Making Excuses

The internet, and computers in general, seem to think we’re dumb.  I say that because of the false information they routinely give.  I was recently on a website run by a reputable *ahem* agency.  It turns out that the information they gave me was incorrect.  The next week when I went to check the status of my transaction, it said I couldn’t do so because cookies were blocked on my computer.  Well, cookies aren’t blocked.  I had to call said agency to ask about the status.  I was then told that what I’d requested was valid “only during the pandemic” (excuse me, I thought we were still in a pandemic?) and that was the reason I couldn’t check the status online.  That service was no longer available.  So why did the auto-response blame it on cookies?  I miss the generic “technical difficulties.”  At least it was honest.

We’re all busy these days.  Keeping websites up to date matters.  It doesn’t help when some software person decides some techie-sounding excuse ought to satisfy you.  Whenever I restart my computer, for example, I get a dialogue box—it’s more of a monologue box, really, since it isn’t asking for anything but acknowledgement that its incorrect information has been delivered.  In any case, it tells me that the computer decided to restart because of a problem.  No it didn’t!  It restarted because I gave the restart command!  Is this a problem?  I thought I was authorized to restart my own computer.  Why is it lying to me?  Is it colluding with the websites that are making up excuses?

Are we really that stupid?  Computers seem to think so.  On my work computer (PC, of course) you no longer have a trash can in which to discard old files.  No, now we have a recycle bin.  Recycle bin?  Really?  While I appreciate the message that we should recycle whatever we can, this is not a case of recycling at all.  It is a matter of getting rid of something I no longer need.  I guess what I’d like from our machine overlords is a bit of respect for our intelligence.  Sure, we may be subject to biological constraints that don’t apply to the electronic world.  We do have lapses in judgment just as surely as devices have bugs.  A world that runs by algorithms alone is hardly a world in which we could live.  So my devices may well be more logical than me, and if so they should figure out that they don’t need to lie or make excuses. Just say “technical difficulties,” I can live with that.

Claim This Panel

Validation.  We’re surrounded by it.  Now that we have the internet, everyone seems to want us to verify who we are.  And we were told as kids that there are no such things as trolls!  Personally, I have no idea why a hacker would want to be me.  I mean for destabilizing the government by messing with elections, well, of course, but I mean for academic purposes.  How do you really know who I am?  I googled myself the other day—I’m curious how my most recent book is doing because I’ve heard nothing from the publisher since it appeared—and noticed that in the “knowledge panel” on Google they had the picture of the wrong person.  I guess I’d better verify myself!

The erstwhile academic (aka “independent scholar”) gets invitations via email from Google Scholar to claim their papers.  I suppose in an effort to provide competition to, the researcher finds her or his papers available on Google Scholar’s website.  So far, so good.  But the invitation comes with instructions to verify your “work email.”  Said email must end in a .edu extension in order to be valid.  In other words, “independent scholar” is an invalid category.  This train of logic demonstrates one of the serious problems with high education shrinkage and the industry becoming tighter and tighter with its positions.  How do you verify yourself if your email address is the same as any Jane or Joe?  You can’t.  “Scholar” is limited to those lucky enough to have picked up a very rare position, especially in some fields, such as religion.

My recent experience with the DMV was an exercise in validation.  I presented the woman my vital paperwork (which was less than I had to show to get the New Jersey license that I had to cash in to get a license in Pennsylvania) while wearing a mask.  Irony can be quite stunning at times.  How did they know I wasn’t some masked bandit stealing someone’s paperwork on the way to the DMV?  I guess they could ask me to verify by my work email.  Then they’d discover that I’m merely an independent scholar.  If they googled me they’d find the wrong person’s photo on my knowledge panel.  Won’t someone validate me, please?  It would be nice to be able to claim my own papers on Google Scholar.  But until “independent scholar” becomes a real thing, I guess you can ask that guy (who’s not me) on the “knowledge panel” that bears my name.

