Appendix 1 A safety framework for mobile computing – iPhone Application Development

Appendix 1 A safety framework for mobile computing

‘… one cannot begin with hardware, with a machine, and work backward to the solution of the problem.’ – Jesse Shera1

Jesse Shera, Dean of Western Reserve Library School, Cleveland, Ohio, from 1952 until 1970, and one of the founders of the Center for Documentation and Communications Research, would grow to view librarianship as a humanistic pursuit. However, even before he became an advocate of professional humanism, he was one of the early leaders in the history of American library automation and helped support early machine-based documentation systems.2 There is the tendency to view machine-based information as somehow inhumane – there is nothing inherent in mechanized access to information which makes it inhumane. I will explore here properties of design, and the values of design within information tools – it is the values we imbue in our technology which create those mechanized forces that may be perceived as inhumane, and ultimately destructive to life and the wellbeing of many.

I think it would be much too clichéd to advance technology as somehow anti-humanist. I don’t think libraries pursue technological solutions to problems without seeing the human side of the problem. Librarians, if I may be offered the generalization, are essentially concerned with humans more so than information access. The purpose of this appendix stems from my reflections of a full pursuit of a technology before its use in the world is considered; I’m troubled by the lack of discussion about a safety framework for mobile access or mobile use of information. It just hasn’t been a part of mobile computing service delivery conversations (those conversations are overwhelmingly technical and web based) – so this appendix is an opening, an invitation to discuss and open tentative ideas for what may help bring about a much needed safety framework.

Who and what exactly do I mean to implicate with the opening Shera quote? The significance of Shera’s lamentation rests in the perspective that viewing information technology as the only way out of library problems is perhaps an untenable place for library science to be in: the old trope that technology solves all problems being shown to be suspect. This quote would be applicable to us as iPhone application designers if we saw technologically enhanced services as the pinnacle of library service achievements, one which served to eradicate any and all problems within libraries and any problem of library services generally. I must state that I do not see the iPhone as being able to solve any and all library dilemmas. My belief in this matter is that technological progress does not steadily improve every aspect of our lives – technological progress creates new possibilities, and makes real new situations, but with advances in technology also come problems – not always precisely understood at the time of fabrication of an artifact. There is a body of literature on the ethics of engineering from which I want to open a discussion on the values imbued in our mobile computing applications.

Ethical problems in engineering as well as within IT usually begin with quotes not from Shera but from Kant or Locke, as a means of framing them within a debate among consequentialism and deontology.3,4 Locke is usually leveled when a utilitarian critique (consequentialism) is necessary and Kant’s views when a critique of de-ontological nature is leveled: ‘… the view that some things are right or wrong in themselves, regardless of consequences, or of the intentions of the person performing the action …’5

In a chapter appearing in the 1992 Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, ‘Ethical Considerations of Information Professionals’, Froelich provides a framework of ethics, citing the two common approaches to applied ethical problems:

‘Deontological ethics are those theories that maintain that an action may be held as right, regardless of considerations of goodness, including the actual consequences of an action or even the motive of the moral agent. One example is Kant’s view, which contends that the goodness of a person’s moral action is traceable to a good will and the action’s moral worth flows from the actor’s performance for the sake of duty and not merely in accord with duty… On the other hand, consequentialist theories of ethics hold that the rightness of obligatoriness of an act depends on its consequences, either actual or intended. One version of consequentialism is Mill’s utilitarianism, which asserts that the values of a moral action are determined by its results—i.e., whether an action promotes the greatest amount of happiness for the most people…’6

Librarianship has its code of ethics as well – the American Library Association code of ethics concerns itself with traditional areas of intellectual freedom and access to information. A selection from the code: ‘We significantly influence or control the selection, organization, preservation, and dissemination of information. In a political system grounded in an informed citizenry, we are members of a profession explicitly committed to intellectual freedom and the freedom of access to information. We have a special obligation to ensure the free flow of information and ideas to present and future generations.’7 What is missing from the values are statements regarding the creation of information access tools and how the creation of these new tools may be imbued with values. Can the creation of iPhone apps be infused with the Code of Ethics of the American Library Association?

Ubiquitous computing is a focus of a chapter in Hauptman’s Ethical Challenges in Librarianship wherein the policies of automation and database searching are investigated for the concerns librarians will face in a world of massive access to networked resources.8 Fabrication of access tools is touched upon here as it relates to library automation; specifically, remediation of the card catalog to an online public access catalog. The question of contracting out work to automation vendors is given as an example of ethical considerations for what was considered ubiquitous computing at the time (1988): essentially, some of the ethical questions stemmed from:

 Requiring libraries to bargain in good faith with automation services

 Charging fees for library users’ use of databases9

 Confidentiality in sharing search results of other users.

