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December 2009
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February 2010

I Might Want One Of Those

I'm really not a gadget guy.  I've never been interested in the new shiny thing for its own sake. 

On the other hand, I switched from a desktop to a laptop long ago, long before they were common,  because it made sense for the way that I work (as far back as 1989 I would travel with a "portable" computer -- it used 5 1/4 inch floppies (no internal hard drive)  and the modem weighed five pounds by itself). 

I've got five iPods (although that includes my beloved U2 model which sits quietly displayed on a shelf after I fried it out in the west Texas desert a few years ago), and I never go anywhere without my inMotion speakers. 

But I watch Lynn with her blackberry and Marian with her iPhone and I think they're damned interesting devices, but I can't think of a reason why I would want one.  I'm intrigued by the plethora of iPhone aps, but I haven't seen more than a few that I think I'd want to bother spending my time on.  My own phone is a decidedly unsmart Motorola i670, which I use strictly for the archaic purpose of making phone calls.  I think I can get my email on it, but I've never bothered to set it up.  I've exchanged not more than half a dozen text messages in my life.  I'm on twitter & facebook, but I can almost never think of anything I want to say there.  I think the Kindle is a solution in search of a problem.

So I was surprised at myself, watching the NYT live-blogging of the iPad announcement, to find myself thinking, "I might need to get one of those."

The commentator on NPR and at least one other journalist that I've read referred to it as essentially a big iPhone, which seems like the wrong comparison to me, since it lacks the one essential feature that makes the iPhone a phone.  It's more a big iPod Touch.  But since the phone is my least favorite way of communicating these days, that's not a big deficit for my purposes.

I'm sure that ninety-five percent of what I do with my laptop is wordprocessing, email, & web.  With the keyboard dock accessory, it looks like the iPad would let me do all of that pretty well.   And at a fraction of the weight of my laptop.

My lack of interest in the Kindle has caused me just a slight twinge of professional guilt.  I feel like I ought to become proficient with it just so I can better assess what the impact might be on books, reading, publishing, libraries, etc. -- the world of my supposed expertise.  The iPad could help me assuage a bit of that guilt as well.

I've got two months to think about it.  The geek reviews that I've seen in the first flush of the announcement are pretty negative.  I can see why somebody with a desktop machine, a high-end laptop, a smartphone and an iPod or two would have a hard time figuring out what the point of the iPad would be.  But I don't think that Apple designed this one for the geeks.

Figuring Out Who's Who

One afternoon last year, just as we're turning off the highway on our way to the arena for a basketball game, Josie pipes up from the back seat, "When Nonni was a little girl, did you take her to the basketball games?"

By then she had clued in to the fact that her grandmother was once a little girl.  I, on the other hand, am eternal.

She is gradually coming to understand that we have pasts.  That Nonni is Mommy's Mommy.  That GigiBunny is my mommy.  I tell her that when I was a boy I had long hair very much like hers and that sometimes my girlfriends would put it into a long braid for me.  She can't quite figure out if I'm kidding or not.  I tell her that I'm going to find some old photographs and prove it to her (I don't think I have any of me with the braid, but I do have some of me with the very long hair -- and when I was nineteen it was remarkably similar in color to what hers is now).

When we were in Hawaii in May, we were all getting ready to head out to the beach.  Josie was holding the heavy door open while the three of us (Nonni, Nonai & Mommy) were gathering up our things.  She was impatient.  "C'mon, guys!  I need a parent to hold open the door!"

Amused, I ask, "And who are your parents?"

"You guys," she says, in the tone of voice that a four year old uses when you've asked her a particularly stupid question.  Of course we are.

The other day, she asked me, "Where's your other ring?" 

My other ring, I think?  I've only ever worn one ring.  What is she talking about?

"I just have the one ring, Bug."

"But you've been married two times."

Ahh, now I get it.  Having been to a couple of weddings now (most recently, her dad's wedding in November) the notion interests her.  She has recently discovered that both Nonni and I are married to each other and that we have each been married once before.  So I explain that once I was no longer married to the other person I put that ring away and don't wear it anymore.

That we have had other lives, and that we are connected in all of these different ways, is fascinating to her.  That there was a time in our lives before her.  Because for her, we have been there from the very beginning.