Al’s Rhythm

Algorithms.  Who can understand them?  I’ve been having some trouble with searches lately.  Not on the internet in general, but on specific websites (including this one).  While Sects and Violence in the Ancient World isn’t a particularly media-heavy site, I find it difficult to find images by searching.  For some reason, even when I put the title of the image in the WordPress search bar, it doesn’t always come up with the answer.  Well, given the time of morning I suppose I might’ve misspelled something.  Then I went to Amazon.  I’ve been working on my author page and wanted to update something.  I tried typing the distinctive title of my most recent book (Nightmares with the Bible—it is apparently the only actual book with that title [and titles can’t be copyrighted, in case you’re interested]) and found that it didn’t show up on the first three pages.  They were filled with books with other titles.  Algorithms.

Now granted not a lot of people seek the book on Amazon (I’m a realist), but if you type an exact, and unique title in the search bar and it doesn’t come up, isn’t something wrong with your algorithm?  (By the way, algorithm is one of the many words English borrows from Arabic.  It’s named after a ninth-century mathematician, al-Khwārizmī.  You could do worse than to have something so useful named after you!)  I’m not so naive as to think Amazon isn’t thinking to throw better selling books at you first—if you’re like others you’ll buy those before you’d consider shelling out a Franklin for mine.  But still, isn’t searching made easier when what you enter is what you want to find?

The internet’s primarily about selling you stuff.  Some of us look up sites for information or entertainment, but then someone tries to sell you something.  (I’m not trying to sell you my book here, by the way—it’s not priced for individuals, or even mortals—I’m not even putting a link to it on Amazon here.)  I’m just wondering why, if you tell websites exactly what you’re looking for they can’t find it.  You have to wonder if we’ve reached the level of too much stuff.  There’s a lot of sorting to be done and new webpages are added every day.  Even though I’ve been writing here a dozen years now, there are far older blogs and many more newer ones.  Finding things is an important exercise, and maybe if we sit down with al-Khwārizmī for a while, we’ll be able to figure something out.

Image credit: Gregor Reisch via Wikimedia Commons


It happened right in the middle of a phone call.  The phone just died.  Well, honesty it had been sick for some time, but its departure was somewhat unexpected.  This is a landline we’re talking about.  Yes, I have an iPhone but I seldom use it.  Especially for phone calls outside the family.  I don’t want people calling me on what I consider a private number.  That’s what the landline is for.  Now, I had a call scheduled for later in the afternoon and I had to postpone it (via email—does anyone else see how strange all of this is?) until I could get a phone.  Since it was the work week the soonest I could get out was Saturday—I often have evening obligations after work.  So I ordered one online instead.

I was in a bit of a hurry, I’ll confess.  I don’t need a lot of features.  As long as it works for talking to others across a distance, I’m happy.  When it arrived I realized it didn’t have an answering machine.  Hadn’t thought of that.  The number of people who actually call me is quite small.  But if they are actual people I do like them to leave a message if I can’t get to the phone.  Then I remembered that answering machines used to be sold separately.  You didn’t need to have everything in one device.  Our modern way of living encourages that—keep everything together.  The phone in your pocket is a camera and computer and GPS all in one.  And more.  I’m more of a component guy.

Back when records were still a thing, my stereo was a component system.  Ostensibly because some components performed better for certain functions than others did, but really because some were on sale at Lechmere’s.  Nevertheless, the concept stuck.  I’ll admit that the all-in-one functionality is convenient, but I also think it becomes problematic when we have to buy more than we need just to keep up with the Joneses.  People are so reachable (with the exception, it seems, of many academics and contractors)—that we’re spoiled for choice.  In fact, it seems that the only polite thing to do is ask others how they’d prefer to be reached.  The telephone, of course, reaches into one’s private world in a way that email doesn’t.  I suppose that’s why many people are careful not to give out their numbers.  And if they do, we expect to be able to leave a message if they’re not home.

Peak Complexity

I remember being a kid.  Things probably weren’t as simple as some adults seem to remember—society, even as a child, is complex.  You soon learned the important lessons: who the bullies were and how to avoid them.  Cars are dangerous, particularly if they’re moving.  God is always watching you.  Then you start school and you begin to learn things you simply didn’t understand before.  You study math and although addition and subtraction seem pretty easy, division and multiplication require some concentration.  By the time you get to high school the math has become so complex that hours of homework are required to figure it out.  I don’t know about you, but nobody explained to me what jobs you needed this for.  I just hoped it wouldn’t be mine.

