Sunday, April 22, 2012

Just start calling me Rip Van Meridian

Your correspondent's arrival to last Tuesday's department meeting? Naah--it's really Tompkins H. Matteson's Rip Van Winkle's Return (1860). Image found here.

Apparently, part of turning 50 (which for me will occur next week) is that one feels the uncontrollable impulse to begin lots of sentences with "In my day . . ." or "I remember when"--not to mention, in my particular instance, a certain rueful recollection of earlier times when I'd hear someone older begin talking like that and think, "C'mon, old man--stop living in the past."

(There's a strange poetry of confluence between that impulse and the upcoming annual colo-rectal exams I'll soon begin undergoing, but I'll leave that for another time.)

During Tuesday's meeting, at which we walked through the process by which we are to build not a single, department-wide e-text but our own, individual customized e-texts for use as anthologies in our rhetoric/research classes beginning this fall, I felt a lot like that hunched-over old guy in the painting above. I found myself wandering back in time to my undergrad days (almost 30 years ago now) when I first seriously used an IBM Selectric typewriter and wondering how producing a text would get any cooler than that and, later, when working on my master's, trying to compose a short paper on an Apple IIe--in those days, you just about had to program the thing to produce text (by this time, Macs existed, but we didn't have one in the tutoring office)--and thinking, Man, screw this: I'll just keep using a typewriter for my work once I get to a doctoral program. In short, I of course clearly remember how things got done back when I first entered college, but in comparing that time to this one, we might as well have been monks in medieval monasteries.

(Mind you, I don't feel nostalgia for those days, enjoyable as they were--after all, I wrote a fair number of terms papers and my dissertation using WordPerfect 5.1 . . . for which, every time nowadays that I wrassle with Word's presets, I admit to feeling more than a little nostalgia.)

But then again, maybe I'm still dreaming . . . As I played around with the software for my own e-text, I ran across an article titled "Could Written Language Be Rendered Obsolete, and What Should We Demand in Return?." It speculates that as researchers perfect mind-to-machine interfaces, we can someday (perhaps by 2050) essentially do away with that clunky old technology known as written language and convey what we want to communicate via just thinking it. I will have more to say about that piece later on in another context. For now, though, I'll just say that, that day, as I played around with the interface and read this article, I found myself wondering, "Just what kind of place are we preparing our students for? I am having trouble imagining it."


R. Sherman said...

Last year, I sent the Official Daughter off to college with a Mac Book Pro. I went off to college with a manual Royal portable typewriter.


As to the topic of this post, I cannot imagine what is in essence telepathic communication. Where's the style? Where's the creative use of language needed to express great thoughts. We'll be the worse for it, I think.


John B. said...

Randall, your second paragraph is the gist of what I want to say: that to make such assumptions about language is to have a pretty limited view of just what language is and what it does.

R. Sherman said...


"Get off my lawn . . ." encapsulates my entire life since I turned 50.



John B. said...

I've not yet taken up yelling at people (of course, I haven't yet turned 50--that will be on the 25th), but I do find myself thinking more frequently, "Oh, if only people were smarter than they appear to be . . . "

Doc said...

I KNEW you were going to talk like that; why, back in the day...

Nearly a decade into my 50s I've found the impulse to contribute one's 'helpful advice' fades after the initial shock of realizing people are doing things wrong. The Internetz has been especially useful in this regard - so many people are wrong so often on the 'netz that it burns that trigger out fairly early. And, if not, one blogs about it...

; ' )

Regarding telepathy, that's closer than you might suspect...

John B. said...

Hey, Doc--a belated thanks for dropping by. I hear you loud and clear about the 'Nets exposing me to more wrong-headedness than I probably would ever have encountered in an analog world. What's especially frustrating about that is that epistemic closure has resulted in a lot of these folks thinking that they're smarter than they really are because the other people in their little info-silo keep telling them that they're smart--and when someone in there dares to tell them that they aren't smart, the truth-teller gets ousted from the silo. If they won't allow themselves to be "fixed," there's not much I can do about it.