A question that I’m often asked when I give a workshop on a new educational technology (or what I like to call “NETs”) is this: “How can I be sure that this technology is here to stay?” Well, no technology is really here to stay. Clay tablets had a pretty good run of about three thousand years, but they were eventually supplanted by paper scrolls. And scrolls gave way to books. And now books are being challenged by ebooks and ebook readers. The anxiety behind the question, though, is legitimate, and it arises from the fear of investing a lot of time and energy into learning or implementing a new technology only to have that technology become obsolete a short time later. Occasionally, this has happened to me. For example, a couple years ago I began using an online “to do list” program called Todoist. I loved the program because it was a boon to be able to access my task list from anywhere — including from my Blackberry. But then I discovered Toodledo, another “to do list” program that does everything that Todist does and more. So I decided to switch. The change, though, was painful. There was no way of exporting my tasks and categories from Todoist into Toodledo. I had to move everything over manually, by re-typing or cutting and pasting.
Hopefully, though, I won’t have to go through that tedious process again, if and when I decide to switch to yet another online task management program. That’s because one of the features of Toodledo is that it allows you to export your tasks and categories in a variety of formats, including iCal, XML, and CSV. The same thing is happening with ebooks: early products tended to be based on proprietary formats, meaning that an ebook purchased for one ebook platform couldn’t be read on a different ebook platform. Since the middle of 2008, though, there has been a movement to adopt an open standard (known as epub).As a result, ebooks published in the epub format can now be read on a variety of platforms such as Adobe Digital Editions, Lexcycle Stanza, BookGlutton and the Firefox plugin OpenBerg Lector. Several hand-held ebook devices, too, now support the epub standard format, including the Sony PRS 700.
The trend with digital technologies, then, is toward open standards. Does this mean that in the near future you’ll never again have to worry about transitioning from one product or platform to another product or platform? Well, no, there will continue to be some growing pains as technologies continue to evolve and supplant one another. But for the most part, the transition will be eased by open standards, and by widgets that will help you convert your data configurations from one format to another when you decide to upgrade. In the long term, of course, everything will change dramatically: in twenty years, finding a hand-held device that will play MP3s will probably be as challenging as it is now to find a computer that accepts the old 5 ¼-inch floppy disks.