Chicago Boyz

                 
 
 
What Are Chicago Boyz Readers Reading?
 

 
  •   Enter your email to be notified of new posts:
  •   Problem? Question?
  •   Contact Authors:

  • CB Twitter Feed
  • Blog Posts (RSS 2.0)
  • Blog Posts (Atom 0.3)
  • Incoming Links
  • Recent Comments

    • Loading...
  • Authors

  • Notable Discussions

  • Recent Posts

  • Blogroll

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Duz Web Mak Us Dumr?

    Posted by David Foster on June 8th, 2008 (All posts by )

    Nicholas Carr, writing in The Atlantic, suggests that the Internet is changing the way people think, and specifically interfering with the ability to concentrate:

    I can feel it too. Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going–so far as I can tell–but it’s changing…I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do.

    Of course, the idea that emerging communications media change the way people think and perceive the world is not a new one. As Carr notes, Socrates expressed concern about the development of writing, fearing that people would “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful,” and, worse, that they would be “filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom.” Concerns were also raised when the printing press was introduced.

    In the early 19th century, a journalist writing about the introduction of the telegraph marveled:

    This extraordinary discovery leaves…no elsewhere…it is all here.

    Heinrich Heine, living in Paris in 1843, made a similar observation about the coming of the railroads:

    I feel the mountains and forests of all countries advancing towards Paris. Already, I smell the scent of German lime-trees; the North-Sea breaks on my doorstep.

    Closer to our own time, we’ve seen the introduction of the photography, radio, the phonograph, and television. I’m currently reading Eric Weitz’s Weimar Germany, which has some intereresting comments about the impact of the first three of these innovations. Arnold Schoenberg, for one, was a harsh critic of radio, saying that it “accustoms the ear to an unspeakably coarse tone, and to a body of sound constituted in a soupy, blurred way, which precludes all finer differentiation.” He worried that radio gave music a “continuous tinkle” that would eventually result in a state wherein “all music has been consumed, worn out.”

    Weitz quotes Joseph Roth, who lived in Berlin in the 1920s:

    There are no more secrets in the world. The whispered confessions of a despondent sinner are available to all the curious ears of a community, which thanks to the wireless telephone has become a pack…No one listened any longer to the song of the nightingale and the chirp of conscience. No one followed the voice of reason and each allowed himself to be drowned out by the cry of instinct.

    Roth didn’t much like photography, either:

    People who had completely ordinary eyes, all of a sudden obtain a look. The indifferent become thoughtful, the harmless full of humor, the simpleminded become goal oriented, the common strollers look like pilots, secretaries like demons, directors like Caesars.

    The Canadian professor Marshall McLuhan wrote famously about the impact of television, arguing that the nature of the medium had an impact entirely separate from any content transmitted–that, for example, Jack Kennedy had won the election against Richard Nixon because TV is a “cool” medium, well-suited to Kennedy’s personality and hostile to that of Nixon. (McLuhan had earlier written about the impact of printing on perceptions and thought processes.)

    So, what do you think? Has the Internet had an effect on the way you think–and particularly, on your reading and TV/film watching?

     

    39 Responses to “Duz Web Mak Us Dumr?”

    1. Shannon Love Says:

      Medium does definitely change how people organize information in their memories but I don’t think it changes their actual cognition on matters they seriously think about.

      Back before mass literacy verse was the dominate mode of information storage. People could recite thousands of line of verse, new thousands of rhyming couples and could extemporize verse for fun. They did so because the mnemonic function of verse helped to preserve orally transmitted information. With the spread of literacy, prose overtook verse and nowadays not even professional poets bother with meter and rhyme.

      There is a pattern of people tending to accord new forms of communication with more authority than old sources. The witchhunt craze of the 1600’s and early 1700’s arose in large part due to people uncritically accepting the assertions of anti-witch mass produced books which were new at the time. The telegram prompted several financial hysteria in Europe because people accepted rumors spread by telegraph. The War of Worlds hoax occurred in the early days of radio and in the 1950’s people seemed to take anything on TV as gospel. In the late 90’s several prominent journalist and academics took internet rumors seriously and email frauds had a field day.

