices and argue Internet for everything. There are still a lot of things that need to be delivered securely by post: you wouldn’t believe how few forms will take my secure Adobe digital signature on the PDF as the equivalent of a pen signature. Imagine being able to develop that pen signature (so easy to forge) into something more secure, in digital form. Would that not be awesome?

With the way things are going, I hardly think that anyone in government would consider this kind of natural evolution as worthy of supporting, as worthy of seed money for infrastructure. We are not so good at thinking outside the current narrow box of the status quo; we have blinders on that we can’t seem to remove. But the post office itself sees itself as needing a transformation for proceeding from here on out. If only innovation and creativity could win out, but I’m not holding my breath.

Incidentally, this whole post office closure thing? Most articles I read are about people complaining they would have to drive 6 miles to the nearest post office. Guess what. I have had to drive miles to the nearest post office my whole life, because I have been unlucky enough to grow up in the suburbs, then live in a city that thinks it’s a great idea to build their fancy new post office (and library!) miles away from our small but active downtown, and make it miles away from any public transit: you can’t walk either, because you’d need to get across several very dangerous freeway on and off ramps. Seriously.

kawasaki reading room ・はじめに

I finally got a chance to visit the Kawasaki Reading Room at the new Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center here at UNL. With it being summer, full of international travel (for those of us in Japan studies especially) and family events, it took me a while to get an introduction to the center.

The reading room is unique in the Asian-language libraries that I’ve visited here in the U.S. It’s not part of the UNL library system, and yet it is. The collection was started by a large donation from one individual – with diverse interests, let’s put it that way – but is now kept going by additional donations from all over. The collection is eclectic: zenshu of canonical literature; dictionaries and reference books; Japanese language test prep materials; a wall of manga; and a growing collection of tapes and DVDs of all kinds. (Death Note and Nobody Knows on the same shelf!)

As I type, the Kawasaki Reading Room’s collection is continuing to be integrated into the UNL library system, but much of it is not. Other shelves have handwritten “not for cataloging” signs on them. It’s a place in flux. And the library’s own relationship to it is hard to explain. It’s a “partner” but not “part of.” There are limitations on what kind of obligation that relationship can entail. It’s an opportunity for me, new librarian, to be learning about the complex realities of campus units and their varying degrees of integration with the central library system.

The Reading Room sadly has limited hours, but it’s welcoming and friendly. It may be small but that cozy space gives a sense of informality, where one can feel at home right away. When I visited I spent most of my time chatting with the director, Reiko Harpending, who was kind enough to give me a personal tour. While we talked, a mom brought in her elementary-school age son who wasted no time getting absorbed in a kids’ manga series. I felt like I was in a tiny but wonderful public library, one where almost everything is in Japanese.

This is in contrast to my experience before: I am a student at a large research university with an equally large Asian-language collection. It, too, has a physically odd relationship with the library in that it’s so isolated: it has its own 3 floors of stacks, for all Asian-language books, and its own office and cataloging area. It has its own reading lounge. This is all great. But not having been in an environment like this until graduate school, I couldn’t quite figure out why all of this had to be cordoned off from all of the other books in the library – ones in English, French, German, Russian, and so on, which were all mixed right in with each other. At this point, I chalk such things up to “an artifact of how Area Studies historically developed as fields.” On the other hand, though, the Asia Library is an integral part of U of M’s library system and is fully integrated with the library catalog system. There’s not really a question of whether the library budget can be used for the Asia Library’s projects; it’s a question of how much funding the Asia Library is getting to allocate as they will.

So why am I posting about the Kawasaki Reading Room? It’s a unique, friendly place, and I only wish it were open at hours other than 1-5pm on weekdays because I’d have spent some more time among the books and DVDs. I have a week left here in Nebraska, though, and one of my goals is to spend a good chunk of an afternoon there and do some personal research. I want to get a better sense of the collection, its shape and contents, and interesting finds that may be hiding around in there. On my first visit, I spotted a dictionary of naval terms while talking to Reiko that turned out to be the “property of the U.S. Navy” (don’t tell anyone!) and dated from WWII. I can’t wait to see what else is lurking there and to report back! With pictures. Stay tuned.

states I’ve visited/driven in

I haven’t updated my state map in a while, but my drive to Nebraska this week to start my internship at CDRH inspired me to make a new one. Here I thought all this driving would add up to new states but I realized after I started making it that I just spent a really long time in Iowa. I’ve now driven through many more than half of the 50 states, yet because the un-visited are big, my map doesn’t quite satisfy my impression of having been to most of the country now. Clearly lacking are the mountain states and New England. I hope my time in Nebraska this summer lets me at least put Kansas and South Dakota on my map. Wouldn’t those be nice to see since I’m out here anyway? I think I’ll keep skipping Oklahoma, as their politics scare me more than any other state at the moment.

