About Me

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Armchair theorist, poet, and occasional IT manager, Sascha B. is equipped with a Master's Degree in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Texas, and is not afraid to use it. His work has been published by the University Press of America, Edwin Mellen Press, University of Texas Press, and a variety of small journals nationwide. He is also the proprietor and baker for 3141 Pie, of which you should eat many.

The Deal

I stopped blogging in 2013, when life overtook me. My father became ill and died shortly thereafter, and my mother was left with increasing dementia. I became the primary caregiver, and now orchestrate my mother's care and our family estate.

Now, I am coming up for air again.

Looking for the next book to read. All suggestions welcome.

My reading list is over here.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Don't Tell Me Libraries Are Obsolete

Because, you see, it's the last place left where we have a chance to teach some semblance of critical thinking skills, now that we have elided them from the more general educational curriculum:

Consider the efforts of Frances Harris, librarian at the magnet University Laboratory High School in Urbana, Illinois. (Librarians are our national leaders in this fight; they’re the main ones trying to teach search skills to kids today.) Harris educates eighth and ninth graders in how to format nuanced queries using Boolean logic and advanced settings. She steers them away from raw Google searches and has them use academic and news databases, too.

But, crucially, she also trains students to assess the credibility of what they find online. For example, she teaches them to analyze the tone of a web page to judge whether it was created by an academic, an advocacy group, or a hobbyist. Students quickly gain the ability to detect if a top-ranked page about Martin Luther King Jr. was actually posted by white supremacists.

Read Thompson's whole piece here. I won't go so far as to say that the rise of information technology is making us stupid; but I will say that it is most certainly allowing us to become less discriminating, less mentally acute, and overall a society of the intellectually lazy and gullible.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

From a groundbreaking 2009 report on multi-tasking:
Results showed that heavy media multitaskers are more susceptible to interference from irrelevant environmental stimuli and from irrelevant representations in memory. This led to the surprising result that heavy media multitaskers performed worse on a test of task-switching ability, likely due to reduced ability to filter out interference from the irrelevant task set.  

And now, the author's 2011 ruminations on the same topic:

Historically, when someone tapped on our shoulder, they were necessarily physically next to us. So they knew if we were already holding a conversation with someone else, and could adjust their behavior, or withhold their request. We, in turn, felt compelled to respond to the tap on the shoulder when it came. But now, the incoming chat message, the phone call, and the television announcer, all tap on our shoulder in a sense, trying to get our attention. They are entirely oblivious to each other, and solicit our attention as if they were the only ones. We, on the other hand, feel the same obligation to respond. It may be that our social norms and instincts are not scaling at the rate of communication channels. In this way, media may have brought about a new tragedy of the commons - by aggressively trying to grab our undivided attention, they have threatened the very notion of undivided attention.
I think the moral is that we desperately need to begin exercising more control over our focus and our interactions. Shut off the iPhone. Turn off the twitter feed. Read a book. Have an uninterrupted conversation with the person or people right next to you.

This is not Ludditry: this is retraining ourselves to think with focus in an age dedicated to the disruption of that thought.

(h/t Sullivan)