I point to the picture on the dresser in the guest room.  "Who's that?" I ask with a grin.

"It's you and me.  I was just a baby." New Grandfather

"You were brand new.  Scarcely two hours old.  I could practically hold you in the palm of my hand.  And look at you now, big girl!"

She giggles, wraps her arms around my neck, buries her head in my shoulder and sighs contentedly.

The Relevance of Libraries

"And the library?

"It can look like the most archaic institution of all.  Yet its past bodes well for its future, because libraries were never warehouses of books.  They have always been and always will be centers of learning.  Their central position in the world of learning makes them ideally suited to mediate between the printed and the digital modes of communication."

This, from the introduction to Robert Darnton's The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future

I've been a fan of Darnton's ever since reading The Great Cat Massacre many years ago.  As a historian with an annales disposition, he has done some of the most interesting and useful work on the history of the book and printing and the way they have affected society and the diffusion of knowledge of anyone in the past fifty years.  As an innovator and experimenter (he founded the Gutenberg-e program), he has taken what he's learned from all of that scholarly work and looked for ways to apply it in shaping the intellectual infrastructure of the 21st century.  Now, as Director of the Harvard University Library, he is perfectly placed to assess the state of libraries and the convergence of print and digital.

Plus, he's a damn fine writer.  I would put this book on the absolutely must read list for any librarian who actually wants to understand better why the question of "how do we make libraries relevant" is a complete hand-wringing red-herring waste of time.

Of course, it's a book.  It's 206 pages (plus intro and index), and I know that a lot of the hip young techno (hand-wringing) librarians don't like to read books.  They get everything they need from blogs and twitter.  Look at it this way -- very few of Darnton's sentences are longer than 140 characters.  Take a deep breath and pretend it's just a really long twitter feed.  I know you can do it.  Two evenings, max.

It's a collection of essays (most reworked somewhat) that he's written over a number of years, divided into three sections -- looking into the future, studying the present, and considering the past and the implications that our past has for our future.   He has particularly insightful things to say about the Google Books settlement (agree with him or not, his arguments need to be considered), the advantages or disadvantages of electronic books, the importance of open access, and why the history of books matters.

Darnton is neither a technophile evangelist for the coming digital revolution, nor a grudging apologist for how it used to be "better".  His long historical perspective puts him in the position of someone who is excited about what the new technologies can offer us without losing his understanding of the importance of what we've had in the past and what needs to be preserved as we move eagerly into the unknown future.

Librarians, and the institutions that they build, have always played a critical role in the advancement and preservation of learning and culture.  Darnton's book helps to explain why that is even more the case now than ever. 

Disruptions In Many Directions

If I were a sociologist of the blogosphere, I might find a fine case study in the comment thread to Michael Clarke's excellent post, Why Hasn't Scientific Publishing Been Disrupted Already?, which showed up on The Scholarly Kitchen just after the start of the new year.

Clarke starts with the observation that, despite nearly two decades of chatter about how the web was going to revolutionize scholarly publishing, and despite the tremendous disruptions that have occurred in so many other areas of modern society and communications, scholarly publishing "does not look dramatically different..., at least in terms of the major publishers. The industry has been relatively stable."

He then goes on to hypothesize why that might be, and suggests that it has to do with the fact that the major roles that publishers play are cultural ones, and that "these are not technology-driven functions."

He goes on, "Given these 3 deeply entrenched cultural functions, I do not think that scientific publishing will be disrupted anytime in the foreseeable future. That being said, I do think that new technologies are opening the door for entirely new products and services built on top of—and adjacent to—the existing scientific publishing system."  And he gives some examples.

I think that Clarke is right on target here.  I've long argued that while the technological changes that the internet represents are indeed profound, it will take at least a generation or two before we begin to see the beginnings of a mature digital culture that parallels the mature print culture that we all grew up in, because it takes a considerable amount of time for society to fully absorb and adjust to the sociological, cultural, political and legal changes that are required.

The post has garnered 75 comments -- relatively few of which actually address the core of his argument.   As is usually the case with blog discussions many of the commenters use the occasion to expand on their own pet issues, which may or may not be tangentially related to the core of the argument being put forth.  Then there are the little side arguments that take place among different commenters which often go very far afield. 

