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.

1 comment:

bats left, looks right said...

I believe I've "lost" years to reading books - and never thought it was a waste of time - although my older brother once complained that I wouldn't come out and play baseball 'cause I always had my head in a book - luckily Mom was a reader, too so she didn't make me!