      I think media can distort thinking if people let the emotional immediacy of the medium sway their thinking. TV lets people see graphic images and the internet lets people see the point of view of ordinary individuals caught up in extraordinary circumstances. This emotional effect can skew people’s judgment.

      I don’t think, however, that medium changes the way people actually think. I am a graphical thinker and I still think that way even though I get most of my information through text. Changing largely changes how people remember things. Progressing technology has led us to progressively unload more and more raw information onto external storage while our own minds hold progressively more conceptual information.

    2. Ginny Says:

      I’m willing to assume people are not getting “stupid” and that the move from oral to written language was largely a gain in shared knowledge but was also a loss of certain skills and ways of looking at the world. I’m also willing to assume that we are gaining more than we are losing today. For instance, the availability of real knowledge via the net (as well as crap knowledge) is extraordinary. Facts can be checked and doublechecked, dots connected so quickly that we are willing to put in the energy to do it. Amazon has made buying related works much easier and less hit and miss.

      Nonetheless, both on the graduate level and the level of open admissions junior college, the willingness of students to read long works, to try to enter the worlds of writers from another era seems to be diminished. They seem to expect us to take seriously their complaints that a work isn’t “interesting” to them or isn’t “applicable” to their problems. They don’t want to leave their world but to reinforce it. (Of course, that is a centuries old complaint, it just seems more prevalant now.)

      Right now, I’m trying to piece together a syllabus for a 4 1/2 week summer semester. My friend teaches the class, assigning only one nouvelle. Traditionally, I’ve assigned three good length novels as well as two or three nouvelles (plus full days or two each on Frost, Eliot, and Stevens). I’m wondering if people who spend perhaps more of their time reading (blogs, text messaging, etc.) than we did but a good deal less time with books are really up to that kind of reading assignments. The class I have right now seems up to it – but it has more mature people in it and several dropped after seeing the syllabus. Maybe the kindle (and its successors) will make a difference in attention span, etc. Or not.

    3. Mrs. Davis Says:

      Mr. Carr deserves our sympathy. He is getting old and the world is changing faster than he can. It’s an uncomfortable feeling I know well. How I recall that we described our coursework as lacking “relevance”. But that term seems to have fallen from favor, replaced by “applicable”. Not a step in the right direction if you ask me. Tomorrow I shall have to ask my broker who owns Classics Illustrated. Sounds like a BUY.

    4. Shannon Love Says:

      Ginny,

      They seem to expect us to take seriously their complaints that a work isn’t “interesting” to them or isn’t “applicable” to their problems. They don’t want to lea

      While watching with my children popular entertainment aimed at children, in both the programs and commercials, I have noticed a repeated theme that children have the right to expect constant entertainment. They shouldn’t have to do things that are tedious and boring. Everything should be exciting or fun every single second or its actually unjust.

      I have made it a practice to point out gross instances of that concept to my children when I see it in an attempt to inoculate them against the concept. I tried to teach them that toleration for boredom is an important trait for success.

    5. Robert Schwartz Says:

      Arnold Schoengerg … worried that radio … would eventually result in a state wherein “all music has been consumed, worn out.”

      That is rich. The man was a one man wrecking crew who created an incredible amount of unlistenable glub. He was just afraid that folks who listened to Mozart over the radio would stay away from his junk.

    6. David Foster Says:

      By the way, Nick Carr has a blog here–mostly about technology matters. No posts referring to his Atlantic article yet, but this 2006 post is on the same general subject.

    7. Lexington Green Says:

      You left out the earliest one of all! Plato somewhere has Socrates saying that everyone learning to write was going to be incredibly destructive: No one would be able to memorize and recite poetry anymore, etc.

