Enlisting in the info revolution
Skype, Wii, Kindle, MP3 - the new language of technology is multiplying so quickly that it all is tough to keep up. And if that's not hard enough, you may feel your head spinning when you think about incorporating into your life the technical innovations that are rapidly becoming household necessities.
Technology you can try
Mango Languages is an online language-learning system that teaches actual conversation skills. Mango features written language as well as audio to help with pronunciation. The tutorials are available for use at the Oak Bluffs, Edgartown, and Vineyard Haven libraries, or online at home for anyone with a card from a participating library.
E-book readers are hand-held electronic devices that will download books for reading on a paperback book-sized screen. You can change the text size and some books can also be read to you as you follow along. The Oak Bluffs library will feature its own Amazon Kindle as well as two other e-book readers that are on the market.
The latest Wii games are not just for kids anymore. The Oak Bluffs Library has recently purchased new fitness oriented Wii options. Wii Sports Resort features virtual kayaking, golfing, tennis, fencing, etc. Wii Active and Wii Fit Plus offer programmable workouts. The Vineyard Haven and Chilmark libraries also have Wii stations.
MP3 players for downloading audio books: Both the Oak Bluffs Library and Vineyard Haven Library have download stations where you can load a wide selection of audio books onto your i-Pod or other MP3 player. If you have a card for either library, or the Edgartown Library, you can also take advantage of this service from your computer at home.
Skype videoconferencing: Librarian Mathew Bose and library trustee Lloyd Henke will be talking to each other via their computers from different parts of the library using Skype software. A free download, Skype is the most popular voice communication service available. It allows for video conversations with other Skype subscribers all over the world at no charge.
On Saturday from 1 to 4 pm, the Oak Bluffs library will host a forum to help demystify the sometimes overwhelming and often intimidating world of new technology. The fair will feature hands-on demonstrations of the latest technology options available at Island libraries and in the marketplace, such as e-book readers. Some consumer items, such as flip cams and GPS watches, will available for trial runs by both potential buyers or the merely curious.
As reference librarian and assistant director of the Oak Bluffs library, Mathew Bose notes, "Technology is an integral part of society. It's just such a part of our lives that we can't ignore it, and we at least need to be comfortable using it." Mr. Bose has helped organize the Technology Fair as part of the library's ongoing mission to help the community at large, and baby boomers and older adults specifically, to gain techno-literacy, something that is increasingly becoming a focus for libraries across the country. This is the second annual Technology Fair, and last year's event attracted a large multi-generational crowd.
Over the past few years the various Island libraries have added a range of practical software that will be demonstrated at the fair, and Mr. Bose believes that a lot more people would take advantage of some of these things such as language learning systems, online genealogy research and new Wii programs designed for fitness conscious adults, if they were made aware of their usefulness and user-friendliness. "We're dedicated to providing learning resources to the community about how to use this new technology," he says.
The afternoon forum will include two talks by experts on recent ways in which technology is affecting the public. Opening the forum at 1 pm, Doug Cabral, editor of The Martha's Vineyard Times - a sponsor of the event - will discuss the role of community newspapers in the Internet age. "Information technology advances are harrowing for businesses like ours, set in our ways," he says. "They present profound challenges, but what's more important, they offer unimagined opportunities. We in the news business are trying to get over the former and embrace the latter."
Mr. Cabral elaborates on how the print media is addressing these challenges by keeping on top of consumer trends. "For years now, we at The Times, as well as many of our colleagues in the newspaper business elsewhere, have decided strategically that however our readers want to get the news - in print, on a computer, on a phone, on a iPad, on Facebook or Twitter - we're going to deliver it to them that way," he says. "Our advertisers, we think, have the same strategic point of view. The Times has some spectacular advantages, as other small newspapers in small towns do, and I'll be discussing those."
Also on hand will be Pat Gregory, owner of EduComp, will explain and demonstrate how local businesses and nonprofits can comply with a new law that requires businesses to take measures to guard against identity theft. He also hopes to make consumers aware of how to protect customers' personal information from electronic interception when communicating with businesses via e-mail.
Younger Islanders will be an important part of the event. Not surprisingly, students became impromptu instructors at last year's fair.
This year, Kathy Flynn of the Oak Bluffs School is taking advantage of the latest generation's expertise by having her students offer demonstrations of some practical skills they are learning in the classroom. "My focus is going to be all the tools that are available to users at no cost," she says. These tools include animation software and simple website development programs. Kids will demonstrate their own projects and instruct the community on how to use these free tools.
The informal afternoon event will include demos and instruction by experts, and there will be others, including experienced library staff, on hand to guide people through the software applications and demonstrate the devices that will be exhibited. As Mr. Bose says, "We organized the tech fair for the whole community as a format where people could share their knowledge with the rest of the community."