I’ve managed to get through so far with only the obligatory mathematical complexity of trying to explain certain problems to my daughter when she was in a similar situation.  Fortunately she understood how things worked better than I ever did.  The complexities, however, also come in other species.  I learned that being an adult meant constantly negotiating complexities.  That’s tricky for a guy like me because I tend to understand things by tracing them to their origins.  (There’s a reason history appeals to me.)  Social complexities often don’t allow such tracing—you need to figure out relationships and their implications and how you fit into the picture.  The same is true of jobs.  I’m sure many of you’ve had a job where the requirements change as circumstances alter.  You may have been hired to do one thing, but now you do another.

Then big life events come in with all their own complexity.  The other day I was wondering if there’s such a thing as peak complexity.  If there is, what happens when we reach it?  Do things in life simply become so intricate that society (I’m thinking here simply in human terms) implodes?  Or do we start to make things simpler again? Is there any going back?  I used to tell my students that my own grandmother was born before heavier-than-air flight.  By the time she died we’d been to the moon more than once.  Yes, rural life had its complexities, but since the industrial revolution the pace has been—what’s more than breakneck?  I know computer engineers and they tell me code is so complex that it’s actually a job to sort it out.  Just because you can fly a helicopter doesn’t mean you can put one together.  If we ever do reach peak complexity I have a suspicion that we won’t be able to tell, until in retrospect.  Childhood’s beginning.

Picture This

For a writer with limited time, a blog seems like a good idea.  Years ago WordPress emerged as the premier site on which to host such a venture—it was free (but like all things in the tech revolution it would eventually start charging a subscription fee), easy to use, and friendly to your average Luddite.  Now that I’ve been doing this some dozen years you might think that coming up with daily topics is the difficult part.  Well, it is a challenge sometimes, I admit, but the hardest part is coming up with images.  Occasionally I have an image around which to base a post, but the fact is I’ve discovered several blogs because I was searching for an image.  So I started putting an image in each post.  So far, so good.

WordPress has evolved over the years.  It has become more and more commercial.  After so much space is filled on your site (I pay regular fees for both the space and for the domain name) you must upgrade.  The next upgrade available to me is “Business.”  This blog is purely an avocation.  Any writer who doesn’t offer online content these days, at least according to the marketers and publicists I know, will never write a break-through book.  From my own experience, agents won’t even touch you unless you’ve got a far larger following than mine (and I’ve been faithful for a dozen years).  Anyway, I don’t want to pay for a business plan, so I reuse a lot of images.  That is the most time-consuming part of posting on this blog. 

You see, I post each day immediately before work.  To search over twelve years of images is difficult on WordPress.  Many of my images are my own, and my phone names them “img” (which autocorrect wants to make “omg”).  Searching those in WordPress to find a specific image can easily take an hour.  Considering the time these pieces are posted, you get an idea of when I have to start.  Good thing I’m an early riser!  My relationship with technology is an uneasy one.  I appreciate content.  Producing it is an act of pure creativity and it’s important to me to do it every single day.  But work is non-negotiable.  Metrics apply.  Consequences for not meeting them can be significant.  Where is that image I thought would be perfect for the post I wrote?  I should’ve renamed them before using them.  But just this moment, work’s about to start.  Now, what am I going to use to illustrate this post?

Remember the early days?


Who would’ve thought that publishing could be a scary industry in which to work?  Apart from the constant changes, that is.  Or maybe the changes are the reason it’s scary.  Our society has never been through a revolution quite like the tech revolution.  Yes, writing was pretty radical when it was invented, but it took millennia before literacy got to the point where it created widespread change.  Tech changes everything, and it does so very quickly.  Writing changes everything, but does so over the longue durée.  It began in a pretty humble way.  Crude drawings, called pictographs, came to represent things that mattered to pre-capitalists.  Take an ox head, for example.  It could represent the entire animal.  While some pictographs can be discerned in cuneiform (just as they can in some Chinese characters), the best example is perhaps Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Photo credit:: Jon Bodsworth, via Wikimedia Commons

Whether wedge-headed oxen or beautifully stylized hieroglyphs, both writing styles came to be representative for phonemes.  Egyptian and Mesopotamian writing tended to be syllabic rather than strictly alphabetic, and indeed, the invention of the alphabet made learning to write simpler.  Even after this innovation, however, it still took over a millennium before its practice became widespread.  Writing meant that ideas could be preserved beyond a lifetime.  Instructions and history could be recorded.  When a mistake was known and noted, remaking that error could be avoided.  (This seems to be a feature that has been lost to history, judging by recent fascist political parties.)  One of the great advantages to writing is the precision with which ideas could be expressed and preserved.