      I find that it is easy to waste a lot of time on the Internet. I have to exercise discipline and treat it with respect, as addictive.

    8. veryretired Says:

      It is more than just patterns of cognition or restlessness when faced with long, complex works in an older literary style. Each of my children have complained in turn as they hit a certain grade level and had to read classics like “Great Expectations”.

      Younger people who have grown up with electronics and the internet as familiar as telephones and radios live in a different universe, in a great many ways, than their parents and grandparents. They have friends around the world, can communicate and do research instantly, and have a radically different sense of time and cultural location.

      They live in a different, faster, more stimulating reality, measured in nano-seconds and gigabytes. From Sesame Street to the Matrix, having passed through hundreds of RPG worlds and Sim cultural constructs, it is not surprising that the old classics are somewhat boring.

      Hell, I’m just old, not even a classic, and the kids start yawning about 12 seconds into any conversation I try to have with them about history or movies without CGI.

      Are they going to memorize great swatches of Shakespeare or Milton? Probably not. But they can tell you where to find Indonesian recipes, or how to buy just about anything while you sit on the living room couch, or any one of a million other apps I can’t even understand, much less handle easily. They’re not dumr, just difrent.

    9. Roux Says:

      I don’t know about dumber but it seems to make people lazy. Step away from the computer!

    10. BlogDog Says:

      Article – too long. Couldn’t finish. Shorter next time please. Kthanxbai.

      I am, of course, kidding. It’s not the internet that’s making us lose attention. It’s an unwillingness to pay said attention that results in zippity zap zap. I make it a point to read books that are not all in the moment in order to stay grounded. But I also enjoy LOLcats.

    11. jt Says:

      Good grief. Let’s not forget that these alleged dummies are *reading,* often for hours at a time. And *writing,* too, a lot of the time. And they know how to use computers. Maybe the Internet generation is a little self-absorbed, but I suspect they end up learning more than they do in public schools.

      (I can’t help remembering that when I was a kid, my parents were fretting over the way comic books were going to destroy my little brain. Amazingly, I’m still able to enjoy thousand-page works of history with not a single picture or super-hero. Go figure.)

    12. Art Says:

      Attention spans have become shorter and shorter the past fifty years. Which is why there are more and more specialists than there ever were, given the expanded amount of information and knowledge one has had to learn in any given area. Generalists were becoming rare. The jack of all trades master of none had been left behind by the array of specialtists who can do any given task faster, sometimes cheaper and probably better, and the the Jacks remaining were fading fast. Look at medicine as an example.

      But the internet has given new life to the Jacks by allowing anyone access to whatever area is at task at the moment. And by judicious selection, one can relatively quickly become greatly informed about areas the specialist has been working on for years, and who is surprised at the level of questions and knowledge the Jack can present to him.

      It appears to me the internet has recycled the generalist trade within the population. And this is good, for without them there is no one to put things into perspective. So for this affect, the internet has been great, in my opinion.

    13. Jim Durbin Says:

      I disagree with the statement entirely. The internet is about choice, and what it’s done is open up a the storehouse of human knowledge and greatly expanded our ability to choose what kind of media we read, listen to, or view.

      I still read lengthly books, but find myself not finishing bad ones. I find the same with movies. Now with Tivo, I don’t have to sit through bad movies and television. I can delete and watch something else I want. I don’t have to read the local paper all the way through, then feel disgusted that I wasted time on such tripe – I can read national papers, or blogs, or online magazines and get the information I wanted.

      If the internet prevents you from long bouts of reading, its more likely that the information on the internet is more compelling, better written, and more topical than the books that were available.

    14. David Nishimura Says:

      While watching with my children popular entertainment aimed at children, in both the programs and commercials, I have noticed a repeated theme that children have the right to expect constant entertainment. They shouldn’t have to do things that are tedious and boring. Everything should be exciting or fun every single second or its actually unjust.

