Sunday, April 22, 2012

more information=less knowledge #3

Hey Marcia, no, you're not fooling yourself.

I hear you on all counts. Yes, we did research like that "in the olden days." I recall the piles of books--some of which just weren't what they promised. I, too, set them aside after a once over.

That kind of browsing, which still involved picking up a volume, opening it, scanning contents, is in fact light years from the kind of browsing we do on the Net now.

It may feel similar, but-- 
1. it is faster; our brains don't have the orientation time it takes us to put one book down and pick up another when we jump to hyperlinks
2. it is generated by google or some other being "facilitating" our search for specific data
3. our interruptions were pre-planned appointments or a real person with skin on leaning over our library table

Those are all significant. Why?

"On line we follow scripts written by others--efficient and tidy
but we lose personal initiative, creativity, and whimsy." (Carr)

It does give us amazing short cuts to finding facts. It is definitely not as messy or complicated as several hours in the library. We become far more efficient doing cognitive tasks. And that efficiency makes me feel good about myself.

This very efficiency is part of the irony of Google. It aims to make reading efficient and in the process prevents us from being deep readers, with attention, able to interpret what we read. I see us "strip mining for content" as opposed to "excavating for meaning." We focus on the cognitive tasks as opposed to the deeper mysteries that require contemplation.

Truthfully, there are times the research isn't that deep. But we are in danger of a habitual attitude toward answering our questions. "Google it."

We get more information in less time. And we have less time to use that information or think about and evaluate it because there is so much more information.

I'm not anti-google. I do it random times a day. It's a great time saver and it can lead me off into rabbit trails to waste time. Nicholas Carr advises us that as a species we do not have control over either the "path or pace" of technology. This is not a battle to take on.

Technology is moving along with a momentum we cannot imagine. 

However, each one of us as an individual can make a reasonable decision what and how to use and how to let it influence his/her life. I became aware that I was not even realizing what was happening. I was delighting in the speed and quantity of what I "accomplished" and forgot to prioritize. I had less integrity as a human being than when I opened books and copied words (by hand!) on 3x5 cards.


 I doubt that anyone has ever accused you of lacking integrity, dear friend. But I will let you have the last word on this subject. My mind is wandering and I'm seriously considering those blue highlights for my hair.

Yours truly,

This is your brain on the Internet

If I had been born 30 years later, I surely would have blue highlights in my hair, and probably would have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. In my day, I called it a short attention span. Maybe the proper name for it now is Internet Brain.

Waiting at a doctor's receptionist's desk, we heard the woman in front of us say, “I can't make another appointment. I don't have my planner with me.”

My husband whispered, “She writes things down?” and we smiled. I already had my phone open to the calendar application. As soon as I had the next appointment booked, I could have logged into my email account from any computer in the world and checked the date.

I love the Internet, but I love reading books, too. Every time I move to a different house, I purge my book collection. Books are just too heavy to move; they take up too much room. Every book I buy on Kindle is held, weightlessly, on a server somewhere, seconds away from my summoning.

Here are the advantages of physical books, according to Nicholas Carr in The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains:

“You can take a book to the beach without worrying about sand getting in its works. You can take it to bed without being nervous about it falling to the floor should you nod off. You can spill coffee on it. You can sit on it. You can put it down on a table, open to the page you’re reading, and when you pick it up a few days later it will still be exactly as you left it. You never have to be concerned about plugging a book into an outlet or having its battery die.”

Seriously, Mr. Carr? Last night, back aching from the day's activities, I lay flat on my back, reading your book. On my iPhone. My arms didn't tire, and I didn't drop it on my nose. And when I turned it on after an interruption, it brought me right back where I left off.

Was America ever a country full of “deep” readers? An evening walk around the block when I was a teenager revealed the same phenomenon as it does now: a warm, flickering glow in the window of almost every home. America is watching television, or it is on the Internet. The only ethical differences are the laws restricting content. I worry more about the ready availability of pornography than I do about the effect the Internet has on the human brain.