Only a few count as just visited (Oregon, California, Utah, Connecticut, Texas, and Florida – I flew to these states and someone else drove me around or I took public transit only). The reason I make this distinction is that as someone who has done enough long distance driving to qualify as an amateur trucker, I like to count “driven in/through” as really experiencing a place. I am such an American, aren’t I?


I have visited 32 states (64%).
Create your own visited map of The United States

I was going to make a map of provinces I’ve visited but realized that British Columbia and Ontario are going to make a pretty sad map, despite my large number of hours driven in Canada. (Ontario is really big.)

Countries visited, despite going out of the country a lot, has also not enlarged since I first made one 5 years ago. Because I am visiting Ireland this summer and, I hope, Sweden as a graduation present to myself, I’ll have to make one next year. If I go to China the map will look very impressive. Big countries, big states, they make it look like I’ve left so much out.

some questions for the media

…to which I already know the answers. So don’t worry, I’m not looking for an explanation of the obvious.

I’d simply like to juxtapose some stories to think about.

First up – a kid is arrested in an FBI sting for attempting to detonate a car bomb in Portland, OR. (Note: I am on the side of the FBI in this one. From everything I’ve heard about the story, it seems about as far from entrapment as you can get and still be running a sting.) It’s front page news. Obviously. It should be.

So what isn’t front page news? What did I just have to spend over five minutes digging through CBSnews.com to find, under the “front page news” of the Unabomber’s Montana property going up for sale, and “how to feel sexy while aging” (answer: have lots of sex. not making that up.)?

Guy attempts to set mosque on fire in Corvallis, OR, days after the kid is arrested. Guy is arrested for doing so. He’s in jail. This isn’t even second-page news. This is comb-through-the-site-for-a-few-minutes news. Conduct-a-few-searches-because-I-can’t-find-it (even though it was sent to my cell phone via Google News a few minutes before) kind of news.

Should it be? I think you can guess what my answer would be to that question. I dare not even ask if it should be covered as “domestic terrorism” in the same way that say, the same action undertaken by a brown person with an accent. If I went and asked that, I’d have to keep asking about our shifting use of “terrorism” and why it never seems to apply to our most bountiful domestic terrorists, white power and violent anti-abortion groups.

Regardless of your views on any of this, wouldn’t it be nice for this kind of article to be a little closer to the top of the page? As opposed to, say, the media’s freak-out about new TSA screening procedures when it turned out that, as reported in the media, absolutely no freak-out actually occurred in reality despite their predictions? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a front-page story about something that happened, in addition to all that stuff that didn’t happen?

Oh well. Let’s move on.

Second story of the day is the continued “deliberation” over whether to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT). There has been a Pentagon study. General McMullen has repeatedly called for its repeal. Then the heads of the various military units call for it not to be “while we’re fighting.” (Conveniently for them, it doesn’t look like this will ever not be the case, so they’re kind of off the hook.) Sen. McCain goes into increasingly complex contortions to get out of admitting that there has been a large-scale study done that overwhelmingly concludes that the policy should be repealed. Other senators waffle. It is endless.

The question that comes up again and again is how active-duty personnel, especially in combat, think it would affect their ability to do their jobs. How will it impact the unit? How will it impact their own effectiveness? Morale?

So here’s a question I would like to hear asked, just once. Even once would be enough.

How do currently serving gay and lesbian personnel feel their effectiveness and morale is influenced by DADT? How would its repeal impact their ability to do their jobs, in combat, where they are already serving? How do the people directly impacted by DADT feel about it currently and how would they feel if it was done away with?

The questions that will never be asked. I’m allowed to dream, aren’t I?

cat in the car!

On a light note…

I came out of the restaurant where some friends and I play trivia last night, to find…

a cat in my car!

A CAT IN MY CAR.

This is possibly the best thing that has ever happened to me. It made my year, anyway.