      I’ve noticed the same, along with the equally pernicious theme of celebrating transgressive behavior for which there never seems to be any consequences (the exact opposite of the TV morality plays of the Leave It To Beaver era).

      In these cases, though, it is clearly the message, not the medium.

    15. David Prince Says:

      Ginny,

      My 12 year old suggests you read this instead of those Victorian Novels you like so much:
      http://www.gamefaqs.com/console/xbox360/file/943273/53015

      He says it probably isn’t applicable to your life, but according to him, all things video game should be done for their own sake.

      Now you go get busy, and Logan will expect a check for $1000 for his trouble.
      -David
      P.S. He says that you might assign the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in your classes since it treats such deep issues as God’s existence and the meaning of life in a humorous and interesting format. Something we can all get behind.

      P.S.S. Any grammatical or spelling errors in this post I blame on the internet. In fact, anything short of brilliant is Al Gore’s fault.

    16. Robert Says:

      One of the interesting points Carr makes in the Atlantic piece is that Socrates and others who complained about the effects of a new communication medium weren’t wrong or mistaken. Most of the effects they decry did come true. But, Carr says, there’s a net gain for humanity if you factor in other benefits from the new technology.

      Let’s hope he’s right. What I worry about is the social effects of today’s impatience with arguments that are longer and more complex than a sound bite. That is, a inability (or unwillingness) to process extended pieces of writing.

      What happens to a technologically based society when most of its members can’t or won’t deal with anything complex in written form? Or, for that matter, in any form?

      It’s not just writing. Science and technology museums have long become used to the idea that displays have to do something visibly and quickly, or kids will walk away.

      Maybe this is really a case of society generally losing its ability to defer gratification.

      (By the way, as I finish writing this comment, I notice that I’ve structured it in short paragraphs with basically one idea each. A perfect, if unconscious, example of the effect!)

    17. Mrs. Davis Says:

      These excerpts from a Harpers article reprinting the 1989 Dartmouth commencement address by Joseph Brodsky taken from a book of his essays deals with the pervasive reality of boredom and the opportunity it presents. I consider the full treatment to be in a class with Ecclesiastes.

    18. Heather Says:

      What happens to a technologically based society when most of its members can’t or won’t deal with anything complex in written form? Or, for that matter, in any form?

      Did you ever see Mike Judge’s film Idiocracy?

    19. Barry Says:

      “Each of my children have complained in turn as they hit a certain grade level and had to read classics like “Great Expectations”.

      LOL

      I’m 42 years old, so I’m not a kid who grew up with the Internet. Videogames? Well, I did have a Pong game hooked to the B/W TV set.

      Way back in high school, I scored in the 99th percentile on my SAT Verbal, then scored 5/5 on the AP English test. I went on to double major in Writing and Biology.

      And you know what? I complained about reading Dickens at the same age as “these kids today”! I wouldn’t read it now unless I were kidnapped by FARC and “Great Expectations” was the only English-language literature available to me to pass the time. I’ve never read a word of his lengthy and slow writings when I wasn’t being graded. They were originally published as serials, and as might be expected, they’re about as riveting as watching 50 straight hours of a modern soap opera over the course of a few days.

      You know what else? We never read any Heinlein. I would have preferred Heinlein, and I also would have gained more from it than I did from Dickens. Sure, now I can call something “Dickensian” and know what it means, but since nobody else does, it’s of no use to me. Too much of what I was forced to read led to my being reluctant to read fiction for amusement, to this very day.

      I appreciate the Canon, and I support the notion. However, it probably could use a housecleaning, and not just to shoehorn in some token “author of color” into it here and there.

      Finally, Robbe-Grillet’s “The Erasers” was published long before the Internet was a twinkle in DARPA’s eye…

    20. Allison Says:

      –While watching with my children popular entertainment aimed at children, in both the programs and commercials, I have noticed a repeated theme that children have the right to expect constant entertainment. They shouldn’t have to do things that are tedious and boring. Everything should be exciting or fun every single second or its actually unjust.
      I’ve noticed the same, along with the equally pernicious theme of celebrating transgressive behavior for which there never seems to be any consequences (the exact opposite of the TV morality plays of the Leave It To Beaver era).