As Carr says, “Google is neither God nor Satan.”

We are only victims if we choose to be. Am I naïve?

Hey Marcia,
We are only victims if we choose to be--as long as we know that we're making a choice.

I, too, prefer to read my bedtime book on my iPhone. It's much lighter, backlit, and I only rarely lose my place and have to go scrolling through pages to find where I left off.
I don't think Mr. Carr is talking about reading a digital book as opposed to a paper book so much as he deplores the loss of linear thinking. Come to think of it, maybe linear thinking isn't all it's cracked up to be. 
But he does give it the credit for the imagination of the Renaissance, the rational of the Enlightenment, the inventiveness of the Industrial Revolution and the subversiveness of Modernism. (put that all in quotation marks, please.)
The "fear" if we can call it that, is that these marvelously developed linear minds, with the capacity for focused calm and deliberate pondering, are being traded in for dis-jointed thoughts and over-lapping input which short each other out. 
Now, since I wrote that paragraph, my daughter has texted. I've responded and with two taps have sent her a phone number she needed. Oh, this Net stuff is marvelous and I shudder to think we would ever go back.
You have a point about watching tv, though. People watch tv more than they read. That has been going on for a good while. Now they watch Jane Austen and believe they've "read" her.
The very guy who invented the amplifier which made broadcasting possible wrote, in 1952:
"A melancholy view of our national mental level is obtained from a survey of the moronic quality of the majority of today's radio programs." --deForest
Are we doomed to being reduced to the lowest common denominator? Might not linear thinking and a little reading be a hopeful alternative to moronic broadcasters?
We may only be victims of our choices, but do we know the consequences of our choices?

Monday, April 16, 2012

the myth of multi-tasking #2

We are like--
"Lab rats pressing levers to get tiny pellets of social and intellectual nourishment." p. 117

Another powerful image from Carr's book on the effect of the Net on our brains. This blog focus is on the "multi-tasker." I've considered myself one ever since motherhood, probably since college. It was a matter of pride. I could keep a couple balls in the air and accomplish things in the process. Back then I was doing laundry (which required waiting) or baking bread (more waiting) or cooking a meal (sometimes waiting). You get the picture.

Today multi-tasking can be done in one chair, at the computer, bouncing between Facebook, google, email, and any number of web pages for "research." I can play my turn in scrabble, check out a youTube, look up something in Snopes, write note to a friend, and even wish all my friends happy birthday without having to look at a calendar. And somehow, I am convincing myself that I am more efficient and I get more done. I have deceived myself.

Let's look at the facts about what is happening when we are on the Net. Take research, for example.  We are trying to learn more about some item or issue. We google it, find a plethora of "hits" and start clicking. We spend an average of 19-25 seconds at a site. We come across hyperlinks and jump to another page. We are no longer reading, we are "power browsing." As our eyes skim across words, we think we are reading. Our brains become more shallowly engaged as we load on the pages and verbiage. We are amazed at how nimble our brains are; how quickly they leap from one text to the next. We don't realize that in the nimbleness, we have forfeited deep and creative thinking. 

Cory Doctorow calls the Net an "ecosystem of interruption technologies." As we jump from link to link, the content of each page is fragmented, our concentration is disrupted.  Each mental shift requires a type of reorientation. 

Researchers have learned that: people who read linear text (like books) can--
and remember 
than those with texts peppered with links to other texts. The Hyperlinks confuse the flow, make the reading jumpy, and as a result:
the medium obscures the meaning.
Interestingly, the number of links is directly proportional to the disorientation and overload for our poor brains trying to cope.

Multi-tasking these days is:
and superficial.
Why? because the Net's stimuli are:
--The bad news is:
This type of stimuli
alters brain circuitry.
It is mind-altering technology.

That is subject for another blog. Let's end on a light note:
Heavy multi-taskers:
---are quite easily distracted
---have less control over the working memory part of their brains
                (keep shoving stuff out for more new stuff to go in)
---are less able to concentrate.

