War and Peace: Reflection on Literature in the Digital Age -Part 1

I just finished reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace.  For real.  I guess last night when I read the final page, it was a bit like reaching the top of the print version of Mount Everest. Having accomplished this literary feat, I certainly have enough material floating around in my head to reflect upon in more than one blog post. You may never read this novel, but feel free to join me and reflect on what it meant, what it means, and what it may mean in the future.

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The first question is: Why?

Why read War and Peace, the historical fiction novel written way back in 1869, which is often referenced whenever we speak of something super long and boring?

I simply decided to read War and Peace before it is too late.  I will explain.

Back in 2011, I happened upon Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains and his insights validated my own feelings that I was losing a grip on how to deeply focus.  We still read as much as we ever did, but in little snippets of skimming blogs and posts and scrolling through content on our mobile devices.

Several references about our lack of ability to read and absorb long passages of text were made by Nicholas Carr.  Bruce Friedman, a medical school faculty pathologist at the University of Michigan, is quoted in The Shallows, stating, “I can’t read War and Peace anymore.  I’ve lost the ability to do that.  Even a blog post of more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb. I skim it. (Carr, 2011, p.7)”  (Are you still with me? You have passed the three or four paragraph mark. I dare you to finish this blog post.  And you don’t have to read War and Peace- I promise.)

Carr also quotes Clay Shirky, digital media scholar at NYU, suggesting in a 2008 blog post, “No one reads War and Peace.  It’s too long, and not so interesting (Carr, 2011, p.111).” He goes on to explain long novels of the past are not worth the time invested and “were just a side-effect of living in an environment of impoverished access”.

Today, we have access to live information on a global scale at our fingertips and in our pockets.  We can view millions and millions of youtube videos, instagram photos, tweets, and memes created by people all over the globe. Are we really “information rich”? Carr raised this question with the warning that thoughtful people may “…slip comfortably into the permanent state of distractedness that defines online life” (p. 112). In 2011, I took that warning very seriously and I still do.

So, I read War and Peace.  And it was truly worth the effort.

Stay tuned for Part 2 – if you finished this post- and I’ll reflect on what it’s all about.

 

 

How Do We Loathe Thee, Facebook (a sonnet)

(Inspired by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861))

How do we loathe thee, Facebook?

How do we loathe thee? Let us count the ways.
We loathe thy boastfulness disguised as good.
Our souls detest thou’st photos of thy food
And cluttered trivial nonsense hour by hour.
Abhor thy mutilation of our “friends”–
A word whose meaning now no longer lives.
We loathe thy inefficiency at best,
For when we use thee more, we learn the less.
Compelled to scroll then mandated to post,
Against old griefs, and with all childhood lost.
We loathe thy shouts of “Oh World, look at me!”
With whispered gossip, — yet gluttonous glee.
Commodities with no regard for fact–
The “ad” revered more highly than the act.

Think Before You Speak or get #digitalvertigo

My mom used to remind all of her kids (and grandkids) that “everything you think does not need to come out of your mouth”.  You can keep some ideas and words to yourself.  If you don’t think first, you may regret it later.

A new way to phrase this idea might be, “Think before you post”.  As social media sites urge everyone to share life in digital formats, many rush to the opportunity.  The idea, like most ideas, is not new.  Napoleon Hill was one of the first to say “Think twice before you speak” and also one of the first “motivational self-help” proponents of the modern personal success genre.

Here’s another book on the topic that cautions us (think Sherry Turkle and Nicholas Carr) about the pleasures of sharing our lives online.
Title:  #digitalvertigo: How Today’s Online Social Revolution is Dividing, Dimishing, and Disorienting Us 
Author:  Andrew Keen

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I like the clever use of a hashtag in the title.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notice all the post-it notes sticking out the side of my copy?  On a side note, I really like physical books because I can put those tangible notes inside!  Sure, I can highlight on an ebook, but going back to find my notes is not as “obvious” to me and I end up forgetting I even have an electronic copy.  (More on that another day.)

Many ideas for blog posts can be seen in the numerous post-its.  But I will only share one because I have learned that the chance of anyone reading a long blog post is nil.

Participation in social media has changed the way we live, think,  and interact.  Jonas Lehrer states, “While the Web has enabled new forms of collective action, it has also enabled new kinds of collective stupidity”.  Lehrer is a contributor to Wired magazine.  He cautions that we are moving from “the smart group” to “the dumb herd” and reminds us that real insight means “thinking for oneself” (Keen, page 51).

Following the crowd has always been dangerous but #digitalvertigo gives some real world examples about how the phrase “think before you speak” is taking on new meaning in digital culture.  We all have digital voices now.  We all can speak and can be heard.  The keyword that we mustn’t forget is…..THINK.

 

 

Where do you write? Where are your lexical tidbits stored?

