Friday, August 31, 2018

Friday morning things

* I've been reading some things (online) about what is commonly becoming known as "the shallows" - in other words, that the internet retrains your brain to skim and not to engage deeply with information, and that's why we have a lot of the problems we do (this is apparently one of the periodic cycles of "but critical thinking is dying!" I remember at least two previous ones, one during which those of us who teach were exhorted to teach it,'s kind of a bit much to expect us to inculcate those habits in a 20-year-old person when we might have them for a couple hours a week, sixteen weeks out of the year. I mean, yeah: I do my big "fact or cr*p" lecture about how online sources can be Very Bad Sources in some cases, and I do my old "what are they trying to sell you" spiel - which is similar to the "they're trying to take your nickels" spiel my dad gave my brother and me about advertising, more than 40 years ago now for me)

But anyway, I worried. Sometimes I do notice I kind of do that deep guttural groan (like a bored teenager) and consign some online thinkpiece that could have been said in about half the paragraphs to the "TL:DR" bin. And I told myself (because I am very good at telling myself this sort of thing:) "Well, you're not exactly reading HARD books lately, are you?" (Though arguably, "Forcing the Spring" requires a certain degree of sustained attention)

So the other night I pulled a more-complex-than-the-murder-mysteries book off the shelf. Anthony Trollope's "Miss Mackenzie." Because I have a LOT of Trollope (not quite everything in print that he wrote, but close) and ten years ago I remember LOVING his books.

And I started it.

And nope, my attention span or ability to read longer, more convoluted sentences, with less-familiar words hasn't tanked. I was still able to sustain attention and the one unfamiliar word I worked out from its roots and context. And it seems like a good story, as far in as I am.

(I have never read particularly fast, but maybe that's not such an awful thing: I do find when I read more slowly my comprehension and memory for what I've read is much better).

I suppose despite all my time in the kiddie pool that is online life, doing the stuff I have to do as a professor (to sustain the metaphor) means that I'm still swimming those long, hard laps.

(I do think "ability to pay attention" is a skill, and like all skills, it can be improved with work. Some people may have better native ability for it than others, but I think everyone can improve theirs. And part of it is having enough willpower to go "okay who's posting on Twitter" and things like that. And I find the Pomodoro method is great for that, when I have to be working sustainedly on something, because it permits short breaks, which one needs).

* I also wonder if playing the piano - even though I usually only have 20 minutes at a time to practice, and so have to do a couple sessions in a day - helps with my attention span. I know when I'm working *hard* on something (like a new piece - I am starting Bach's "Invention No. 8"), the time flies by because I'm thinking so hard about what I'm doing. It's when I'm nearly done with a piece, or when I've hit a wall with one and can't seem to improve (it happens) that the time seems to drag.

* Talk on ITFF about "what historical events do you remember/ do you remember precisely where you were for them?"

As I've noted before, the Jonestown Massacre is the first actual news story I remember hearing as it happened, though long before that I do remember my mother pointing out the Watergate to four-year-old me on a family trip to Washington, DC, and making some comment that alluded to the whole scandal it became eponymous for. (I didn't understand it until years later; I was looking for a literal gate that water came out of).

But, in terms of "where were you," I think these are the ones I remember, in no particular order:

1989 Loma Prieta earthquake - I had sat down to watch part of the World Series in my apartment in Ann Arbor, and there it happened....

1981 (?) Reagan being shot. I was home from school sick so I saw it as breaking news.

1986 the Challenger explosion

also 1986: the news stories about Chernobyl, though that was more a "the full horror is revealed over time as it developed" story

1989: the Berlin Wall coming down (sadly, the only "happy" event of the ones I remember seeing)

September 11, 2001: I was already teaching here, I remember sitting at this very desk frantically refreshing the news sites to try to learn more. Eventually they closed campus and sent us home.

the 1989 Ecole Polytechnique massacre in Montreal. I remember it partly because I was a woman-student-in-STEM at the time, partly because I lived close enough to Canada that I saw some of the CBC coverage.

the 1991 (?, again) riots after the Rodney King verdict - it was the first time I saw that kind of thing on television and I remember watching the whole thing with kind of a sick horror and wondering "is this the beginning of the end for our society?" and I admit I've wondered that more times in the past five or so years. Yes, it was a miscarriage of justice, as far as I could see, but beating up people not involved with the situation doesn't solve the problem.

