Thursday, January 12, 2012
Sign on door of store downtown: “Saturday: noon to close.” Seems a bit abstract...
I had high hopes for Now You See It, by Cathy Davidson. I’ve enjoyed her previous work, she writes well, and she has a great topic. And parts of it were quite good. (Her observation that students write better on their blogs than in their academic papers struck a chord; when I used to tutor in a writing center, I noticed that students who could write perfectly lucid notes or letters couldn’t write lucid papers. In both cases, the issue is less “writing ability” per se than fluency in an unfamiliar genre.)
Oddly enough for a book about “attention blindness,” though, Davidson doesn’t seem aware of the level of “look at me!” in her own writing. She positions the book as a counterweight to claims of cultural decline, which is fine and good, but the anecdotes she strings together are all variations on “I met someone wonderful in a wonderful location, and heard something great, and then I went somewhere else and did the same thing! Isn’t that great?” By the time she devoted part of a chapter to her ex-husband’s Mom, it became a real struggle to keep reading. I’m not sure what the writerly equivalent of “mugging for the camera” is, but that’s how it reads.
Frustratingly, the Peripatetic Pollyanna stuff gets in the way of a nifty argument. Davidson notes that we tend to see what we look for, and thereby to miss some promising possibilities. Worse, we get so worked up with unnecessary anxieties about change that we fail to nurture new developments when they most need it. Her history of cultural anxieties about “multitasking” is on-point, revealing, and witty; apparently, the hand-wringing over putting radios in cars in the early twentieth century rivaled the recent worries about cyber-distractions. (The best moments in the book echo Steven Johnson’s Everything Bad is Good for You, which goes uncited.) When she gets out of her own way, Davidson can be engaging and incisive. Inside this often-annoying book is a brilliant kindle single screaming to get out. I just wish she could have seen it.
The big news out of CES this year was “ultrabooks.” Aside from the cheesy name, these strike me as wildly wonderful if they cost about half of what they cost. For what they cost, not so much.
Okay, this probably says more about me, but what SHOULD have been the big news out of CES was an actual replicator. Yes, it’s version 1.0, but damn. Give it a couple of iterations, and it could be a monster. Draw a design, pour in the plastic, and presto, you have a prototype! Add voice activation and a teakettle and I can do the full Picard. (“Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.”)
That last one may have been a bit of oversharing.
I heard a rumor this week that Congress is considering making students who arrive at community college under the “ability to benefit” rules ineligible for financial aid. (“Ability to benefit” allows students who don’t have a high school diploma or a GED a chance to test in.) My first thought was that we can finally stop coddling all those independently wealthy high school dropouts. Upon reflection, I guess the counterargument would be that they should get their GED’s first. If Congress is willing and able to fund a robust GED preparation system -- adult basic education for all who need it -- then I withdraw my objection. If not, I’m appalled.
Poetry, by The Girl:
We sit on benches
we sometimes use wrenches
from our gear boxes
‘cause we’re hard-workin’ foxes!
She was completing a workbook assignment that asked her to use plurals that end in “-es.” I’d give full credit for that...