Where do you write?

First of all, do you write? Do you jot down tidbits on napkins or take notes on your phone? For some people, words and phrases are more important than photos or physical objects. Our tech gadgets allow us to interconnect across space, sharing photos and ideas immediately. I wonder if this immediate shared expression is changing the writing process. The recursive process, in the past, took the writer through the process of contemplating ideas, gathering them, planning, pre-writing, revising, editing, and finally (FINALLY) sharing writing with an audience. Today, typos in most of our writing are completely acceptable. Revision is emphasized only for our formal (e.g. job application or peer reviewed article) correspondence.

So, if you write, what is your preferred location?
My best writing is done in my son’s old room, now converted to my office. I have pens, post-its, books and clutter scattered about and two computer screens at my fingertips. My pre-writing strategies now include: notes to myself on my phone, emails to self from numerous accounts, google docs, tweets, flashdrives in my purse, and a zillion post-it notes stuck everywhere! Jotting a thought on a post-it is more about the act of writing it down (kinetic trigger) than a plan to find it later. I appreciate a random encounter with a meaningful “note to self” — but the really significant (ah-ha) tidbits are stashed away in special locations. This is making me think I could be a word hoarder! I do love words and the way they can symbolize everything. I do believe they are more powerful than swords.

Digital tidbits
I keep a file on my computer for blogpost ideas and folders of potential articles, poems, or other writing pieces. I used to feel frustrated about keeping all of the writing tidbits organized, but I have learned to accept digital clutter since Windows 7 can find just about anything on my computer just by typing in a keyword. Using keywords in my file labels has become top priority.
Physical Tidbits

I have a beautiful blue pot, shaped like Aladdin’s lamp. Inside, I place scraps of paper on which I have recorded my significant thoughts and words and lines that come into my head like found poems. It is a physical object full of my personal glimpses of life. I have been adding them for several years. Someday, I plan to take the time (when the serendipitous moment strikes), to open the pot and look through them all and perhaps rediscover a personal gem. The writing process is a treasure hunt whether shared with the crowd or savored alone.

 

Beyond the Blogosphere: a Virtual World Book Discussion

Name of Event: Book Discussion with Aaron Barlow & Robert Leston- “Beyond the Blogsphere: Information and Its Children


Where:
Community Virtual Library Auditorium on Info Island in Second Life


When:
Sunday, July 22@ 11am SLT (Pacific Time)

For anyone interested in the impact of the Internet on education, society, journalism, and our lives, this book sheds light on today’s digital culture. For information professionals, the concepts presented are important and timely. The authors compare the Internet to a “book of sand”.

Page 51 “…[the book of sand] is the Internet, but without the possibility of organization, is information but with no system (or no discernible system), the centuries old-nightmare of the librarian and, today, of every serious researcher working through the web.”

Feel free to pass this invitation along to anyone interested. The book is a fascinating read, but it isn’t necessary to have read it to participate in the book discussion.

I Can’t Keep Up (a poem)

I can’t keep up

with who to follow on twitter
with tech trends and Web 2.0 tools (a new one every time I turn around)
with reading literature in my research area
with art- to observe or to create (reading is inhalation- writing is exhalation)…music, multi-media, poetry, literature

I can’t keep up with all I want to learn- augmented reality is next-
the best practices of education
with digital citizenship, digital footprints, hackers and new media after the hierarchy of information came tumbling down

I can’t keep up with the past, the present, or the future
and all the apps that just came out
and the upgrades and the software

with all the blog posts I want to write
(Blog post Idea #52: research is poetry- the restraint of required formats and the incredible condensation of words into the essence of meaning)
with all the hyperlinks from the intelligent people I follow, the conversations I want to join and contribute to

I can’t keep up with what to have for dinner tonight…a minor yet important thing

But I take a deep breath

and say OK

because all I need to do is take a step forward

just one step forward

in awareness

in appreciation

breathe, drink, eat, learn, smile, share

Obituary for Revision

Revision passed away this morning, after a long battle with social media tools and instant gratification of verbiage. Survived by Writing Process siblings, Editing and Grammar, both now housed in assisted living facilities, Revision is remembered by readers and writers across the globe as having contributed to the accumulation of literature of all genres, the  history of the world, and the knowledge of mankind for over 500 years.

Born in the Gutenberg family and cradled in the printing press, Revision led a life of unmatchable variety and creativity.  Revision worked tirelessly and his work has been acclaimed by experts as one of the greatest, yet most unrecognized achievements on record.

Sadly, Revision’s offspring are tweeting and posting with such reckless abandon–some fear the huge amass of wealth accumulated over centuries, within the Writing Process Family, could be squandered in only a few years.  A world hungry for wisdom could possibly be left in ignorant poverty because disposable words and ideas are now tossed aside along with fast food packaging.

