Monday, March 29, 2010

Some thoughts on the Age of Information.

Often I'm startled at how sophisticated young people are--especially those very early in their twenties. When critics rail against the Internet as the dumbing of America, I think they are both right and wrong in their assessment.

They are wrong in that the social aspect of the Internet actually encourages faster mental development. Because children are communicating earlier and more often than ever before, their minds are developing faster. Chats, forums, facebook--these facilitate mental development because they require children to communicate, to think, to be mentally engaged. Reading alone does not lead to greater mental sophistication; writing and communicating, the actual process of thinking, stretching the mind, that is where mental development happens. Of course, those who read have more to draw from, a richer, more fertile mind, than those who do not read very much.

One thing to note is that early exposure to the Internet helps to explain why most young people have good spelling and grammar: we are becoming more of a text-based culture, where entire friendships exist only online and via texts.

The critics are right in that while the Internet has allowed for a wider class of sophisticated and intelligent young people, it goes no further. The Internet fosters no great profundity. This must be done through intense personal study, through long and consistent hours of reflection, through writing and articulating the thoughts, and most important, through deep and habitual reading. The Internet discourages most of these, where spending more than a few minutes on a webpage is rare.

At its best, the Age of Information has resulted in a greater mass of intelligent young people; at its worst it has discouraged profound learning. Do young people read great sprawling works of literature anymore for personal pleasure and mental enrichment?

Finally, what comes after the Age of the Information? The Age of Even More Information? Cortical shunts? Bradbury wrote a story--I forget the title--in which a group of human explorers encounter a species that had evolved to the point that corporeal concerns were irrelevant. Through the passing of untold millennia they had become spherical blobs that communicated telepathically. What they lived off of I can only speculate. Perhaps they subsisted on photons. However the case, that is true self actualization.

Friday, March 26, 2010

At noon my Friday class ended and I took the bus home and squandered seven hours sleeping and piddling online. I rotated periodically between the two, dozing an hour on my bed, then pulling myself awake to sit down bleary-eyed in front of my computer. The large fan I keep at my bedside is the best soporific I've ever encountered. It serves a dual purpose: the soft whirring soothes me while at the same time soaks up most outside noise. I can't imagine ever being able to sleep without it.

My day is a failure. Only a few words eked out. Tomorrow is supposed to be warmer. If the sun doesn't deceive again with feigned blandishments, then I look forward to a long walk on campus, where I can organize and shuffle around my thoughts. And spend several content hours in my chair reading.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

After studying a couple hours at the Union I took my backpack and began an evening walk. To circle the main central part of the campus twice takes about fifty minutes. It lets me think. It's the only time that I have full license to explore my own thoughts. It's the only time when my mind is my own, when my thoughts aren't demanded of me. I let them wander, reign them in, inspect any new image caught in the mesh.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Finished the first volume of 'The Demon Princes' from the library, then quickly ordered the entire thing in one volume. Can't put words to how enjoyable the experience of reading Vance is, and the word that repeatedly comes to mind is 'droll.' His humor and narrative style are, uncannily, somehow tuned to my particular frequency so that each page resonates with great vivacity in my mind. So far my favorite character in the Demon Princes is the mad poet Navarth, and it is clear that Vance had fun writing him. As a character study he is fascinating; at first he appears to be an irascible curmudgeon, but soon we discover him to be voluble and somewhat gauche (e.g.: 'Navarth attempted to lay his finger slyly alongside his nose, but miscalculating, prodded his eye.') At unexpected moments I find myself exploding into roaring fits of laughter over the most trivial detail, and I can imagine that my neighbors are often startled and alarmed. But it is such a pleasure to read this Jack Vance. May his dotage be dampened and comfortable.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Nearing the end of Wonderland. The phantasmagoria depicted in Carroll's book is fascinating. The shifting dream sequences are delightful. I have a mind of setting a work of my own to a similar tempo. There's something wholly enjoyable about exulting in the absurd, even if it's merely a quirky turn of phrase or eccentricity of manner.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Spring Break is here. Everyone is scurrying to wrap up obligations at school in order to head home for the week. The last few days have offered me a lot to think about regarding the topic of courage. It's strange to think about, but recently I discovered that I am only now learning a lesson from something that happened to me ten years ago. Ten years ago I mustered an incredible amount of courage to ask for a job as a Spanish TA as a Freshman, and only now am I realizing, because of a more recent act of courage, that often very good things are within the grasp of those who find courage to do what they normally would never consider. Mortification is always around the corner, menacing and mocking.

Taking the idea of courage over to the act of writing, I see many correlations. One of the most courageous acts, I believe, is consistently, day after day, facing a blank screen, daily overcoming the doubts and discouragements that weaken even the most steely writer. For the beginning writer, the courage must be greater, because the doubts are greater. It takes an especial amount of courage for the writer who sets out to write something that requires much greater skills than he or she has, for the one who aspires to write great fiction, and not merely good fiction. Maybe it implies a degree of narcissism, a foolish bravura that fuels great accomplishments in language. But partly it also an indescribable love of reading that is part of the recipe. Every couple weeks, after several hours of reading, I stop and reflect on how much reading has transformed my life. I fall in love with reading again and again. Each time I am renewed and encouraged. And inspired to try my own hand at writing.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

It seems like we have a reprieve from the biting cold, although even with the clear sky and the bright sun it is still very cool. The trees are holding back, hesitant to let their leaves forth. But the streams are flowing with a merrier trickle, the grass flushed greener. I'm here at the Union, and through the window a sycamore is standing, arrayed in seed pods, and next to it a mimosa, also full with seed pods, thin and hanging like drapes. Two small children are at play by the stream, a boy and a girl. They bound from one edge of the stream to the other, jumping and leaping for the joy of it. The boy capers a moment, then bends to dig something from the water. The girl has found a stick and is charging up and down the stream with the stick in hand. Three more children join them. In this moment if only it were possible to measure their happiness, for it is the most rare and beautiful thing in all of creation.