      You don’t have to watch popular entertainment, you know. you don’t have to watch commercials either. And you can keep your kids from it.

      Thomas the Tank Engine is nothing but morality plays. Their egos, laziness, avoidance, anger, etc. cause confusion and delay each and every episode.

      It’s still possible to not give in to the predominant culture.

    21. John Maguire Says:

      All our synapses are the result of experience. Whenever we have an experience with a “new” medium, we are making synaptic connections which only that medium makes possible. So we are always reprogramming our brains, to one degree or another.

      Different media of communication (and I include here the channel of open-air face-to-face communication) provide different experiences. The masterpiece on the subject is Joshua Meyrowitz’s No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behavior.

      Different media require different levels of concentration and processing. Get used to a fast medium, and you will be training yourself away from the slow. Get used to impersonal experiences, and you will lost some of your social skills. Do all your reading on line in five-minute bursts, and you will be less able to concentrate on a long book. This is just basic.

      We who learned how to read young, perhaps by struggling to read Dickens at age 14, don’t have much to worry about. But today’s, kids who are now between 10 and 16 and who are doing no reading at all that requires sustained concentration–I think they will be in trouble. I agree with the writer Jane Healey: she says that there is a only a temporary window for learning the high order of attention that is needed to understand, say, Dickens or Barbara Tuchman or any book-length argument. She suggests that youngsters who don’t learn fluent book-length reading by the end of high school will never learn it.

      I teach college freshmen at a public university in Massachusetts, and can report with distress that many of them will say, almost proudly, “I never read books.” The tone of voice implies that books are so old-fashioned–like horse-and-buggy travel–things of the past. Pitifully ignorant, some of these kids are.

    22. John Maguire Says:

      Okay–on second thought–correction. This past year, a *few* students said, “I never read books” in that tone of superiority. A number of other students in the classroom gave non-verbal signs of their agreement and assent.

    23. Anonymous Says:

      What happens to a technologically based society when most of its members can’t or won’t deal with anything complex in written form? Or, for that matter, in any form?

      Maybe this.

    24. Kirk Parker Says:

      Oops, I didn’t mean to be anonymous!

    25. k Says:

      ~children have the right to expect constant entertainment.~

      This is not just true in the mass media. Take a look at any teacher’s guide – emphasis is always on “making learning FUN!”

      As long as 25 years ago, I heard a Latin teacher in my high school state that, “because of TV,” he had to resort to theatrics in the classroom to keep his students’ interest. That would have been very shortly after our community even GOT cable (before, it was just the 3 channels, and one of those was fuzzy).

      The trend that is scary and weird is that children no longer seem rewarded, inspired, or motivated by the act of learning, the idea of knowing more than they used to, the benefits of understanding more deeply. Whether the increased exposure to MORE information will ultimately outweigh the lack of desire to understand and “dig in,” only time will tell. Will greater breadth of knowledge and less depth be good or bad?

    26. Barry Says:

      Still, why Dickens?

      Is it not possible to teach a generation to struggle through a novel that will make reading seem a bit more attractive”

      There’s a REASON they proudly say, “I don’t read books.” If they’d run across books that gave them an inkling of why they might want to read them, maybe at least some of them might choose to do so. Is anyone helping to evangelize? If these kids need to hear the Gospel of Literature, then how is harping on their disliking Dickens going to spread the Good News, here?

      Look, Dickens is neither the only writer in the English language, nor the best. His books are essentially obsolete pop lit.

