The future is fast approaching

Caught up in an information culture.

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Weekend Longform Video: Night Mail (1936)

Detail of Pat Keely's poster for Basil Wright's Night Mail (1936).

Detail of Pat Keely’s poster for Basil Wright’s Night Mail (1936).

Night Mail shows both the daily operations of two of the most efficient infrastructures ever developed, mail and rail, and something that today sounds so fantastical that it could have walked out of a steam-age fantasy or magical realism novel: a rolling post office speeding down the rails all through the night, humming with postal clerks, never once stopping as it delivers and picks up mail from each station along the route.   Continue reading


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Kids Today Like Dead Trees

The Rose Reading Room at the New York Public Library.  Photo by Scott Beale/Laughing Squid (Creative Commons).

The Rose Reading Room at the New York Public Library. Photo by Scott Beale/Laughing Squid (Creative Commons).

To follow up Tuesday’s post on whether the future of libraries was as (pretty darned sleek) community third-spaces, the Pew Research Center released a report of 16-29 year-olds to see how they feel about libraries, and it seems that kids-these-days (get off my lawn!) like free literacy programs (87%), cozy and comfortable spaces (64%), interactive learning experiences (53%), and coordination with their local schools (87%).  Good news for the Hamilton Grange branch’s new youth space, and for makerspaces dreaming of library collaborations.  They’re also using physical books (75%) more than e-books (25%) at the moment, which might make Bexar County’s all-digital library a tough sell on that front, so maybe the future isn’t all-digital after all, even if ebook readers do get the old book smell down some day.  Although, personally, I think the Bexar County BiblioTech is in with a good shot if they can end up more crazy futuristic coffeeshop and digital culture/literacy center… and avoid the stigma of an internet café.

More on the Pew Research Center Survey at The Atlantic: Cities.

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The minimalist, gleaming future of libraries?

In an age of privatisation and digitalization, when libraries have been fighting tooth and nail for their place as an essential piece of community infrastructure, there’s something of an identity problem.  The idea of a physical repository for communally-owned printed information storage has a few challenges in the post-internet era, and it’s not simply a branding problem but also a practical problem of how to provide a changing community service.  I was intrigued when The Atlantic’s Cities pushed out two articles showing very similar new library designs, across the country from each other, aimed at different populations – yet looking and functioning in a very similar fashion.

Hamilton Grange library.  Photo by Michael Moran and Rice+Lipka Architects

Hamilton Grange library. Photo by Michael Moran and Rice+Lipka Architects

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According to BBC Future, energy use in developed countries is 200-600% higher than the global average, and with several large developing nations and a rising global urban population, tomorrow’s cities will likely need to switch to green energy or face shortages.  Just as well, then, that green energy prices are dropping, bringing them in line with fossil fuel costs.  Thank you, Swanson’s Law – which predicts still further drops as research improvements move into factory production.

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To be filed under “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed”: robotic underground bike storage in Japan, via Boing Boing, who describe it as a somewhat neo-Lovecraftian process where “these  machines ingest RFID-tagged bicycles and whisk them into their bowels and set them lovingly into huge subterranean crypts”.  So, a) very cool, b) an interesting addition to the urban bicycle infrastructure, and c) subterranean bike robots?  Very cool.