The last time we moved internet service was just becoming an issue. When we first came to our Somerville apartment we had dial-up. Do you believe it? Shortly after that FIOS came to town and we decided to give it a try, but at a fairly low speed. We’ve always tried to be responsible with money and I naturally balk at paying for something as intangible and amorphous as “internet connectivity.” I guess I’m a naive realist after all. In any case, one of the top priorities in moving to our new place was getting internet set up. Even before electricity or gas or water. It has become THE utility. The place to pay the bills for all the other utilities. And since I’m now telecommuting, the umbilical cord that connects me to work.
I don’t mean to sound all grandpa-ish on you, but just twelve years ago we struggled for any connection at all. We had one computer (and one work laptop) and only the desktop had internet access. Many of the arcane pieces of hardware found in the attic were from attempts to get us onto the net more efficiently. We even had to draw up a contract for who could use the computer and for how long since all of us wanted that magic window onto the virtual world. Now, like most households, we have wifi and high speed access. When we’re not at the computer, we have our smart phones at hand. The strangest thing about all of this is that now that we’ve got constant connection, our nation has become as polarized as it has ever been. Perhaps we see a little too much of each other? Or too little?
The web has connected us to those we like. Walking down the street it’s rare to find someone not staring at their phone, ignoring all living beings around him or her. We’ve been able to filter out those we don’t like. Those who have different points of view. The net shows us that we aren’t alone, and even those with extreme views can find plenty of compatriots in cyberspace. There’s a reason we used to be told not to discuss religion or politics. Now we know everybody else’s business.
There was a time when moving meant going to where the jobs are. Especially in academia. Colleges and universities exist in set locations. In space-time. Telecommuting isn’t an option (although even that’s happening in some cases now). Moving these days means weighing your internet access options. Satellite is just too slow and unreliable. Who would’ve imagined, for those of us born just after Sputnik went up, that now even space-based connections just aren’t advanced enough? Cyberspace has become more infinite than outer space. And I still prefer pencil and paper.
I’m moving. It turns out that transport companies don’t offer service to Enceladus, and inter-planetary moves are expensive, so we’re moving just one state over. If, by chance, you know me from work you need not worry—my job will remain the same but the commute will become tele. Over the past several weeks my wife and I have been sorting through the accumulated effects of thirty years of married life. Our current apartment has an attic. Uninsulated, there are few days when it’s not too hot or too cold to stand to be up there for very long—kind of like other planets, come to think of it. Also neighbors don’t appreciate creaking floorboards over their heads the hours I’m awake. Going through things that were hurriedly packed to get out of Nashotah House was quite poignant. That’s the way fragments of past lives are, I guess. You see, that was an unexpected move. Life has a way of being complicated.
One of the more remarkable discoveries was how much we used to put on paper. As a scholar of ancient documents, I have an inherent distrust of electronic media. To be written means to appear on a permanent—as much as material things can be permanent—medium. Back in my teaching days assignments were handed in on paper. Grading was done on paper. Teaching evaluations were distributed on paper. Academic publications were done on paper. In order to be a professor you needed a house. I taught at five different schools over a span of nearly two decades. There was a lot of paper to go through.
The academic mindset is seasonal. I kept waiting for summer to come to have time to sort through everything. Outside academia, I’m still learning, summer is just another series of work days. Yes, you can cash in vacation time, but you’ll not have that entirely sensible canicule hiatus that allows you to examine what you’ve accumulated and determine if you’ll ever need it again. It was like archaeology in the attic. When volunteering at Tel Dor in the summer of 1987—summers were like that, as I said—I learned that by far the majority of pottery found at digs is discarded. There are literally tons of it thrown away. You can’t keep it all. So the attic was a kind of triage of memories. Not all of this was going to fit in the new house. Decisions had to be made. I guess I was thinking that if a company could take us to Enceladus they’d have figured out how to transport everything. It turns out that to escape earth’s gravity, you have to get your ship as light as possible. With over half a century of memories, however, there’s bound to be some weight to be left behind.
Posted in Archaeology, Higher Education, Holidays, Memoirs, Posts, Travel
Tagged academia, Archaeology, Enceladus, Higher Education, Nashotah House, Tel Dor
Reading about the Trump administration underscores once again the traditional American contradiction of, love of, but mostly hatred toward, experts. When you’re lying on that operating table, you stake your life that an expert is going to perform the surgery. When you buy that airline ticket, you’re banking that the pilot will be an expert. If you’re electing the most powerful individual in the world, you’ll excoriate experts and defer to the guy with the weird hair that says whatever he pleases and has never been a public servant a day in his life. This observation isn’t original with me, of course. I’m only an editor. Nevertheless, the same dilemma comes down to my little world of academic publishing as well. Most academics don’t understand this business—I was an academic at one time and I certainly didn’t—and yet don’t like to bow to the expertise of those who do.
Please don’t misunderstand. I’m making no grand claims to understanding this industry into which I unwittingly stumbled. I have been involved in it for over a decade now and I’m still learning. One of the things I’m learning is that many academics don’t trust experts. In part it’s academic culture. A doctoral program, if it’s a good one, will make you question everything. Sometimes even experts forget when to engage the brakes. When dealing with the experts at a publishing company, many academics doubt the expertise of those who do this day in and day out for a living. Books, however, have measurable sales records. There’s hard data for analysis. Not that it’s foolproof (but what is?), such metrics are time-tested and based on reasonable data sets. Often that’s not enough to convince an expert that other experts know more than they’re revealing. A personal philosophy, but one which I pursue with appropriate skepticism, is that other people should be left to do their jobs. As I frequently note, those who talk to the bus driver, freely giving advice, often make the situation worse for everyone.
The case of religion, however, is a special can of worms. There are no experts in this field, even among those of us who are experts. Had I realized this when I was younger, I’m not sure it would’ve made much of a difference in what I ended up doing with my life. You see, religion is all about ultimates. The big questions. The sine qua non of every single thing. When I read about things like politics, or entrepreneurship, I think to myself, “That’s all fine and good, but at the end of the day, is it what really matters?” If life is a search for meaning, why not grab it by both hands and try to become an expert at it? Some would say that’s the job of the philosopher, but let’s face it, religionists and philosophers deal in the same currency. One is more abstract than the other, to be sure. Still, don’t take my word for it. Please consult an expert.