      My parents went to school well after the ballpoint pen became commonplace. They were forced to use dip pens. Of course, little girls’ only dresses were ruined, ink bottles became tools for practical jokes, children were punished for spilling ink, and all for what, exactly? To assuage the teachers’ perverse need to subject their students to whatever difficulties they’d experienced as children? Wouldn’t the students’ time in school been better spent learning something more significant than the proper use of obsolete writing implements?

    27. Anonymous Says:

      John Maquire…Jane Healy’s work is interesting. One of the things she argues is that TV programs which teach reading by making letters jump around and do cute tricks are actually harmful to the development of reading skills, because letters on a real printed page don’t behave in any such way.

      Kirk Parker…the Morlocks and Eloi make an appearance in my post Metaphors, Interfaces, and Thought.

    28. Barry Says:

      Addendum:

      I do not mean to suggest that students shouldn’t be exposed to Dickens. However, if the objective is to teach them to read books somewhat more difficult than “Go Dog Go!” then there are several ways to approach this. Is it so horrible to consider requiring them to read works that they might find relevant, at least with some coaching?

    29. david foster Says:

      Anonymous, above, was me.

      One class of “media” that has evolved in recent years is the “tunnels of oppression” which have become popular on some university campuses. These generally seem intended to inculcate particular ethical and political opinions, rather than to encourage connected thinking. I believe they represent “sensorial interfaces” in the terminology of the Stephenson book referred to in the post linked in the comment above.

      “Tunnels of oppression” have been extensively discussed by Erin O’Connor.

    30. memomachine Says:

      Hmmmm.

      Frankly the only thing that I’ve seen change in my reading habits is that I’m far less forgiving of bad, unwieldy or excessive prose.

      Make your point, get on with it and don’t clutter everything up with pointless nonsense.

    31. Robert Schwartz Says:

      “Each of my children have complained in turn as they hit a certain grade level and had to read classics like “Great Expectations”.”

      I didn’t get it when I was 15, and I don’t get it 45 years later. Unlike Barry, I wouldn’t read it even if I were kidnapped by FARC. There would have to be something better to do, like counting the hairs on the back of my hand.

    32. memomachine Says:

      Hmmmm.

      “The trend that is scary and weird is that children no longer seem rewarded, inspired, or motivated by the act of learning, the idea of knowing more than they used to, the benefits of understanding more deeply. Whether the increased exposure to MORE information will ultimately outweigh the lack of desire to understand and “dig in,” only time will tell. Will greater breadth of knowledge and less depth be good or bad?”

      Actually I think the internet is self-reinforcing. Take a good hard look at any reasonably serious discussion. It becomes easily apparent that form and substance in writing style is both important and impressive. People who write in semi-literate forms generally aren’t taken very seriously and those that show excessive ignorance get schooled regularly. In such an environment you don’t have 1 teacher and 40 students. Instead you’ve got 1 student and hundreds of potential teachers.

      A classic example are discussion forums dedicated to software development. Invariably there will be new users who come in and ask relatively repetitive questions and are shown the way to a solution. They return more and more, are inoculated with the community’s standards and often find themselves at a future point as the hoary oldster.

      *shrug* Frankly I don’t see the downside.

    33. memomachine Says:

      Hmmmm.

      “I didn’t get it when I was 15, and I don’t get it 45 years later. Unlike Barry, I wouldn’t read it even if I were kidnapped by FARC. There would have to be something better to do, like counting the hairs on the back of my hand.”

      I completely agree. I read hundreds of web pages, novels and technical manuals each and every single week but I cannot bring myself to read “Moby Dick”.

      I get 10 pages into it and it’s just revolting to me.

    34. fred.lapides Says:

      If I had to choose between having the internet or my family on a desert island, my question would be: how fast is the connection going to be?

    35. David Prince Says:

      Agree with Barry, Robert, and Memo. What’s wrong, exactly, with Twain, btw.? One wonders if perhaps women are running this whole school thing these days.