So how does this make publishing scary?  Some analysts are now claiming we are in a “post-literary” society.  Reading is no longer necessary.  We download visual content to gain the information we need.  When ideas need to be expressed in writing, we have emojis.  What happens, however, to synonyms when emojis take over?  Our humble ox head that eventually morphed into the capital A may now be represented by a stylized cow.  Or is it a bovine?  What does that cow image convey?  Books—novelties at the moment—are being written with emojis.  Learning to read is difficult.  It takes years and changes our brains.  Technology is encouraging us to become post-literate.  Even blogs are now becoming outdated.  Yet, looking at those emojis we see the history of writing moving in reverse.  From the precision of clear and accurate description to vague notions that look cool but leave us guessing otherwise.  Perhaps those ancient scribes scratching sketches into clay had it right to begin with.

Considering the Time

Does anybody else find the name “Office 365” ominous?  Perhaps I’ve been reading too much about Orwell, but the idea that work is waiting for you every single day of the year is worrisome.  The way people unthinkingly buy into technology is a way of being used.  Like Cassandra, however, I get the feeling I’m just talking to myself.  365 could simply mean it’s always available.  For me, however, the PC is symbolic of corporate America.  And corporate America wants everything thing you have, at least if it can be liquidated.  That includes your time.  Now that the weather’s improving I spend beautiful days sitting at a desk behind a screen.  Before I know it that beautiful day’s gone for good and I’ve not stepped outside once.  I’ve been 365ing.

An organization I know has a dysfunction.  It keeps trying to plaster on technological bandages to solve its problems.  Such bandages only pull the wounds open again when they’re yanked off.  It’s the latest thing, the new communication technology that “everyone will use.”  Only it never is.  It’s just one more app that I’ll have to learn and yet another way to invade my private time.  Time I might otherwise spend outdoors.  Look!  The sun is shining!  All day long the birds and bees fly by my windows, celebrating.  I’m sitting here scratching my head.  Yammer or Slack?  And who comes up with these stupid names?  And are they available 24/7?  Do they even take into account that human beings have to sleep?

Studies now show that people my age who routinely get less than six hours sleep a night have a greater risk of developing dementia in their seventies.  Yet Office 365 will be waiting even for them.  Those whose retirement funds were never as secure as they hoped or thought they were face a future at the Office.  It will be there, always waiting.  Like Winston my time comes at a cost.  It’s the chill, early hours of the day.  Even as I work on my personal writing (which is not even done in Word, thank you very much), I know that the Office—which now includes Teams and even holds my calendar in its icy electronic fingers—is waiting.  Perhaps, if it’s a weekend, I’ll be able to stave it off a bit.  Even if I can, however, it will be waiting 24/7, 365.  Only time outside those parameters can be called one’s own.

Artificial Priorities

Maybe it has happened to you.  Or perhaps it only affects ultra-early risers.  I’ll be in the middle of typing a blog post when a notice appears on my computer screen that my laptop will be shutting down in a few seconds for an upgrade.  Now, if you’re caught up in the strengthening chain of thinking that develops while you’re writing, you may take a little while to react to this new information.  If you don’t respond quickly enough, your computer simply quits and it will be several minutes—sometimes an hour or more—before you can pick up where you were interrupted, mid-sentence.  Long ago I decided that automatic updates were something I had to do.  Too many websites couldn’t run things properly with old systems.  It’s just that I wish artificial intelligence were a little more, well, intelligent.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

I keep odd hours.  I already know that.  I’ve been trying for years to learn to sleep past the long-distance commuting hour of three a.m.  Some days I’m successful, but most days I’m not.  That means that I write these posts when computer programers assume everyone is asleep.  Doesn’t it notice that I’m typing even as it sends its ominous message?  Is there no way for automatic updates—which send you warnings the day before—can do their work at, say, midnight or one a.m., when I’m never using my computer?  Ah, but the rest of the world prefers to stay up late!  I need the uninterrupted time when few of us are stirring to come up with my creative writing, whether fictional or nonal.  So I have to tell my electronic conscience to be patient.  It can restart at ten p.m. when I’m asleep.