 

A decision will be forthcoming as to whether Revision will be cremated or placed in a digital landfill.

 

 

The Blue Screen of Death

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out of nowhere, my less than 2 year old well-running HP computer, suddenly confronted me with the terrifying blue screen of death. And the resulting hours of anxiety did not end well. I will spare the gory details of why so many hours of work were instantly squashed into nothingness. What I want to point out is the baffling concepts of thought that went through my head over the 24 hours after the event.

I felt like I had been shot. I pictured a wound in my side…a gaping hole which I covered with bandages but did not want to see. I wanted to cover it up with gauze and avoid facing the damage, exactly how much was lost- videos, projects, presentations, pictures, documents, and programs that represented hard work and irreplaceable creative energy. It wasn’t that I had no clue about the danger of losing files and had not taken any precautions. I did have all of my current work (my dissertation for sure!) in numerous other locations, such as flash drives, external hard drives, the cloud, and emails to myself.

It was 8pm when the terror struck. I slept little that night. What kept me calm was the empathy and genuine concern I was given from my immediate family. First thing the next morning, my husband and son both sprang into action to investigate a data recovery system specialist. In the afternoon, a phone conversation with my daughter changed my perspective.

You see, I was confused and appalled at the feeling of loss over digital content. I am not one to have many attachments to physical objects. As a writing teacher, one of my projects to promote writing was the creation of paper mache storybowls. After creating a storybowl to represent a personal narrative, the writer/teller places small objects in the bowl that correspond to elements of the story. I made several storybowls over the course of a few years, one in which I tell about the time I lost my wedding ring! Actually, using the storybowl, I weave stories of other rings I have lost- one on my move to Texas at the age of twelve- a ring my father gave me which I lost in the Niabrara River. The theme of loss culminates with loss of my wedding ring- the most important of symbols. However, the point of the story is that what the ring represents is love. My husband gave me another ring exactly like the one I lost. I never found my father’s ring which is somewhere deep in the Niabrara River, but I did not lose what it represents…love.

Unfortunately, one day in my library, my storybowls were thrown out inadvertently in the trash! I was a bit embarassed to admit to myself the anguish I felt over the loss of my storybowls. They were physical representations of significance to me…my life stories.

As I experience my physical library going through a metamorphosis from physical to virtual, I am not always comfortable with the chaos, with the letting go, with the constant change in formats and in my own thinking. As I watch everyone becoming “hooked” on their tech gadgets, constantly updating statuses and checking emails, I can’t help but wonder if we are heading in the wrong direction or if we will find a balance between the physical and the virtual.

And then…as I experienced the blue screen of death, I realized that digital loss feels exactly like physical loss.

Back to the phone conversation with my daughter Melanie.

She began talking with me about how we attach ourselves to “things”. We have a friend who suffers from the debilitating problem of hoarding physical things. Although I am not qualified to explain the psychological reasons for hoarding, I suppose our attachment to digital files might be similar to our attachment to physical objects. Again and again, throughout our lives, we are required to let go. Melanie explained to me, with an expression of understanding and empathy, that while this loss can be painful- it can also be liberating. We let go of the non-essential and our burden is lightened.

My wound is healing. I may receive a call soon from the data restoration services guy (but I am fairly sure all of my data was lost). What is helping me gain strength after meeting the blue screen of death is the caring support of others. My storybowl about my lost rings was thrown out, but I did not lose what it meant. The Beatles were right. All you need is love.

Crowd Sourced Ebook

As I build a global professional network, I am grateful for the opportunity to meet colleagues (mostly virtually but sometimes physically) who struggle with the same obstacles in this fast-paced techno world. Having recently read and posted about the pessimistic outlook for the future (Nicholas Carr, Sherry Turkle, and James Gleick- all excellent reads), it is refreshing to collaborate with others who are hopeful about teaching the next generation of learners.  Two school library media specialists, Kristin Fontichiaro and Buffy Hamilton, are currently working on a crowd-sourced ebook for school  librarians with the goal of seeking best practices for 21st century learning.  I submitted a chapter proposal on virtual worlds in libraries, which is just one of the possibilities for new literacy formats.

 

What an intriguing example of new and exciting publishing opportunities! Writing, along with all traditional communication formats, is changing.  In my school library, I am currently presented with the opportunity to teach writing strategies with 4th graders.  I hope to share with them the excitement of new and innovative writing opportunities but also remind them of what all good writers have done in the past: write about what they know, what they are passionate about, take risks and try new genres, and revise, revise, revise.

 

With digital formats, like digital storytelling or blogging, revision seems different than with a pen.  The idea of digital revision is new territory.  I think watching the crowd-source ebook grow and change online is an example of taking a risk in a new form.  Collaborative digital revision-  I like that!