      The Internet is much more active than a book. In fact, there are games you can play, where everything is read, and yet it is extremely active. Boys love these games. Prior to Runescape, I played what is called a MUD. Mine was Multi Users in Middle Earth or MUME. It was a living Tolkien world that was entirely experienced as text. It really turned me on to computers and now I can support myself, which I could not do with my knowledge of literature. Though I confess, I find Philosophy much more helpful and to my tastes than English Lit.

      I hope I got the cite code correct. Very odd to have a containing tag with nothing to contain.

      I taught High School. Grades 9-12 all major ethnic/racial students in my class. As a matter of fact, we had fun. The more fun I had, the more fun the students had. Learning SHOULD be fun. If it isn’t, someone isn’t very creative. But what I want to say here is that MY manual said “KEEP DISCIPLINE IN THE CLASSROOM”. I did that as well. When learning is fun, who needs discipline?

      I know this was a lot to read and rambling. If you didn’t read it, I don’t blame you.

    36. David Prince Says:

      This is not just true in the mass media. Take a look at any teacher’s guide – emphasis is always on “making learning FUN!”

      Test

      The Victorian Literature that got me fired up was the lively dialectic between Newman, Arnold, and Huxley. To be in a classroom questioning the very foundations of that class…THAT is fun!

    37. veryretired Says:

      A couple of miscellaneous observations given some of the other comments.

      The point of reading historical literary works is not that they are exciting or even particularly interesting to most people, but that they exemplify the state of art of literature at various stages and in various cultures. I’m sure that there are any number of people who find the works of Homer or Dante or Melville or any number of other major figures intrinsically fascinating, as I find Shakespeare, for an example, but the great majority of students suffer through these works for the same educational purpose as introductory courses in statistics or botany, i.e., to gain a foundation for further study and appreciation.

      I only mentioned “Expectations” because it was a joke around my house for years that, if one couldn’t sleep, just try to read a few pages of that book, and you’d be out for the night. My recent college grad swore it was better than Nyquil.

      More seriously, it seems to me that the problem isn’t with which books are assigned, or whether or not TV shows are too bouncy and fun for teachers to compete against. (A view my wife and I have held for decades) The true crux of the problem may very well be that the current 19th century industrial model of mass education is finally reaching its expiration date, and an entirely new, or at least extensively remodeled, system will have to be developed to replace it.

      Whatever the future holds, two predictions are locks—1) the educational/academic establishment will fight any systemic reforms tooth and nail; 2)the current school generation will, as parents and grandparents, lament the falling standards of education for their children, and despair that such an ill educated group could ever deal with the critical issues of their time.

      Entrenched administrative organizations always resist any meaningful changes in the way they make their living, and elders have been tut-tutting over the failings of the youngsters since those Egyptian writings of several thousand years ago decrying the ignorance and blasphemous disrespect of the up and coming generation.

      For the record, I think the kids coming up will make us all very, very proud before they’re done. I only hope I can stick around to see some of it. I won’t ever walk on Mars, but one of my grandchildren’s kids might.

    38. Robert Schwartz Says:

      memomachine: “I read hundreds of web pages, novels and technical manuals each and every single week but I cannot bring myself to read “Moby Dick”.”

      I read Moby Dick for the third time in 2001 after recalling the following passage from Chapter 1:

      And, doubtless, my going on this whaling voyage, formed part of the grand program of Providence that was drawn up a long time ago. It came in as a sort of brief interlude and solo between more extensive performances. I take it that this part of the bill must have run something like this:

      Grand Contested Election for the Presidency of the United States

      Whaling Voyage by one Ishmael

      BLOODY BATTLE IN AFGHANISTAN

    39. Don Says:

      From Star Trek: The Voyage Home –

      “Kirk: You mean the profanity? That’s simply the way they talk here. Nobody pays attention to you unless you swear every other word. You’ll find it in all the literature of the period.
      Spock: For example?
      Kirk: Oh the neglected works of Jacqueline Susan. The novels of Harold Robbins…
      Spock: Ah. The Giants. “