Wouldn’t it be easy enough to set active hours for your personal devices?  After all, they pretty much know where we are all the time.  They know the websites we visit and are able to target product advertising to try to get us to buy.  They data-mine constantly.  How is it that my laptop doesn’t know, after many years of this, that I’m always working at the same time every day?  Is there no way to convince it that yes, some people do not follow everyone else’s schedule?  What about individual service?  You know what brands I like.  You sell my information to the highest bidder.  You remember every website onto which I’ve strayed, sometimes by a poorly aimed click.  I could point out more, but I see that my computer has decided now is the time to resta

The Cost of Content

Those who don’t read this blog (you, my friend, are in a rarified crowd) aren’t aware of my antipathy to tech for tech’s sake.  Many people mindlessly go after the latest technology without stopping to think of the consequences.  I was reluctant to get a cell phone.  Not a decade ago I got along fine without one.  When I finally succumbed, I found I didn’t use it much.  I still don’t.  Nevertheless, many have charged ahead.  It’s not the first time I’ve been let behind.  I recently wrote about an organization I joined that unilaterally decided to make all members sign up for Slack.  “It’s better than email,” they said.  What they didn’t say is that it doesn’t replace email.  In fact, what it does is gives you yet another communication medium you have to constantly check.  Why?

Not that long ago—a year or two perhaps—it was recommended that you ask people what their preferred form of communication was.  Phone call?  Text?  Email?  Well, my cell phone plan charges by the call and text so please don’t use that.  My preference, since about the last century, has been email.  I check it regularly and I respond as long as emails don’t get buried by others on top of them.  What did my organization do?  Went to Slack.  How long, I ask, will it be before advertisers and others figure out how to do the Slack stack?  How long before a new technology (giddy giggle) comes along and we all have to do that instead?  I’ve lost track of the number of software packages and apps I’ve had to learn for work.  Several dozens at least.  What suffers?  The content does.

Now I get three or four, or nine or ten Slack notifications a day, through my email. (My computer has no room for a nw app.)  It has compounded the premature burial issue I’ve got.  That email that arrived just yesterday is now on page two.  When will I have time to navigate to it?  I guess I’ve been slacking off.  So now I check my email to see if there’s another system that I have to check to find out someone wants to contact me.  I miss the days when humanity drove communication instead of technology doing it.  Learning some new system isn’t always the solution to complex problems.  Or at least we can find out the preferences of the individual before making them learn (and probably eventually forget) a new communication system.  It seems to me that we should be spending actual time on the content of the communication itself instead of playing with new toys.


Weren’t newspaper clippings more fun than bookmarks?  For one thing, bookmarks are hidden away in your browser where they proliferate like bunnies in April.  Clippings were always limited in number, to the level of your interest.  Or physical storage capacity.  I once decided to organize all my bookmarks into “folders.”  I’m still not finished and some websites don’t seem to fit any category.  Still, the exercise is an eye-opening one.  I’ve been on thousands of webpages, hundreds of which I want to remember.  With newspaper clippings, there were a limited supply and they felt—let’s face it—real.  These words and images were printed on tangible paper.  Kept in a file (or in old movies, tacked to a bulletin board that inevitably contained clues), they were visible reminders of something that caught your attention.

I’ve seen movies made where research is being done on the internet.  They involve people who know they have to go beyond the top page of a Google search.  They may even go to the third page or further!  Such thrills.  Compare that to a scene where someone pulls open a desk drawer and finds a clipping.  Isn’t there real drama there?  No doubt the internet has made finding information easier.  It has also proliferated it so that we no longer have time to read it all.  I recall reading how Isaac Asimov read the entire encyclopedia when he grew up.  Who could read all of Wikipedia?  It changes every single day.  The clipping file, depending on the papers and magazines to which you had access, might be pretty slim but it helped to inform opinions and outlooks.  There were occasional hoaxes but nobody worried about fake news back then.  After all, reputations still meant something in those days.