They find themselves "suckers for irrelevancy."



I love information. When I encounter a subject which interests me, I binge on information. 

Fifteen years ago, I spent many evenings at the library. I would take every book which contained pieces of the information I desired, surround myself with piles of them, and skim each one until I found what I was looking for. Some of the books I set aside after less than a minute--not so relevant. Others had only a little I wanted to read, and others had whole chapters. 

Now I have Google. I use it in the same way. I evaluate sources, check keywords, skim articles and click on links. And if I am interrupted, or have an appointment to keep, I can go back to my information gathering at any time. 

Has this altered the wiring of my brain? Maybe. 

If I want to read a book, I am still capable, and in theory I have more time to do so because I haven't spent the evening at the library.

Am I fooling myself?


Saturday, April 14, 2012

welcoming frenziedness into our souls #1

Yes, you read it correctly. And "frenziedness" isn't even a word yet. Give it a few minutes.

That was the parting shot of Nicholas Carr in his book, "The Shallows: what the internet is doing to our brains" which I read yesterday afternoon. He makes some very powerful points and has offered much food for thought. But culturally we seem to be in junk food mode, preferring to grab hyperlink snacks and bolt them down rather than savor a several course meal and reflect over coffee with friends.

I recommend the book, but I know you probably won't have time to read it. I know I didn't have time. I made the time. In a few blogs, I'd like to briefly touch on some of his key points: linear thinking, reading, interruptions, multi-tasking, and the blurring of man and machine.

First things first. Priorities.

C. S. Lewis said,  "You can't get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first."

What does that have to do with anything? With the internet? 
Quite a bit.

In order to put first things first, we have to know what first things are. But we are in the process of losing the ability to know what first things are. Linear thinking is becoming a lost art. "The Net," Carr warns, "seizes our attention only to scatter it." p 118

In ways we don't understand, the circuits of our brains are being rerouted to accommodate the fast pace of information flow from the Net.  Torrents of information gush across our screens: fountains or  tsunamis? What, if anything, can we do about it?

I believe knowing our values is extremely important in dealing with this new technology. Then comes the "how to implement" question.

We are keeping these short because part of the struggle is we don't have "time" to spend in deep reading. And deep reading is what will help us find some of what we have lost.

Marcia, any thoughts?


Dear Karen, when you suggested that I read Carr's book I was dismayed. I have 3 books going now--one fiction, one somewhat inspirational, and one on spiritual disciplines. Yet there are many days in which I don't pick even one of them up.

I checked the website of my local library, and their one copy of the book had been checked out. Rather than reserve it, I checked Amazon and found that I could buy the book on Kindle for only about $8. So I did it.

It took me 15 seconds to buy, and the book was immediately available (through the Cloud) on both my MacBook and my iPhone.

And I giggled. The Internet may be destroying my brain, but I love it to pieces.

My older children were teenagers before the Internet was widely available. I read to them daily. One day I began to read Robinson Crusoe. They needed encouragement with some books. "Just listen. You'll get into it." They begged me to stop. Honestly, after a few chapters, my own droning was putting me to sleep. We never finished it. A classic, I'm sure, but we didn't have the patience to read it.

How much of our complaints about the Internet stem from the fact that, as time marches on, we want it to stand still?

My iPhone tells me that I've only read 16% of The Shallows. Maybe I'll skim a little more and comment on our next post.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

crooked souls training crooked souls

I have thought a lot about teaching values, morality, and faith. Two of my sons are grown and on their own, and two are still at home. Because we have always done school at home, many, many words have been spoken about many subjects, and almost all of them were steeped in my values and experiences.

What my kids have "caught" from these discussions and our lives together was not so much the words I spoke, but how I lived. That, of course, is how values are translated.

