A few days ago I read an interesting article in the New Republic on “trigger warnings” in college syllabi. The topic intrigued me, and I decided I wanted to write about it — but then I got busy. Way too much to do. And by the time I got a few minutes to think about what I wanted to say, so many people have written about it that it didn’t seem worth my time to add my two cents to an already enormous pile of pennies.
This relieved me greatly. And then I wondered why it did.
So I thought about it, and I came to the conclusion that I didn’t really want to write a post on this topic — not really, not in my heart of hearts — but felt some inchoate obligation to do so. It just seems like the sort of thing about which I ought to have an opinion that I ought to be able to state. But that’s silly. There’s no reason whatsoever for me to opine about this. And yet only a period of intense busyness kept me from rushing to my computer to commit opinionizing all over the internet.
I think there’s something to learn from this experience. For one thing, it enables me to see more clearly what we all know already: that when I see a topic being tossed around a lot on blogs and on Twitter, it’s easy to be swept along by that tide. I was looking the other day at the mute filters I have set up for my Twitter client, and I couldn’t help laughing at how many of them provided a record of those brief enthusiasms that take over Twitter for a day or two or three and then disappear forever. It took me a minute to remember who Todd Akin is. It took me even longer to figure out why I had added the word “tampon” to my mute list, but I finally remembered that time when Melissa Harris-Perry was wearing tampon earrings and everybody on Twitter had something to say about that. This is why some Twitter clients have mute filters that can be set for a limited time: I would imagine that three days would almost always be sufficient. Then the tide would have passed, and would be unlikely ever to return.
But I learned something else from this experience also: you can actually use the speed of the Internet to prevent you from wasting your time – or maybe I shouldn’t say wasting it, but rather using it in a less-than-ideal fashion. If you just wait 48 or 72 hours, someone you follow on Twitter will almost certainly either write or link to a post which makes the very argument that you would have made if you had been quick off the mark.
For me, these realizations – which might not be new to any of you – are helpful. They remind me to give a topic a chance to cycle through the Internet for a few days, so I can find who has written wisely about it and point others to that person; and, if there are things that haven’t been said that need to be said, I can address them from a more informed perspective and with a few days’ reflection under my belt. I can also practice the discipline — or maybe it’s a luxury rather than a discipline — of thinking longer thoughts about more challenging issues than are raised by than Melissa Harris-Perry’s earrings. Or even trigger warnings.
Hey y’all, and apologies for the radio silence for the past few days — I’ve been back to Wheaton for a conference and a visit with my son and some old friends, and am trying to get back into the teaching saddle here at Baylor. I may post my talk from the conference, but in the meantime, busy yourselves with this excellent article by Jennifer Roberts, an art historian, on the value of practicing — and teaching — patience:
Given all this, I want to conclude with some thoughts about teaching patience as a strategy. The deliberate engagement of delay should itself be a primary skill that we teach to students. It’s a very old idea that patience leads to skill, of course — but it seems urgent now that we go further than this and think about patience itself as the skill to be learned. Granted — patience might be a pretty hard sell as an educational deliverable. It sounds nostalgic and gratuitously traditional. But I would argue that as the shape of time has changed around it, the meaning of patience today has reversed itself from its original connotations. The virtue of patience was originally associated with forbearance or sufferance. It was about conforming oneself to the need to wait for things. But now that, generally, one need not wait for things, patience becomes an active and positive cognitive state. Where patience once indicated a lack of control, now it is a form of control over the tempo of contemporary life that otherwise controls us. Patience no longer connotes disempowerment — perhaps now patience is power.
And add to that this typically thoughtful and nuanced meditation on reading by Andrew Piper:
Skimming, holding, sharing, annotating, and focusing—these are just some of the many ways that e-books diminish our interactions with books. And yet they remain the default way we have thought about reading in an electronic environment. E-pub or Kindle, it doesn’t really matter. We have fallen for formats that look like books without asking what we can actually do with them. Imagine if we insisted that computers had to keep looking like calculators.
Escaping this rut will require not only a better understanding of history—all the ways reading has functioned in the past that have yet to be adequately re-created in an electronic world—but also a richer imagination of what lies beyond the book, the new textual structures (or infrastructures) that will facilitate our electronic reading other than the bound, contained, and pictorial objects that we have so far made available. Instead of preserving the sanctity of the book, whether in electronic or printed form, we need to think beyond the page and into that all too often derided thing called the data set: curated collections of literary data sold by publishers and made freely available by libraries. This is the future of electronic reading.
To support such a shift, we need to do a better job of bringing into relief the nonbookish things we can do with words and how this will add value to our lives as readers. We need a clearer sense of what reading computationally means beyond the host of names used to describe it today (text mining, distant reading, social network analysis). Thinking about reading in terms of data and computation isn’t about traversing the well-trodden field of open-access debates. It’s about rethinking what we mean by “access.”
I may have more to say about both of these essays later, but in the meantime, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them.