There was a real thrill, growing up in a small town, to being mentioned in the newspaper.  In my case it was generally about being in the Cub Scouts, or, interestingly, being baptized in a river.  (This was a small town.)  Ironically I didn’t have a clipping of the baptism story; I found it online.  The Franklin News-Herald wasn’t a large circulation broadsheet, but it was paper closest to where the incident took place.  Perhaps it struck a locals as odd seeing a bunch of people wading into the river fully clothed, even though it was 1970.  It’s an event I remember well.  But most of my clippings have flowed away over time, like those sins that were washed downstream that day.  I must remember to bookmark that site.

Slacking Off

The other day someone on a committee on which I serve suggested we might eliminate the problem of buried emails by using Slack to communicate.  The problem, it seems to me, is that we have too many ways to communicate and yet lack the means to do so well.  For me email is indicative of the problem.  Email was devised—and I remember its beginnings well—as a means of swift communication.  The only real options before that were writing an actual letter (which I miss) or telephoning.  At that time you might have a cordless phone that you could carry from one room to another but you probably did not.  The phone was relegated to a place on a wall or table and, although I appreciate knowing things quickly, the fact is we got along in those days.  Junk mail was evident at a glance.  You sorted it and life went on.

Now email has taken over life.  I simply can’t keep up with it.  Some time ago Google offered a trifurcated email experience: primary, social, and promotional.  Their algorithms aren’t perfect (numbers seldom are) but I can often ignore large swaths of the promotional page.  That saves time.  Most of the social is dominated by people I don’t know wanting to connect on LinkedIn, or someone mentioning something I should pay attention to on Facebook.  Or perhaps something going on in the neighborhood on Nextdoor.  Primary deserves its name, but I can’t keep up with even that.  You see, I have a full-time job.  It largely consists of reading emails.  If I get a personal email in the morning, chances are it will be buried on the second page by the time the day’s out.  It may never been seen again.  I don’t need another new way to communicate.

The pandemic has introduced the new malady of Zoom exhaustion.  It isn’t unusual for my entire weekend to be taken up with Zoom.  If I don’t have a good part of a Saturday to sort my emails into files things I promised I’d do begin to slip.  I don’t see that email—the one that serves as a reminder to this addled brain of mine.  If I order something on Amazon I have to follow up on an email asking me to rate the service.  And then, if it’s not sold directly by Amazon, a vendor fishing for a compliment.  That after getting an email to confirm my order and another to tell me it’s been shipped.  No, please don’t subject me to Slack.  Or better yet, send me an email about it.  I’ll get to it eventually, as long as it stays on the first page.

Too Fast

In the Easy Reader book Hooray for Henry (available on Amazon for $768.57; that’s $12.60 per page), our eponymous protagonist Henry can’t win any of the events at the picnic games.  One of the refrains as he participates in the races is “faster, faster—too fast” (I may have got the punctuation wrong, but then I haven’t read the book for at least a couple of decades and I can’t afford a new one).  That story seems to have become a symbol for those of us mired in technology.  The rate of change is, as in Henry’s experience, too fast.  The other day I noticed an annoying warning on my laptop that claims I’m low on memory and that I have to close some applications.  What with all that tech requires of us these days I probably do have too many things open at once.  It pops up, however, when I have even just one application open.

A web search revealed this is probably a virus (something that used to be rare on Macs, but that was back in the day when things moved a little slower).  The steps for removing it were technical and appeared to be extremely time-consuming.  What I don’t have is time.  And it’s not just my rare time off work that’s too full.  On the job we’re constantly having to learn new software.  It doesn’t really matter what your line of work is, if it involves sitting behind a computer we’re constantly being told to learn new applications while trying to find time to do the jobs we’re paid to do.  There’s no question of which is the tail and which is the dog here.  With an economy driven largely by tech, because that’s where all the jobs are, you risk everything if you don’t upgrade (about every two weeks at present).

I’ve been writing a long time.  Decades.  Some of my earlier pieces are no longer openable because the software with which I wrote them has been upgraded to the point that it can’t read its own earlier writing.  To the prolific this presents a real problem.  I have, literally, thousands of pieces of writing.  I can’t upgrade every single one each time a new release comes out.  The older ones, it seems, are lost forever.  I used to print out every post on this blog.  Given that there are now even thousands of them, I eventually gave up.  I know that they will inevitably disappear into the fog some day.  For writers who’ve been discovered after their deaths this would be a Bradburian fate.  Or perhaps a Serlingesque twist.  The world realizes a writer had something important to say, but her or his writing can no longer be read because the tech is outdated.  Faster, faster—too fast.

