Daniel Lemire's blog

, 2 min read

The future is already here: it´s just not very evenly distributed

It is not 9am yet. Nevertheless, I got a lot done:

  • I attended the thesis proposal of my student Eduardo via Skype. I was literally in my basement with a fresh cup of coffee, attending a presentation hundreds of kilometers away. Beside myself, there were professors from two different cities attending.
  • I watched a recorded concert of the latest Japanese rockstar, Hatsune Miku, on YouTube. Oh! And she is a synthetic character.
  • I read my morning news on my Star Trek-like iPad. I received my news from a hand-picked lot of 50 or so people worldwide. It has been months since I last read a newspaper.

Though I tried to convince my wife that the future has finally arrived, she insists that we always live in the present.

Well. Some people certainly insist on living in the past:

  • Canada’s largest science funding agency (NSERC) sent me a funding proposal to review. They had to send it to me on paper, by mail. The file has dozens of pages. I had to carry it home. I will have to find a way to recycle it after shredding it. What is wrong with giving me access to a PDF or HTML copy of the proposal? Can’t the person in charge of printing the proposal find another occupation?
  • Even though I have not had to look up a research article on physical paper in nearly a decade, a leading journal asked me to include page numbers in all my references. But these page numbers only make sense if you are holding the physical copy of the journal. Why would anyone look up articles from the physical copy when they can find and download research papers in seconds? I’m even told that graduate students in several schools are trained in how to use a (physical) library to look up references. Oh! The pain! Why do librarians insist on teaching obsolete skills? There is no shortage of useful skills a librarian could teach students in 2010. Indeed, I am amazed at how little most graduate students know about tracking research papers online.
  • My employer still sends me, every two weeks, a little enveloppe with a single paper in it which tells me how much money they put into my bank account. Of course, I know exactly what this amount is, as I can see it listed through online banking. So what is the point of this piece of paper? Create employment at a local printing press? Tracking pieces of paper is time consuming. Worse: the information is incomplete, even incomprehensible at times because of the lack of physical space on the paper. Why can’t Human Resources setup a web site where I could get all the information I need to understand all the mysterious deductions appearing on my fake pay check? Why must they insist on printing useless pieces of paper? Why can’t they provide useful and modern tools instead?

Source: The title of my post is a quote from William Gibson.