Manic Monfri

Most notable about EWM’s sixth year (2009, plus a few days) is that never in a month did I write more than ten entries. I don’t know whether this is more a comment on the blog or a comment on the year or a comment on their irreconcilability, their mismatch. Whatever the causes, there was less, less than any year before considering every other annual cycle consisted of 10+ monthly entries. 2009: Tweets a-bunch, blogs abyss.

Indeed, today marks another blogday, and since I haven’t missed announcing any previous blogday, I feel an obligation to mention the historic occasion (everything, after all, is more impactful if “historic”). Cake? No. We will celebrate at home later with leftover cod chowder (simple, delicious, i.e., better than expected), cheddar biscuits, and if somebody else feels like baking them, brownies. Today also happens to be a Monfri to top all Monfries: the first day of the first week of the new semester at EMU and, for me, the last day of the first week of the new semester at EMU. Frenzied, manic. Monfri, the average of Monday and Friday, their median, or Wednesday, depending on how you mark it in your day planner. Monfri, the grue moon of academe. No telling whether today is also EWM’s Monfri, the critical moment mid-distant between its initiation and its termination. No telling.

I’m teaching ENGL328 this semester, again unpicking the triple squareknot at the intersection of writing, style, and technology. Introducing myself in the first class this morning, I mentioned that I’m looking forward to re-establishing a regular reading and writing schedule this winter (perhaps it sounded like “irregular” as I said it). It’s not that I neglected to read and write in the fall, exactly. But I wouldn’t describe those four months as acceptably disciplined or scheduled. Not up to my standards, anyway. And I gather, hints and clues, that it’s typical in first years of new appointments to experience an irregular stride, an arrhythmia attributable to figuring things out, getting bearings, settling.

Moving Meditation

I was out of town and more or less offline late last week when the
July/August Atlantic Monthly hit newsstands with its front cover blazing
the title of Nicholas Carr’s
article, "Is Google
Making Us Stoopid?" (the "Stoopid" is much sexier on the actual cover than it is
here because the letters are done colorfully and in the Google font).
Jeff and

Alex
posted thoughtful responses, and I am sure there will be more.

Carr’s article, if you have not read it yet, hops along like Level 1 on
Frogger (which, coincidentally, was released in 1981): without much exertion,
the argument leaps from personal anecdote to the role of media in shaping
cognition to the insidious effects of too much easy access to information via
Google: drumroll…

"[A]s we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world,
it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence" (63).

Carr welcomes skeptics but also fends off all-out dismissals of his deep
wariness of the changes he has experienced first-hand. He begins the article
with his own reasons for believing this "flattening" to be endemic and imminent
for Google users: 1.) he is more and more easily distracted in his own attempts
to read anything longer than a couple of pages and 2.) what was once
pain-staking research is now available to him almost instantaneously. With a
simple search, he can quickly summon great heaps of material on [enter search
terms]: "And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for
concentration and contemplation" (57).

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Second, Subsequent Streams

Revisions have been challenging. Having resolved myself to more
drafting before squaring with revisions, the commented drafts of my
dissertation’s introduction and first two chapters tend to taunt me. I haven’t
figured out how to fit it in, how to make room for it given the other regular
paces. I’d been meaning (for a couple of weeks) to get through some of the
first-stage directorial comments to those early chapters, mostly because I want
them to be ready for the rest of my committee sometime in Marchpril and also
because I have at least one other reader who I’m trying to get them ready for.
So I took a leap head-long into the "When will I revise?" problem on Saturday,
and spent most of the day with it.

The introduction was fairly easy. It’s elastic: short, overviewy, and
without glaring needs. It was manageable to get through all of the
comments, and make appropriate adjustments, leaving aside the summaries of the
last two chapters (5, 6) because are yet unwritten. But working through
Chapter One was somewhat more daunting; I expected this since it is much thicker
than the introduction. I got through all of the superficial stuff, and ended up
with a list, indexed by page, of what is left: two placeholder notes (no work
required), four easy changes (citation adding, a one-sentence gloss on this or
that), seven moderately difficult changes (almost all of which require some
re-reading of sources), and one major change (a section that I will probably
re-write from scratch with a slightly different–simpler–focus). It is
helpful to have the index; but I don’t know when I will get to it. Perhaps
in Marchpril. Or Mayune. (Ay, clearly, we need a better vocabulary for two-month
units).

I am not in panic mode about the demands of revision, the frequency or scope
of the changes due (I know because I have not been tempted to add exclamatory
emphasis to any of this.). But I still don’t know how to work those
revisions into what has been, out of necessity, a fairly compacted daily
schedule. In this room-for-revision conundrum there lingers a problem of
rhythm-breaking, and it’s difficult to embrace that challenge when it’s been so
challenging just to establish a more or less even writing rhythm (the dailiness
of dissertating, call it). Perhaps as much as anything, blogging has prepared me
for the dailiness, but I still feel somewhat spun-around (i.e., vertigahh!) by
the prospect of taking revision very seriously while drafting. To say
nothing of other projects needing attention. So maybe if I stack all of it
in a tidy pile on the deepest corner of my desk, it will still be there when I
get to it in a couple of weeks.

Mark All As Read

For the past several months I’ve been using
Google Reader to aggregate the loose
pieces of the day into a readable list. I was a fairly dedicated
Bloglines user before that. Both
systems seem to skip certain feeds occasionally. That said, I’m not quite
prepared to pass around any glowing recommendations for Google Reader.
It’s especially lacking in its handling of del.icio.us feeds. For that
reason alone, I’ve considered switching back to Bloglines. I also like Bloglines’
Keep New check-box better than Google’s Add Star option, but before I go too far
with a critique of Google, I should experiment a bit more with the settings.
To be fair, I haven’t spent all that much time checking out the full range of
options and settings.

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