The 1994 OJ Simpson slow-speed chase, which just led to months of surreal news coverage and now that I think of it, may have been the beginning of the weirding of the news.

The Columbine shooting - I remember watching the news about it in the "bedsit" I used in my parents' house and then thinking "well, this is really horrible, but it's a one-off thing, this will never happen again" and I wish I could go back to being that innocent.

The Virginia Tech shooting, which is probably a stand-in for all the other ones that I've kind of become numb to - I remember that one because the news came as I was sitting in my office, and also, a colleague lost a cousin in the shooting.

The 1997 death of Princess Diana (which I guess today is the anniversary of? Well, it's also my parents' 59th wedding anniversary) and shortly after it, the death of Mother Teresa.

The death of Pope John Paul II, partly because he had been pope so long (he was not the only one during my life but he was the Pope for much of my life). And also, with the Polish connection: I grew up in an area with a lot of Polish Catholic immigrants, and I know that Pope was much-loved by many of them.

And yeah. As I said, of those events, only the Berlin wall coming down could particularly be called a happy one. It makes me feel rather old and very sad, and as I joked on ITFF "Can I go home and go back to bed now?"

I also remember eras: the energy crisis (waiting in the car in a gas line with my dad, keeping the thermostat down), the Iran Hostage crisis, the period right after the crash of 2008, the period right after September 11, 2001 - the worry and the strange things that happened and the rumors you heard.

OH! And the Mt. St. Helens eruption of 1980; I remember my dad calling my brother and me to watch the news coverage on it. I guess that's a more neutral event even though a few people did die in it - it's not like some human deciding to do evil against other humans.

* This afternoon is the first fieldwork with my research student. I won't lie: I'm apprehensive because of how hot it's going to be. I'll be glad when we're done for today.

(I also have Labor Day off. I do have a *little* work to do for school - an exam to write and I should re-read "The Tragedy of the Commons" again before Tuesday's discussion in Policy and Law - but I also need to take some time to relax).

I want to wash up the flannel I bought and try to make the two pairs of pajama shorts I was planning on doing. And I want to at least finish the first sleeve of Augusta.

* Someone on Twitter going by the handle of "Mr. Roger" posted this:

Could we, without relentlessly criticizing, let people have their pumpkin spice, and avacado toast, and their fandoms, and their D&D, and their too-early-Halloween-decorations, and whatever little harmless things in which they’ve manage to find a tiny shriveled flower of joy?

You know what? Yes. The other thing is some of the stuff that gets snarked about (like the pumpkin spice latte) are specifically things young women like, and I cannot help but wonder if there's some ageism or misogyny or something at work there.

I'm not big on Halloween myself, seeing it more as a holiday for kids, but I will not begrudge anyone decorating for it if it makes them happy. (Heck, I still have my string of spider lights - I should pull them out and put them up in a little while, maybe when I change out the pastel "summer" door wreath for the fall themed one). (Someone I follow on Twitter - who goes by the handle Dinosaur Dracula - LOVES Hallowe'en and I admit I enjoy seeing his enthusiasm and excitement and fun even if I wouldn't find the same stuff fun as he finds fun)

One thing I've also realized is that pretending to be 100% a grown up, in the stereotypical sense (watching the news or "evening soaps" instead of cartoons, only reading serious stuff, getting rid of any toys you have) is for the birds, because as long as you're not defaulting on your responsibilities (and oh heck, I meet my responsibilities even to my own detriment some times), you're FINE. And no one should care what makes you happy if you're not hurting anyone.

So I try to talk only of the things I like and not snark on the things I don't care about, because I know someone else cares about them. And while I do criticize behaviors, it is because those behaviors have "bad ripples" - if you don't bother to pay attention in class and are totally lost, you get done with the work more slowly, you annoy your class mates, you make the professor spend more time helping you and she has less time for the other students...

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