I’ve already decided: when Google Reader shuts down, I won’t be finding an alternative for my 500 or so feeds. I’ll create some bookmarks of my favorite places on the Internet but so much of the stuff I filled Reader with over the last 5 or 6 years will not come back around. Google has given me an involuntary reboot of my Internet media consumption, a reboot that I needed but have been reluctant to implement.
This year is looking to be the most wide-open, blue-skied year of my life. Everything is new. I need that in my information consumption too.
Next month I am teaching a few classes on blogging at the George F. Johnson Library’s Public Computing Center. In preparation for this, I’ve been reviewing articles and (blog) posts on the topic and reflecting on the nature of blogging and what it has meant for me in the past. This is part of my effort to determine whether “blogging” is really an important skill that people should learn (or, at least, be aware of). Contemplating this, I find myself returning, over and over, to this excellent blog post by Claire Creffield: Know thyself, blog thyself: Socrates and the Internet.
I’ve blogged at several different places over the last five or six years. This site is only my most recent – and most infrequently updated – blogging platform. Of all the hours I have spent writing blog posts, the aspect of blogging that is the most meaningful to me is the same point that Creffield ultimately concludes with:
Perhaps my blog might have a reader, but more than likely it will not. Either way, the imagined eyes of another, sympathetic but critical, intimate but distanced, are an aid to careful reflection.
There is an old cliché about teaching that I think can apply to blogging as well. It goes something like, “the teacher learns more than the students.” Similarly, the blogger learns more than the reader. The greatest awareness my blogging raises is my own self-awareness. It provides an outlet for where I am at – mentally, emotionally, intellectually – at a certain point in my life. Blogging is public journal-keeping – even if it’s not always recognized as such. It’s the most democratic form of personal storytelling. Readership is not as important as imagined readership.
“Funny how it was, everyone perched in their own little world with the deep need to talk, each person with their own tale, beginning in some strange middle point, then trying so hard to tell it all, to have it all make sense, logical and final” - ‘Let the Great World Spin’ by Colum McCann
March was a good month.
On Jonathan Franzen: The month began with a reading and Q&A session with Jonathan Franzen at Binghamton University. Franzen has received a lot of attention, both positive and negative, since the release of Freedom in 2010. Lately, after he took some pot shots at Twitter, I can’t seem to look at the Internet without seeing an essay, blog post, tweet, or online article about how “out of touch” he is with the ways in which the world really works or what today’s writers have to face (e.g. increasing distraction by TV, Internet, etc., the decline of “readers”). For a while I followed this discussion, but have come to the conclusion that I just do not care. So much of the debate feels manufactured. It has become the very distraction it laments.
Franzen’s work is an important and instructive influence in my life. His long and complex novels are expertly crafted and his non-fiction is some of the most honest I have read. I do not want to let any of the noise surrounding him to obfuscate that.
In the Q&A at Binghamton, which my friend John recorded and has made available on Soundcloud, Franzen says (and I’m paraphrasing here) that he writes not to put across a particular position, but to complicate and confuse things for his readers. I think that when he makes statements about Twitter, or anything else related to, for lack of a better term, “popular culture,” he is doing it for similar reasons.
I admire this sentiment and I enjoy reading challenging works. When pushed wider and deeper, and forced to consider and accommodate for things I never imagined or knew existed, is when I grow the most.
Franzen Q&A at BU:
On Libraries and My New Job: A week after I attended the Franzen reading, I started a new job that promises both rewards and challenges. My hope is that I can put into practice many of the ideas I have about what libraries CAN and SHOULD offer to their patrons. The biggest hurdle will be funding. I suspect I will get very good at writing grants and begging for money over the next several months. If any other librarians have suggestions for funding, or creative ideas for a Public Computing Center, please let me know.
Also, fellow librarians should really check out the webinar on Content Creation for Teens that Justin Hoenke gave on Wednesday. He is doing some really cool stuff up there in Portland.
On Michael Ondaatje: Ondaatje’s writing was nothing short of a revelation for me in March. I began with Divisadero and then proceeded to Anil’s Ghost, The Cat’s Table, and The English Patient. His books are trance-like. They seem to live on the edge of dreaming and waking life where memory and time flow in all directions. Hauntingly beautiful one minute, stunningly vivid the next, Ondaatje puts me in a different place. It is a place where others exist as completely different yet wholly the same as myself.
“‘Everything is biographical,’ Lucien Freud says. Why we make, why it is made, how we draw a dog, who it is we are drawn to, why we cannot forget. Everything is collage, even genetics. There is the hidden presence of others in us, even those we have known briefly. We contain them for the rest of our lives, at every border that we cross.” – ‘Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje
I feel about Ondaatje the same way that Colum McCann once said he felt about John Berger: I’ve been over-served in a good way. I am so full of his writing right now, it influences everything I do and everything I see. (*Video* of John Berger in conversation with Michael Ondaatje)
On Reading & Female Writers: Michael Ondaatje novels are not the only books that I read in March. I also read two books not worth talking about (The Road and Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress) and two books by young female writers. They were: Follow Me Down by Kio Stark and The Melting Season by Jami Attenberg. In terms of plots and prose, both are good though very different from one another. While Attenberg’s is a straight-forward novel about a young woman running away from, well, everything, and subsequently finding herself, Stark’s novel is an airy mediation on city life – part mystery, part contemporary and literary fiction.
What kept striking me while I was reading these novels is how much they say about female sexuality. They don’t do this overtly, but the differences between how these two authors introduce sexuality in their characters and how a lot of the other (re: white, male) authors I read do it is so apparent. Not since I first read Aimee Bender have I seen it as starkly.
I guess my only conclusion is that I should try to read more female authors. But then, of course, I have to wonder about whether I should be thinking of Attenberg and Stark as “writers” as opposed to “women writers.” Shouldn’t the art and not the gender come first?