A safety framework for mobile computing does not exist, and yet considerations toward this end can be applied in your iPhone app designs. As a result of this missing component many are harmed and risk death when unaware of their surroundings in the world as they utilize mobile technology. This is not an overstatement: mobile technology can harm and ignoring this is ethically problematic. There are irresponsible uses of mobile computing and these uses have heretofore been unacknowledged or, even worse, ignored by librarians (and the users of libraries) – whom, I will conclude later, are ultimately an extremely humane profession from their beginnings to the present digital era. In this appendix, I explore the intellectual foundations that support a safety framework for mobile computing. Lamentably, this grounding framework for safe mobile computing should not be the type of thing to be bolted on at the very end of a book, and perhaps this type of information should be considered before one ever builds an iPhone or iPod touch app.

Consider the widespread dilemma of the problematic and dangerous nature of utilizing mobile computing technology while multitasking. Many serious injuries result due to mobile technology use while in the real world. People, our library users, over-estimate their abilities to perform multiple functions at one time. They simply cannot drive and use a mobile application at the same time. Perhaps you live in a country that is not hyper-globalized, and imagining a person needing to use their phone while he or she drives is an obscene and ridiculous consideration. In the always connected information landscape of the contemporary United States, such a practice is the norm. In a literature review on mobile learning implications for libraries, I began writing on the philosophical framework for an orientation toward mobile digital content – I sought to re-use Fromm’s ideas on the having and being orientation in the world as a frame for m-librarianship.10 This having/being philosophy11 can also be useful when discussing the safety framework for mobile computing. An orientation rooted in Fromm’s being would perhaps cause the individual to focus on their immediate surroundings.

There are special and perhaps poorly questioned (or even unarticulated) applied ethical problems with mobile computing use for library service delivery. I hope to guard against some of those problems here by beginning to frame the problem so that the ethical consideration of mobile design might begin to see traction as a necessary overarching concern by libraries.

The United States government (beginning in late 2009) has both warned against and issued federal orders that bar the use of mobile technology while driving.12 People have been seriously injured or killed while using a mobile device distractedly. One may even question whether it is the librarian’s purview to consider how their tools are used.

In an essay on the design of technological objects, ‘A theory of normative technology’, Clifford Christians advances the idea that technological design is not a neutral occurrence, but that cultural values become imbued at every phase of the design process.13 So, before one begins to design an iPhone app, one has in mind their values, whether explicitly stated or not. The fabrication of information objects cannot be neutral.14,15 There exists a prototype application on the iTunes App Store that I developed in the course of writing this book, and the splash page of the app (the page which displays as the application is loading) alerts users to be aware of their surroundings while using it. Also, as another possible guard against student harm while using the app, the splash page asks them to use the app while seated. This may not be feasible, or even followed by our students. It does, however, consider the student’s life in the world, and looks to protect them from what we are seeing as emerging problems in mobile service provision. An example of the application, http://itunes.com/apps/ugl4eva, is available on the iTunes App Store as a free download.

Christians goes on to argue that ‘technological tools and products are particular. They combine specific resources – know-how, materials, and energy – into unique entities, with unique sets of properties and capabilities. Any technological object therefore, embodies decisions to develop one kind of knowledge and not some others, to use certain resources and not others, to use energy in a certain form and quantity and not some other. There is no purely neutral or technological justification for all these decisions. Instead, they arise from conceptions of the world, themselves related to such issues as permissible uses, good stewardship, and justice.’16 Christians goes on to enumerate three phases of technological process:

1. Design phase of technological process – here one might ask about the social impact of an app. What are the societal ramifications/consequences of this piece of software, the iPhone app?

2. Fabrication phase of technological process – in Christians’ words, ‘Well-worn cases from transportation technology exemplify how product reliability and human safety ought to be non-negotiable, but often are not.’17 What is an app fabricated upon? Its fabrication is one of wireless networking affordances: we expect this software to operate wirelessly, and we depend on a stable wireless data infrastructure to support the software capabilities. App fabrication: the content, like video, that we may use for an app is formatted for the small screen of a device; iMovie, which allows for us to create videos for the small screen – it (the app) is made possible by other outside software components.

3. Use phase of technological process – the human being using the iPhone and the software of the iPhone in the world is problematic. A user of the software has given their attention to the device and not the surrounding world. This places them in a position where he or she may be harmed. The device has the ability to harm. There is wise use of the app in the world and there is unwise use.

To interpret, give context to, and make useful the above quote regarding technological products: the mere choice to develop for the iPhone is to acknowledge and value certain resources (mobile computing) and not others – and by this same choice claims are being made about resource access. By developing access to resources specifically for the iPhone we make acknowledgements on people’s demands for information. Some might opine that information access is noisy enough – and by noise I mean that there is a growing amount of information such that producing more aspects of this environment may lead only to further problems in finding any desired information.

