Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Wasting time

The Good Dr. Fledermaus and I have been considering What To Do With The Books. We are, after all, Bats of Very Little Means (well, of means not enough to construct a handsome two-story library addition onto the time-honored halls of our current residence), and so we ponder: continue the overshelving of the hallway as library? How to have stacks (that don't call to the dust like a magnet to an iron filing)?

And how do our electronic resources fit into all this? What To Do With All The Learning is, after all, a professional consideration of mine--ours--and so it was with interest that I read Alex Halavais' piece, "The New University Press." This is a pre-release version of a talk Halavais gave at last week's American Association of University Presses annual meeting, and it's a good set of insights into what academic publishers actually do, and do well. And it's good and provocative advice about how to do it better.

But I'm going to leave aside Halavais' main points and focus on some of the more homey aspects of what he says, since he talks a good deal about his own relationship to books. I sympathize with his desire to keep the library after the birth of his child, and stash the kid in a closet (Bat Jr.'s bed, I hasten to add, is only half in the closet. And it is a very nice closet, I assure you). And there's a certain intellectual satisfaction to be had, I'm sure, in destructively scanning one's books, and taking responsibility for fairly using the electronic versions he's created.

But the most significant passage, I think, is this: "I would suggest if you want to remain undistracted, a traditional library is perhaps the worst place to be. I’ve wasted hours at libraries and bookstores—wasted them enjoyably, but wasted them nonetheless." This is the mark of literacy and, I think, a turning point--or a demarcation--between book culture, TV culture, and internet culture. Leaving aside the questions of what any of these are doing to our brains our attention spans, , our political sensibilities, which are all questions about the results of "media use," let's pause and think about the non-results, the time wasted.

This may sound obvious, since most of us (in the U.S.) stopped wasting time in books a generation or two ago, and started wasting it on TV, but it's not what you use for work, whether you're in an academic or other research-based job, it's what you do for fun. And not just fun, but lose-track-of-time, holy-mackerel-I'm-late-and-Mom's-gonna-be-pissed-of time wasted.

Now that we've gotten here (and I've wasted a half-hour of my lunch, in some sense, writing this), what's the upshot? Clearly I think books and libraries are worthwhile. The ability to lose oneself in a book for three hours will certainly serve a kid well, when it comes time for him to analyze The time has definitely come for a Slow Information Movement. Perhaps I'll just wrap up by pointing the educators and the policy-makers and the pundits to worry a little less about how we and our kids are spending time, and think rather about wasting our time well.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Weather.com needs an editor.

See that big blob of rain, bearing down on my softball game? No problem, I'll just click "TURN OFF WEATHER." And just to make sure things clear up in time, "RIGHT NOW."

Oh, and unless I'm sorely mistaken, the Future is either always or never new; in either case, the labeling of it as such can be stricken.

(If there's a larger point to this post, it's that editors are responsible for looking out the window. And seeing obvious metaphysical irregularities.)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Babies, Worms, and Other People

It is with some small guilt that I post to an almost-abandoned blog. BikeSnobNYC missed merely a week for the birth of his child, so I can't legitimately use the birth of Batboy as an excuse, since the blessed event eventuated itself blessedly more than two months ago and almost four months since the previous last substantive post (gifts on his natal anniversary will be accepted in his Cayman bank account any time during the temporal window thus described, though he shares a birthday with Theobald Böhm
[a childhood hero of mine]).

Given the fact that even BSNYC's doing it, I'm tempted to suggest that the childbearing scene is now full, and babies are no longer hip. My opinions on popular culture, however, are about as widely interesting as in-depth discussions of the nature of historiography in Hellenistic Judaism.

Anyhow, the big surprise of duogeny is the interaction between Bat Jr. (now 4 and a half, by her reckoning) and Batboy. The other day Bat Jr. was talking about how a friend of hers was showing off a worm he'd found. "I held it!" she said proudly "It was wiggly." "Much like Batboy," I thought.

And as so often, when I think ridiculous things, my second thought is how ridiculous they're not: worms and babies are both wild animals; they don't do--because they haven't yet learned--the range of social behavior that we expect from others. And yeah, a lot of funny things that kids do are funny because they don't yet know about social norms ("Mommy, mommy, I lit a candle in the bathroom because I pooped and…"--"Sweetie, you really just have to say, 'I lit a candle in the bathroom,' Mommy will know why."), what makes worms and babies interesting is that they do socially unexpected things while you're holding them in your hands.

It's really a strangely intimate thing: this ability to surprise someone with physical contact. Most of our physical interactions are highly socially structured, even ritualized: shaking hands, hugging, high fives. Even our pets get trained to certain types of contact (or at least we get used to their untrained behavior). But babies and worms wiggle on.