On the iPad, Instapaer, and Long-form Non-fiction: Since I got an iPad and downloaded the Instapaper app, I have read A LOT more long-form non-fiction. Some of my recent favorites are:
- Logically Speaking – This 3:AM Magazine interview with philosopher Graham Priest is fantastic. I wrote my capstone philosophy paper at BU on dialetheism (true contradictions) and have kept up a bit with the debate since then. It has been really interesting to see Priest gain more recognition both inside and outside of academia. This interview is a good introduction to Priest’s thoughts but will also be engaging to those familiar with the concepts as well.
- Late Bloomers – Malcom Gladwell gives me hope that I might still make something of myself later in life. He dispels the myth that creativity always has to be associated with precocity.
- White Savior Industrial Complex // Jimmy McNulty Gambit - I consider these two essays by Teju Cole and Aaron Bady companion pieces. They are shrewd examinations of our current culture and the issues surrounding charity, sensationalism and, as Cole defines it, the White Savior Industrial Complex. Both of these pieces need more readers.
On Writing and Future Blog Posts: I write almost every day, but I don’t blog much anymore. I am of the opinion that writing isn’t worth anything unless it pulls from inside and contains forms of your deepest secrets, desires, fears, and dreams. Writing like that take time. It takes care and polishing and cannot be done in an hour the way a blog post can. At least, it can’t be done well in an hour. Like I said at the beginning, blogging is public journal writing. It has it’s own benefits, one of which is the quickness and ease that comes from the informality of the platform. That said, my plan is to reignite my interest in blogging as a medium for reflection.
On Idea Incomes: In Steal Like An Artist, Austin Kleon says:
There’s an economic theory out there that if you take the incomes of your five closest friends and average them, the resulting number will be pretty close to your own income.
I think the same thing is true of idea incomes. You’re only going to be as good as the stuff you surround yourself with.
I think that this is true both online and off.
On Happiness and the Horizon: “A clear horizon” is how Alfred Hitchcock defines happiness. That seems about as good a definition as any in the concluding days of March.
In less than one week, on June 8th, I will have turned in the last of my school assignments. On June 11th, even though I’m not attending the commencement, I will officially be a MLIS graduate. Working on this degree over the last year and a half has, at times, been inspiring, frustrating, boring, emotional, difficult, fun and challenging.
My last semester at Binghamton University, where I double-majored in Philosophy and Pre-Law (PPL), I wrote a meta-philosophy paper as part of an independent study. I wanted to know exactly what I had just spent four years of my life thinking about and studying. Was it really important? What, if anything, did I learn from the experience?
My paper was really not that impressive and essentially said that philosophy is important even if it does not provide concrete answers because it still asks questions, advances the dialogue, blah, blah, blah. It was very abstract and, looking back, relied on a lot of weird rhetorical and creative flourishes that did not necessarily make sense and that I would never have attempted in a class assignment as it would have been a sure way to receive a poor grade in a department full of ethical philosophers.
So, the paper kind of failed on a philosophical level. However, it still is one of the most important tasks that I undertook while at BU. It was only a semester long but it was mostly self-directed. I got reading suggestions from my advisor and was allowed to write and explore in whatever way I chose. I gained a lot personally from this paper and it made me really think critically about the degree I was receiving and what it meant – and would mean – in my life. Those were the things I could not write about – yet they may be the most important.
Now that I am at the end of my MLIS I find myself wishing that I was given a chance to explore the degree in the same way. What would a meta-MLIS paper look like? It is difficult to really think critically about the MLIS degree from inside of it. Drexel is on the quarter system. So, I took five 10-week quarters starting in March 2010 and ending June 2011. The breaks between quarters I spent catching up on things that would get pushed aside during the busy 10 weeks before it. There was not much time to look inward and assess what I was learning.
But now that I am graduating and facing an unsure job market I suspect that I will have some free time for just such an endeavor and I plan to document it here. More than just writing about LIS education, I really want to figure out what I gained from it on a different level. Sure, I learned about metadata and information architecture and web design. But what else? What did I learn that is not specifically taught? How has the last five quarters changed me?
I think that a blog (specifically, this one) is a good way for me to start exploring the thoughts I touched on above. I am not necessarily saying this because I think that what I have to say is profound or even important to anyone but me. But blogs allow for conversation – even if that conversation is only perceived. They are dialectal in nature. Lacking any sort of advisor or professor as I had during my undergrad, a blog is a decent substitution.
Claire Creffield recently said this much more eloquently:
Blogging might seem (has always seemed to me) like a hideously public way of conducting personal reflection, but its saving grace is its joyful acknowledgement of the inescapably communicative nature of thought. Blogging puts into practice a recognition that, if a private language is an impossibility, so, too, it is impossible to pursue self-knowledge by means of a wholly private use of language.
In addition to blogging about my MLIS experience, I also hope to write more about education in general and comment on some of the ideas that Michael Stephens brought up in his recent LJ column.
In a post a few days ago, I ranted a bit about how LIS schools need to take a more active role in embracing new technologies.
Though there is a lot of potential for great communication and collaboration in emerging technologies, it is important to shut down every once in a while for thought and reflection. These last few weeks I have been “on” more than I have been “off.” There have been times – while running in the dark late at night – that I realized my entire day had been mediated through a screen. These are the instances when I have to consciously remind myself to reconnect with the world around me.
In Program or be Programmed Douglas Rushkoff writes:
Our computers live in the ticks of the clock. We live in the big spaces between those ticks, when the time actually passes. By becoming “always on,” we surrender time to a technology that knows and needs no such thing.
The ticks are so much richer when we occasionally shut down and remember to explore the “big spaces between.”