A friend on Facebook posted a link to this Los Angeles Review of Books article by Clive Thompson about Nicholas Carr’s book The Glass Cage: Automation and Us. The review raises many issues, but as usual I was reading it with archives in mind. Specifically, this discussion made me think about the possible problem of historians and scholars relying too heavily on keyword searching of digitized archival sources rather than pursuing more old-fashioned (and time consuming) practices. I say “possible problem” because I do not know, of course, that this is what’s being done, but I have certainly heard chatter that leads me think it’s worth considering.
This also brought to mind a long-ago tweet from Patrick Murray-John, who asked “Would archivists accept topic modelling on OCRed items as a collection level description?” As I recall my response was something like, “No. But it would be a very useful resource or accompaniment to such a description.” Just as Carr (according to Thompson) is not opposed to technology, neither am I. But I think both authors raise points that are worth injecting into our discussions with all of our users about the extent to which they use–and rely on–the time-saving features that technology supports, and what information they may be missing if they are relying on it exclusively.