A few weeks ago, I sat with other mothers while we waited for our children, who were involved in different classes. One of the younger moms sat on the floor with two little ones, about 4 and 5 years old. She drilled them on their memory verses and the books of the Bible. One of them sweetly, obediently, lisped as he was directed. The other, a more independent girl, wandered under chairs, stared at people, and was otherwise uncooperative. She was threatened regularly with having to sit and wait in the car by herself, then going straight to her room when she got home. I think a dessert was withheld as well.

This mom could have been me 20 years ago. I don't mean to say that I have matured past that. Mostly, I am tired. I do understand the value of "hiding it in their hearts." But I don't think the behavior of these little ones will necessarily translate into similar adult behavior. My long years of mothering have brought me to the conclusion that there is no formula for success, a formula which will produce happy, productive adults.

What I earnestly hope is that my kids have not caught my pettiness, my selfishness, my fears. I have prayed repeatedly over the years that God would enable me to do my very best as a mother, then fill in the gaps Himself. What my sons can't help but know is that their mother has loved them desperately. And that will have to be enough.


Marcia, I think you have caught the essence of "teaching." They should call it osmosis instead of learning, especially where values are passed on. Children learn on a kinetic and tactile level much sooner and more comprehensively than on verbal/literate level. But as mothers, we all find ourselves trying to pound the literal truth into their little brains.

Praise the Lord that as mothers, we have the advantage of a love-link to our little students. They will learn from us because they know who we are and how much they can trust us. Very few teachers can claim that, and hence, have much less impact on the values kids pick up.

I'm sure my own two assimilated not a few of my values and characteristics (pettiness, judgmentalism, insecurities) that I wish they had rebelled against. But as Marcia's title warns: we are crooked souls trying to teach other crooked souls. The Bent Ones have had their way in this world for a very long time. (See Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet.)

But that desperate love Marcia ended with: that is something no Bent Ones can copy or own. It is a gift our children can hold and cherish and even in its imperfection, it reflects the King of Love. It is the mystery that is clear as day.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

teaching morality

Jessica brought it up in her Facebook comment. She expresses a concern about the swing to teaching morality. I Googled it, which is what you do nowadays to find out how pervasive it is. It is . . . pervasive. 

It seems to be intertwined with the building blocks, which she was worried about were getting short shrift. And I can see the concern there. If a teacher is more focused on "the moral" of this story in history or literature, will the young people learn the history or literature? I'd like to make one observation on this before I dive straight into "teaching morality." One of the dangers of teaching to the moral is that children soon learn that the moral is the "lesson" and once they can regurgitate it, they have learned the lesson. They are not interested in discovering what lessons can be learned. Even if the teacher tries to draw it out of them, they will pounce on the thing that will win them the grade and their minds will not meditate on it and learn gradually and cumulatively. 

My best example against such "moral" teaching is Jesus. He did not tell the crowd what the parable meant. If He had, they would have "understood" it, filed it and walked away. His parables are for mulling over, learning from, seeing from all angles and allowing the Holy Spirit to have His way in us.

A secondary concern about teachers teaching morality into their lessons is whose morality are they teaching? They are obviously teaching their own, stemming from their own world view. Who determines which teachers and which world views are moral and whose are not?

Now, to the issue of teaching morality. Yes, there are curricula designed to do it, lesson plans and a huge agenda to focus on it. I believe it simply cannot be done.

We cannot teach morality. Morality is part of our belief and value system which spring from our worldview. Teachers do not touch worldview unless they have earned a deep right and built a strong relationship. That does not happen in our culture in the classroom. If we think we can teach morality, we fool ourselves. 

We can try to legislate morality but we cannot make moral people. We can enforce certain behavior. But behavior is only the veneer. The morality runs deep and behavior can be modified without affecting the world view. Janice, in her comment, explains what teaching morality appears to be: anti-bullying, anti-cheating, anti-racism. That clarifies a lot.

Yes, those things come out of a world view. The parents should be the ones teaching their children the cruelty of bullying, the self-defeat of cheating, the darwinian delusion of racism. But they are not. At least the young folk going to school do not all share a world view which eliminates those things. And do they define what is moral?