The history of librarianship and its synthesis with information science provides us with a useful historical frame for the problem of mobile computing tools, and perhaps any type of information tool. The opening quote of this appendix is from Shera, who came to see information science as somehow a threat to the field of librarianship. Shera came to believe and argue that, ‘… no profession can build itself upon its instruments’.18 This wrings true in a contemporary library and information science moment where this book might tacitly be assuming that tools could replace the practice of librarianship. This is not so, and one must come to appreciate that the overwhelming focus upon tools and machines for librarianship is not something completely new to the profession; Wright narrates the storied history of the Documentation Center at Western Reserve University. Shera faced a profound professional dilemma in trying to come to terms with the tools that documentalists were focused upon, and the accompanying view of librarianship as somehow a pariah to the information professions; in the article by Curtis H. Wright, Shera as a Bridge to Librarianship and Information Science, Sheras’ belief is that librarianship ought not be reduced to its tools you must be involved in practice.

In a review of scienctific ethos and information science contrasted to what librariship is and should function as, Wright contends finally – ‘It is impossible, as a matter of fact, to imagine anything more thoroughly humanistic than librarianship.’ It may follow, logically, that the concern of the user in the world, as he or she goes about using apps, is a thought that librarians ought to entertain, and given the stages of technological process Christians advances that design and fabrication proceed such that if the librarian values their position as eminently humanistic he or she will take steps to protect their users by choosing to design apps that will do no harm. Which should lead us to say that yes, technological fabrication, or re-engineering the services of the library as a process of making iPhone apps is wrought with ethical responsibility: ‘Ethics is about the question of how to act, and technologies appear to be able to give material answers to this question by inviting or even exacting specific forms of action when they are used… The fact that technologies always mediate human actions charges designers with the responsibility to anticipate these mediating roles.’19

So, where are we, exactly, with regard to our framework for safe mobile computing? This framework begins in the fabrication process where before being built the safety of our users is considered. Librarians consider the user as they may interact with mobile tools in the world and in the fabrication process, will make choices about the intended functions of the devices within the world. One choice that may alleviate the problems of the open world (that is, unanticipated uses of mobile) would be to design for a closed environment. Suppose a librarian chose to design mobile computing applications for in-building wayfinding; with the choice to develop for in-building navigation for mobile computing devices the librarian would be making the conscious design decision to build tools which can only help students find things indoors – so they would not be using these wayfinding tools as they were driving or walking in busy traffic areas. It is these kinds of decisions I would urge the reader of this book to begin to contemplate regarding the framework for mobile computing they can work within; there are templates in this book that do rely on in-library engagement for their operation.

Ultimately, librarians will find a framework for mobile computing use that considers the user in the world – something that perhaps our early leaders in librarianship came to appreciate as well. Developing such a perspective is a necessary contemplative exercise when technologies come into our practice that can advance what exists for library service offerings, but also what exists in the soul of the library.


1.Quoted from Wright, H.C. (1985) Shera as a bridge between librarianship and information science. Journal of Library History 20:2, 140.

2.Presnell, J.L. (2000) Shera, Jesse Hauk; http://www.anb.org/articles/20/20-01172.html; American National Biography Online (accessed 12 May).

3.Burmeister, O.K. & Weckert, J. (2003) Applying the new software engineering code of ethics to usability engineering: a study of four cases. Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society 1:3, 120.

4.Froehlich, T. (1993) Ethical considerations of information professionals. In Williams, M.E. (ed.) Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, Vol. 27. Melford, NJ: Learned Information, p. 291.

5.Burmeister, O.K. & Weckert, J. (2003) p. 121.

6.Froehlich, T. (1993), pp. 291–2.

7.American Library Association (2010) Code of Ethics, http://staging.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/oif/statementspols/codeofethics/codeethics.cfm(accessed 3 June 2010).

8.Hauptman, R. (1988) Ethical Challenges in Librarianship. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press.

9.A somewhat dated concern in some libraries – if you are in the library, you typically have access to all databases by virtue of your library membership. However, there still exist proprietary databases which not all libraries provide unfettered access to; specifically, access to legal and business data akin to Bloomberg or Lexis terminals and other commercial data providers. It would appear that depending on the domain of specialty, certain services are free, while those of lucrative value remain a special service for library users.

10.Hahn, J. (2008) Mobile learning for the twenty-first century librarian. Reference Services Review 36:3, 283–4.

11.Fromm, E. (1976) To Have or to Be? New York: Harper & Row.

12.Richtel, M. (2009) Texting while driving banned for federal staff. New York Times, 2 October, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/02/technology/02distractedhtml. (accessed 20 December).

13.Christians, C. (1989) A theory of normative technology. In Byrne, E.F. & Pitt, J.C. (eds) Technological Transformation: Contextual and Conceptual Implications, Philosophy and Technology, Vol. 5. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic, pp. 123–39.

14.ibid.

15.Christians, C. (1989) Information ethics in a complicated age. In Lancaster, F.W. (ed.) Ethics and the Librarian (Papers presented at the Allerton Park Institute, 29–31 October 1989): 3–17. Available at http://hdl.handle.net/2142/593

16.Christians, C. (1989) A theory of normative technology, p. 125

17.ibid, p. 134.

18.Wright, H.C. (1985) p. 142.

19.Verbeek, P. (2003) Materializing morality: design ethics and technological mediation. Science, Technology, & Human Values 31:3, 377–8.