from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Does it matter? 

Now that summertime has come, and I do not have my students to deal with, I have been able to spend more (too much) time online, reading blog entries and making some of my own. In this process, I have encountered writing ranging from the superb (thank you Meteor Blades) to the execrable (you shall remain nameless). I have been exposed to ideas and information that challenged me and forced me to rethink my positions, and I have seen far too many entries that were electrons a natural resource would represent a major despoliation of our environment for little constructive purpose.

Next week I will be in a workshop preparing to teach AP government. between travel time and the time in class, it is possible that I will be off-line and unconnected from 7 AM until at least 6 Pm for the first 4 days of the week (although if the campus has free wireless, perhaps not --I am assuming I will not have access). So as I confront the real possibility of being disconnected in such a fashion, I have to ask myself, does it matter?


When I was younger, I spent 8 summers at the National Music Camp in Interlochen Michigan. During the 8 weeks of each summer, we might see a Detroit paper on Sunday, but otherwise we were disconnected form the goings on around the world. By my last summer, in 1962, transistor radios were becoming somewhat more common, so we might here the news or a baseball game in the evening. Of course, if off on a 3-day canoe trip on the Pine River, we would not even have that. But we did not seem to suffer from that remove from the latest goings on -- except of course that we might not hear the latest “hot” rock song during its meteoric three-week stay on the top-40 list.

Later in life, when I was 19, I enlisted in the Marines. During our 10 weeks in boot camp, we were quite disconnected from the ‘real world,” although as I have noted, those of us who attended Jewish services at Parris Island on Sundays got at least a glance at the local (Savannah and Charleston SC) Sunday papers.

So it was possible at least as an adolescent to live without ongoing contact with the latest goings on. But then, maybe I was not as yet as much of a news junkie.

We were married on December 29, 1985. We wended our way west, eventually spending a bit over a week in French Polynesia -- Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora-Bora. During that entire time we did not once read a newspaper nor watch television. When we came back to the US, i realized sitting in the terminal at Los Angeles International Airport how much had happened while we were gone, but did not feel too badly disconnected. After all, it would have been possible -- even those days that compared to now were so technologically impoverished -- to have stayed semi-connected had we so desired. We even met some Americans who had videotapes of the NFL playoffs, and we could have watched the games we had missed had we so desired.

I have experienced being truly out of touch. I have often been drawn to monasteries. I spent the summer of 1974 in an Episcopalian Benedictine monastery near Kalamazoo, but that was no so far removed from connection to the larger world -- I remember that we were invited into the monk’s Common Room to watch the opening of the House Judiciary Committee’s hearings on Watergate impeachment, and thus I got to see Barbara Jordan’s memorable remarks in in real time.

But my three stays on Mount Athos -- in 1981, 1983 and 1989 -- were far different. While by 1989 the monastery that was my primary domicile on my visits had telephone connections both to the “capital” of the monastic republic and to the outside world, on my first two visits, one of which was for a month, there was no such connection, and no television or radio. I was totally disconnected from the outside world, except for remarks made by new arrivals among the tourists and visitors who would arrive. As I remember, I thus totally was unaware of the disaster of the Exxon Valdez until about a week after it happened. I surely missed many sporting events. By 1982 I lived here in Arlington, and was involved politically. Yet on the final two trips I really did not feel “left out” at not knowing the latest goings on in Washington, even though in 1983 I was actively involved in the presidential campaign of Fritz Hollings.

So as I now confront the possibility of a 4-5 day period where I may not be able to regularly check my email, or browse various blogs, or offer my own thoughts by posting comments and diaries, I again return to the question --- does it matter?

That I may not “know” as much of what is being discussed seems almost liberating. If I don’t know, I will not feel as obligated to respond.

And that I might not be posting could be seen by some as a great blessing -- after all, I am as wasteful of electrons in my bloviations as anyone whom I might have criticized. of what importance is ti really that I point out and summarize a news article in a major paper, as I am wont to do from the Boston Globe? Are my posts on education so time sensitive and so crucial that the world would not go on in their absence?

I am reading a book about writing, by Anne Lamott, entitled bird by bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. While it is primarily oriented towards those who would write fiction, much of what she offers is applicable to those of us who offer our ideas in fora such as this. For any writer, there is a need to write -- one only develops skill as writer by writing, and by reading the written work of others.

And yet -- here in the electronic universe much of what we encounter and we ourselves produce is but first drafts. I wonder how much more precise our writing would be were we not so tempted by the speed of the blogosphere. I am reminded by this every time I turn to dailykos and see among the recent diaries a number which attempt to emphasize their immediacy with titles that begin with “BREAKING” often in screaming capital letters such as I have just used.

I know that my own writing could do with much editing. I know this from the process of wrestling with an op ed piece that by the time it was published was in its 8th complete version (if you really want to read it, I have it linked at my own website (you may have read it when I previously posted it in several locations). it is not merely that far too often what I write -- in diaries in in comments -- has typos, grammar errors, is unnecessarily verbose. The real issue is whether that posting adds anything to our public discourse.

Certainly I would say that much of what i read in the blogosphere does not. Often even when pieces are far more skillfully crafted than I could ever hope to accomplish, the actual content they contain really does not advance our understanding of issues, or move people to action.

For myself, I value my participation in these electronic discussions. I began doing it several years ago on a now defunct bulletin board on educational issues. For me, often my best thinking comes in response to a stimulus offered by someone else.

And I have been a writer / reflector since my adolescent years, often pulling a spiral notebook out of my pocket, or if one were not available grabbing any paper including cocktail napkins, to write down my thoughts, my perceptions. I usually had two do several pages of writing before i could come up with several good and clear ideas, well expressed. I rarely rewrote anything -- it was, after all, primarily a journal not shared with other people, except periodically with the woman now my wife of almost 20 years.

Like many people, perhaps, I derive satisfaction when the words and ideas I offer evoke a positive response from others. But that is not a sufficient reason to impose so many of my words upon others. Yes, i would like to be able to influence policy discussions -- and if possible policy decisions - in areas that matter to me. That in itself is insufficient justification for the time and energy I have been spending in blogging. I think it is good that on dailykos I am limited to two diaries a day, because there have been days where I would otherwise have been tempted to post four or more times. Really, I don’t have that much of value to offer.

Similarly, with almost 400 diaries a day at dailykos, even were I not to read other sources, I would never have time to read more than a handful. And I certainly cannot devote my waking hours to perusing all the comments to most diaries or front-page stories. I value the insights I obtain that are missing from main stream news and analysis sources, but I can and will survive without such a close connection.

Does it matter, therefore, that I may be less (if at all) visible at various electronic sites -- dailykos, boomantribune, teacherken, elsewhere -- next week and perhaps in the future? I think it may be healthy for me. I won’t disappear, I will probably post occasionally, perhaps in the evening next week.

But if I post less frequently, then what I post should be more considered. Methinks then that the words I offer will be of greater value to those who encounter them.

I truly value my experience electronically. And I hope that what I offer has, more often than not, been of positive value for others. For my own well-being, it is an opportune time next week, that i will not be so connected. So I intend to use that as a period for some level of removal, lest I become addicted and/or dependent upon my electronic connection. And for what is left of my vacation from teaching, I want the time and energy to read books, to sit with my five cats on and surrounding me, to simply sit outside and listen to the mockingbirds and watch the clouds go by.

Does it matter?
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