The educational system sees a huge gap in desired and actual behavior. Perhaps they reason that integrating morality into lessons will change the behavior of their students. But they will never change the world view--and until that changes, kids will bully, cheat and discriminate by color. What the educators are hoping for is a heart change with head knowledge. 

I wonder what their world view is. Since when have people shifted a world view without involving their heart felt values at a deep level? Or is this an attempt based on the assumption that we are evolving and Skinner's behaviorism along with survival of the nicest and a little natural selection will turn the young people of today into nice moral adults?


Honestly, Karen, I have too much to say about this subject--that is, the teaching of morality. One thing I cannot discuss is the public school system, since I haven't been a part of it since I was in school. 

American society has changed in the last 50 years. Working mothers spend less time with their school-aged children, and school has become another parent. There really is a need for some type of civilization in this Lord of the Flies environment. Unfortunately, as you said, teaching morality doesn't work.

It's kind of like patching a car engine with duct tape; a few miles along, and you're going to smell something bad. 


Friday, April 6, 2012

raising the drop out age?

Last month Governor Quinn (the current governor of Illinois, who has no plans to retire to the penitentiary like so many of his predecessors) announced a plan to raise to 18 the age at which a student may legally stop attending school. That age is currently 17.

I wondered what was going to happen to all that surplus educational funding, and now I know. It will be used to force unwilling young adults to spend the majority of their weekdays killing time at an educational institution.

I am pessimistic, I know. Best case will go something like this:

17-year old: I want to drop out of school.

Government: Not until you're 18. Stay there and graduate.

17-year-old: I guess you're right. I will begin studying right now, and be an example of discipline and respect to authority for all the younger students.


When my children were pre-schoolers, a casual conversation with my hairdresser gave me pause. She told me that during the summer, she had taught her 6-year-old to tell time.

"I know her teacher will be mad." She cringed at the thought, and a feeling began to rise within me. A rebellion. And I became an educational libertarian.

Tell me, Karen, you of the multiple education degrees--what is the solution here?


Marcia, the more I think about education, the more I believe it is a privilege.

Coercing education is the most effective way to make people under-value it and feel it is a burden. Free things are not appreciated. Mandated things are resisted. Forcing young people to attend school until they are 18 is tantamount to making it a prison sentence.

We value what costs us. Historically, Americans valued education to the point that they offered it freely, then they legislated it and then prescribed its content. That was the death knell. People will not esteem that which costs them nothing.

There was a time I had serious doubts about the wisdom of public education. Now I think free primary education is probably a good idea. It would not be a hardship on any family and would give an opportunity for literacy and numeracy to all. But beyond that, education/ learning/ training needs to come at a price for people to understand its significance. If secondary schools required some labor commensurate to the value of the information being offered, young people could earn the opportunity to learn. The privilege of study would not be an onerous task requiring parental and municipal "enforcers."

Education and knowledge are privileges, not rights. Our own history has ugly stories of what happened to slaves and their owners who dabbled in education. What young slave would have scorned the opportunity to learn to read? 

Too bad the schools no longer require reading Frederick Douglass' autobiography.


Monday, April 2, 2012


This is it. 

A collaborative collection.

Welcome to our blog. Marcia and I have realized that the combination of my ideas and her opinions and the love we share for our mysterious and playful language would give us an opportunity to blog in tandem.

Take it as an experiment in community. Writing together about things that matter to the heart. Questions that we are asking ourselves and the Body of Christ. Issues that we feel unequal to address singly, we can take on collectively.

The topics will include "all things counter, original, spare, strange." That leaves us pretty much free to dabble or dive deep as we will.

Feel free to comment or counter. Let us be iron sharpening iron.

Let us begin.


What a privilege to be part of a conversation with my dear old friend. I am as irreverent as Karen is earnest; as immature as she is selfless; as suburban as she is global. 

This could be the start of something beautiful. If our friendship can stand the strain.