Time Enough for Slow Reading

Reports like this make me fidget. An appeal to the slow toward “meaning and pleasure” strikes me as less a call for “slow reading” as an idyllic, life-of-the-mind practice and more as a call for “slow[er] reading [than you do when you must hurry].” While I understand the urge to foster thicker, more patient relationships between readers and whatever they read, the “slow reading revolution” seems to me to frame of texts by default according to a filter-first logic, an already-filtered logic. The aim is not revolution, really, but involution by temporal variation, by changing speeds. According to Clay Shirky’s discussion of filtering and publishing in Here Comes Everybody and elsewhere, filter-then-publish aligns with broadcast and with editorial gate-keeping, screening that happens before publication. When user-generated content comes along, on the other hand, these events are reversed.  Publishing happens first, filtering after. For readers, then, the trouble with the web is that both varieties of content slosh around together (an indistinguishable stew): streams are not already separated into cooked content (i.e., filter-then-publish) or raw content (i.e., publish-then-filter). Filtering is crucial in a digital age not only because we need it to survive experientially this growing delta of user-generated content but because the already-filtered is drifting in its midst. These conditions require of online readers a heightened “filtering imperative” all the way up.  And yet my first, admittedly glancing, impression is that “slow reading” assumes filtering to be unproblematic or already settled–a given. Filtering is not exactly reading, right?, but filtering is pre-reading–a flitting relationship that, I would argue, cannot be as slow-probative-sluggish as slow reading advocates would like. Steven Johnson, in his introduction to The Best Technology Writing of 2009, differentiates the slow-fast as “skim and plunge,” allowing for nimble readers who can change speeds as skillfully as Kobe Bryant setting up a blow-by step. Slow reading advocates would appear more concerned more with plunge than with skim. Beyond “slow reading,” I am interested in filtering and in making these skim/plunge changes of speed explicit with students.

I don’t want to mischaracterize the slow reading movement. Nor do I want to seem disparaging or unfair in writing through, as I have done briefly here, a few of my impressions: viz., I have a book on my night stand that I have been reading at a pace of two pages a week for almost three years. Snails, that’s slow. Sometimes I skip a week. Or two. Even slower then. I wish I could quit the book, but there is no hurry. Such a dragged out reading as with this book is like watching a nature program in which a tortoise flips sand over its freshly laid eggs. Flip. Flip. Flip. Or the episode with a sloth reaching for that one succulent cecropia leaf still a meter beyond its lethargic reach. It just seems to me it’s possible to teach a “closer connection” or some deeper involvement with texts via read-alouds and memorization than by invoking a superficial opposition to the assumed-to-be-frenetic character of “reading” online.

MT 4.2

I just bussed in all of the upgrade files for Movable Type 4.2, so I had to
hustle together an entry to see whether it lives up to the
hoopla,
especially the faster page-creation times, which had become downright arthritic
with the latest releases (e.g., 4.x).

So far, I can offer the following (exclamation-style, so as to keep
with the mood of 4.2’s release):

  • the upgrade was a cinch. That’s good!
  • my search form is broken. That’s bad!
  • the basic templates held up. That’s good!
  • I will have to install a dummy blog and ransack its templates to
    troubleshoot the search error, and I have no time for that. That’s
    bad!
  • a full site rebuild took less then seven minutes. Good!
  • posting this entry took something like four seconds. Faster than before!

I still haven’t read any of the release materials closely enough to figure
out the difference between MT 4.2 and MT Pro. For now, my justification is
not only a case of the late-summer lazies, but also a principled objection to
the "Pro" designation, which, for my purposes, would be better if it were "Am"
or, on the best of days, "Pro-Am."