(It’s not quite as mysterious as it seems: it turns out a stray cat wandered in through my open sunroof and then couldn’t get back out. But still. Not exactly the first thing you expect to find in your car.)

congratulations to chile

I am so happy about the miners’ safe escape in Chile that I started crying when I heard the news. (Or rather, started to read it late last night, checked it first thing in the morning, and couldn’t believe how happy and relieved I am. The tears came when I saw they’d been rescued by the time I woke up.)

What an amazing effort, on the part of a whole nation, international collaboration, an unbelievable group underground, and general rooting for them worldwide. What a relief not only for their safety but for the fact that we, humankind, can still pull off something that requires so much careful coordination, unity, perseverance, and optimism. Is this what made me cry?

This isn’t to say I’m not disturbed by the fact that this situation could have happened in the first place, or that it’s in any way acceptable that it took an event of this magnitude to force Chile’s president to address mine safety and regulations in a forceful way. As someone whose ancestors are from central and Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia, this hits close to home, and I couldn’t help thinking of the tragedies that we still see in the United States in this area of the country. We should take this to heart and keep the focus on safety for our mines and miners – not simply mourning periodic “tragedies” (as though they have no causes) and maintaining attitudes that it could happen any time, that it comes with the territory, that we must be resigned to half-expecting miners to not come home on any given day. It’s unacceptable. (And I’m talking not just about political or national attitudes, but those that are prevalent within local communities. I know it’s entrenched and has persisted since there was a mining industry in the United States, but that doesn’t make it any more okay.)

At the end of the day, I’m overjoyed at this success and the truly unbelievable strength and optimism of these 33 men, but I’m afraid that the celebratory fever will free us to let ourselves off the hook in expecting accountability, now and in the future.

killing time at the bookstore – not the library

A quick observation – while reading a New York Times article on the closing of Barnes & Noble stores, I was immediately struck by their first interviewee’s comment: I kill time at the bookstore.

The theme of the article is that bookstores are used in non book purchasing ways just as often, and that the demise of a brick and mortar store is saddening those who don’t buy anything on top of both employees and those who do enjoy purchasing while they browse.

Or just browsing, in general. Amazon does a fairly good job of this but it’s far from the real thing.

I couldn’t help thinking about this situation in terms of libraries: because that’s what libraries are for. I think rather than talking about libraries attempting to simulate the bookstore experience – comfortable furniture, events, coffee – we could think of this from the perspective of the large chain bookstore taking over the library’s role in the community.

When it’s far more convenient to get to a Borders or Barnes & Noble (and there are more of them, making it easier to just pop in wherever you are), why bother funding libraries? If they let you hang out and read as much as you want (again, the interviewee talks about reading a book a chapter at a time when he comes in with time to kill), what need are libraries fulfilling, other than letting you check the books out without paying something on top of your taxes?

Why not rethink this upsetting situation in which bookstores are closing as an opportunity for libraries to make their case as the original entities fulfilling this role, and as an essential part of the community?

It seems to me that “community” spaces are more and more private, commercial spaces in the US. The bookstore, the coffee shop, the gym. I can’t remember ever going to a community center in my entire life. And my local library in Ypsilanti is very isolated, a drive away from where I live downtown, and is not even on public transit (which I use most of the time rather than driving). It’s easier for me to wander into the Barnes & Noble or Borders (or three) that are on my local errand runs – and that are on multiple bus lines – than to take a trip out of my way to the library.

Instead of focusing on single focal points, why not a distributed form of libraries – small storefronts, if you will? I can’t think of anything that could serve a community better than more spread-out, accessible, convenient service that promotes itself clearly and loudly as an antidote to disappearing bookstores – and as an irreplaceable part of the private-but-public fabric of the community.

thinking about google books and authorship

The more the Google Books project proceeds, the faster my thinking about it changes. You could say I have either the pleasure, or the misfortune, to be looking at these kinds of developments through a couple of frameworks: my scholarship in book history; my service as a librarian (both to my patrons – by making information accessible – and to rights holders); and my position as a creator of various kinds.

I think I’ve developed some kind of opinion about Google Books until I realize I have been thinking only through one or two of these, and when I begin to shift my frame of reference, I’m brought back down to earth. This is a complicated issue that I can’t even reconcile with myself. It’s no wonder no one else seems to be able to agree on it either.

Lately, though, as an author myself I have started to come down on the side of opposing Google Books much in the way Harvard’s library has. Robert Darnton – hero of book history and head of the library – made the decision to allow Google to scan only public domain (out-of-copyright) works from their library.

Continue reading thinking about google books and authorship