In Praise of Brevity

I recently read an article in praise of short books.  Marina van Zuylen, whose response led to the article by Steven Weiland, praises not only brevity, but also print.  There is a difference between reading an actual book and reading something on a screen, even if an actual book of it exists somewhere.  I don’t buy the argument that books are clutter.  Books are my life, and if you start tossing them out you might as well start chopping bits off my body.  But it’s her thoughts on short books that really caught my attention.  Not that there’s anything wrong with long books.  Good ones are like getting lost in a pleasant mind-forest.  But I miss short books and the sense of accomplishment they engender.

Maybe like me you see a book online and get excited.  You really want to read it and then you click on its landing page and learn it’s over 300 pages long.  Or 400.  Or more.  You stop to think; do I really want to invest that much time on a single book?  As van Zuylen explains, some tenure committees don’t take short books seriously.  They want heft.  This blog should stand as proof that anyone can multiply words.  There are well over a million words on this blog alone.  As a book this blog would be about 3,650 pages.  Without footnotes.  But it’s not a book, and that’s the point.  Your time is valuable.  You’re choosing to spend a little of it with me (Thank you!).  I keep my posts around 400 words.  A five-minute read.  And I like books that I can finish in a week or two, along with my full-time job and other life responsibilities.

The electronic revolution—as good as it’s been—distorts things.  Even the very definition of “book” is up for grabs.  My mind always goes back to the scriptoria with weak-eyed monks rubbing aching backs as they laboriously copied books out by hand.  Today we don’t even wait for the paperback, but download it instantly.  How is this the same?  And yet we have less time than ever.  That’s why I enjoy short books.  Some of the most impactful (oh, that word!) books I’ve read have been brief.  As Pascal long ago noted, it’s more difficult to write a short piece than a long one.  So I join Dr. van Zuylen in her praise of the short book.  Long may they live!

At least it’s real…

Look, New…

You may’ve noticed a new look to my website.  That isn’t intentional.  I woke up Friday only to learn that Word Press (which used to be friendly to individual bloggers) decided to change at least one of the few templates they allow paying customers to use (if I upgrade even more to “business class” I have lots more options).  One of those templates happened to be the one I’d labored over, sacrificing an entire weekend about a year ago to get it just how I liked it.  Now, I’m a Neo-Luddite.  Behind the scenes my daughter and one of my nieces have helped me with technical aspects of this blog from the very beginning.  Several years ago I reached capacity for the free service, where, understandably, templates are limited.  Now I pay for both the domain name and the privilege of hosting it on Word Press.  But they like to limit privileges to try to force you to upgrade.  What would Amos say?

A few weeks back my iPhone began to lose its charge at an alarming rate.  I’d unplug it, and, doing nothing but occasionally checking for non-existent texts, it would be red-lining a couple hours later.  I feared I might need to get it serviced.  This went on for several weeks.  It occurred to me that Christmas was approaching and Apple has been known to slow down devices in order to encourage you to buy a new one.  Upgrade!  Everybody’s doing it!  Well, I don’t make enough money to constantly upgrade, so I kept my phone plugged in all the time when I was home (which, during a pandemic, is pretty much all the time).  Then, a few days after Christmas, when it was clear I wasn’t buying a new one, the battery began to hold its charge again.

The tech industry has us in a strangle-hold.  As soon as you purchase that first laptop, tablet, phone, or smart-watch, you’re an indentured servant to upgrades.  So I went to Word Press’s template library and tried to find something that didn’t look too bad with the images and “feel” I’m going for here.  Almost as if they’d chosen an algorithm that made available only a handful of templates that worked worst with what I’m trying to do on this website, I found their selection extremely limited.  If I upgrade to “business class” (which I will need to do when the capacity for my “service level” (not cheap) is full) I will have a plethora of choices.  Until they add a new service level above that, that is.  Then I’ll need to upgrade yet again to unlock all the neat features they “offer.”  Thanks, Word Press.  I’ve been with you over ten years now and I have to ask, is that the way you treat a longterm, paying friend?

Remember this?