Overall though, it's pretty interesting discourse, even if it doesn't take Clarke's argument very far.  It's like being in a bar with a group of semi-sober, smart, opinionated, occasionally cantankerous, and sometimes slightly lunatic folks who really do care very much about the issues, even if the evening is wearing on rather past the point where anyone is thinking clearly.   At any moment somebody is going to climb up on a table and start declaiming, "It is so being disrupted!" just before he falls over and passes out.

But Clarke's essay deserves more serious attention than just as fodder for barroom conversation, no matter how occasionally brilliant and illuminating some of that conversation can be.  I hope that it gets it.


"C'mon, guys!  Come over here now!"

That's Josie, on Christmas Eve, calling us for the second time that evening, urging us to get over to her house.  Marian had said anytime after 5:00, and at this point it's about 7:30 as we're scrambling to finish wrapping presents and get everything together that we'll need for Christmas morning at their house.

"I'm just getting ready to load up the car, Bug.  We'll be out of here in another twenty minutes."

It's Josie's fifth Christmas, but the first Christmas morning in her own house.  It didn't really occur to me, until we were making our way from our house to theirs, in the cold driving rain, that this was the first Christmas Eve of our marriage that Lynn and I would not be spending Christmas Eve at our house.  It feels good to graduate that to Marian.

The pattern these past years has been that Marian & Josie come to our house on Christmas Eve.  I'll have spent the afternoon assembling Lynn's traditional spaghetti & meatballs sauce and we'll be finishing up the wrapping & the last of the decorating.  Christmas morning I'm always first up, so I've got time to get the coffee going and have a few moment's of writing time to myself to admire the tree and the profusion of pretty packages.  Marian & Josie are not quite the champion sleepers that their mother/grandmother is, but I'll still usually have half an hour before they make their way down the stairs.

It was no different this year, except that it had been Lynn and I in their guest room rather than the other way 'round.  I was still first up and still had some time to write before the girls came downstairs, all grins & rubbing out the sleepiness, big eyes and excitement at the stockings and what was underneath the tree.

The location may have shifted slightly, but the pattern was the same.  After gift opening, I headed to the kitchen to start the potato pancakes.  Josie helped a bit, as she usually does, although she was distracted by the board game the girls were playing in the dining room.  Then brunch, with champagne.

And what is Christmas without the male head 0f household spending part of the afternoon assembling stuff?  This year it was Josie's 14 ft. trampoline.  We all pitched in, but it was quite a project and after a couple of hours I was a muddy, cold, exhausted mess.  But the trampoline was up, along with the safety net, and Josie was bouncing and giggling wildly.  We had to force her to come in before she froze her nose.

Lynn and I gathered up our stuff and headed home.  Marian & Josie headed for a nap.  I took a very long hot shower and settled in on the couch with a martini and The Absolute Sandman (gift from Lynn).   The first part of the day had been particularly fine, mud and cold notwithstanding (and from this vantage point, nearly two weeks later, I'm even fond of the memory of the mud and cold). 

Early evening, Josie & Marian arrive at our house.  Josie brings along the drumset that Lynn gave her and I bring up my guitar and we make music and sing and laugh like crazy.  Then she helps me with the final preparations of the spaghetti sauce and with setting the table.  We all have our Christmas antlers on.  At the table, we compare this year's meatballs to those of years past.  We tell stories and thank each other again for the day's presents.  This is the culmination of the day, what all the rest has been leading up to -- the four of us at the table, eating spaghetti & meatballs made from Lynn's grandmother's recipe, stepping our way through all of the little rituals that make us a family.

Dinner is done, and I put up the big screen, and we watch "Return to Oz" (this being very much of an Oz themed Christmas -- when Josie opened the "Wizard of Oz" DVD I'd gotten for her, she screeched, "It's the Dorothy movie!" and threw herself around my neck).  It's getting late, and Josie and I doze through some of it, but that's part of the tradition too. 

It's late when Josie & Marian head home.   I decide to leave the dishes from the morning and Lynn and I tumble into bed.

In the quiet of the next morning I think back on the wonders of the day.  I think back on fifteen years of Christmases with Lynn & Marian, five now with Josie as well.  The details shift slightly, year by year.  The essence remains.