"Put Hope Away"

It’s usually one of the last things I hear before heading into bed at night.  I’ll be sitting at the antique rolltop, sorting out my pills for the next day, dropping them into the appropriate compartments of my Mad Hatter pillbox, and Lynn will be calling, in her sing-song encouraging voice, “Put Hope away…!”

I grimace and shake my head because it seems all too appropriate for the political times we find ourselves in.  Thankfully, she isn’t talking to me.  She’s talking to Jemma, the golden retriever.  It’s part of their nightly routine, as Lynn coaxes Jemma to put the day’s toys back in the toybox.  “Jemma, get red ring.  Put red ring away.  Good Jemma dog!  Now put green ball away.  Put green ball away.  Good dog!  Now put Hope away…”

A plush white rabbit.  A Christmas gift for Jemma that arrived with a silver medallion around the neck that said “Hope.”  Not long after, word came that the Trump whisperer was leaving her job at the White House.  So we now refer to the bunny as Hope Hicks.  “Put Hope Hicks away…”  She’s just landed a job as chief communications officer for New Fox.

There was a despairing column in the NYT a few days ago, “How Do I Explain Justice Kavanaugh to My Daughters?”  Jennifer Weiner feels crushed by the vicious reactions of Kavanaugh’s supporters.  Blasey Ford bravely testified and it didn’t matter.  Weiner writes,

Our girls will learn to police their clothes, their words, their drinking, their behavior, their choices, because they’ve been watching, and what they’ve seen is this: If you get hurt, it’s probably your fault, and if you tell, probably no one will believe you, and even if people do, probably nothing will happen.

But maybe our daughters are smarter than that.  Perhaps they’ve seen more than that. 

The chances of Kavanaugh not being confirmed were ever miniscule to none.  Nothing short of a convictable offense was going to change that.  But it is far from true that nothing happened.  Young women were watching all of that, too.

They saw the floodgates of stories open.  Women who’d locked up their own stories for years and decades discovered they could finally find it in themselves to testify, too.  They found empathy and support.  Some called them heroes.

Monica Hesse wrote a brilliant column explaining why so many women hadn’t, and haven’t, told their fathers about their own assaults and many fathers were rattled by those revelations.  They struggled and questioned and thought and re-thought their own behavior.

Young women saw that they’re not alone and the voices proclaiming, “It’s not your fault,” echoed loud and long.  Young men questioned their own behavior and wondered about the kinds of men they want to be and how to become them.  Discussion shifted from the privileged power dynamics in the workplace to the conditions that give rise to men behaving that way in the first place.

People looked for better ways to talk about what happens.  Catharine MacKinnon wrote:

Culturally, it is still said “women allege” or “claim” they were sexually assaulted. Those accused “deny” what was alleged. What if survivors “report” sexual violation and the accused “alleges” or “claims” it did not occur, or occur as reported?

And looking at the bigger picture, there's this, from Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code:

...the girls of this generation are as passionate and unapologetic about what matters to them as any in history. They display a sense of moral clarity, an instinct for inclusiveness, and a commitment to making the world a better place for people of all ages and genders. The rest of us should follow their lead.

Times Up isn’t going to eradicate workplace harassment, but it is giving people the tools, psychological and practical, to resist and to fight back.  The walls of the patriarchy didn’t come tumbling down on the strength of Dr. Ford’s testimony.  But more cracks appeared.  Young people watching saw all of that, too.  One woman came to DC and told her truth to the Senate.  Millions watched.  Sure, Kavanaugh was confirmed.  But so much else happened as well.

On any given night, weary of the tumult and anger and bitter frustrations of the day, we put Hope away.  Every morning, full of energy and glee, Jemma shakes her loose again.


Veracity

How about a presumption of veracity? 

What does it mean to "believe women"?  Start by believing they're telling the truth.  That they, too, are "innocent" -- innocent of deceit or misjudgment.   The presumption that they're telling the truth should be exactly as strong as the presumption of innocence we give the accused.

Reasonable doubt.  Is the story of the person proclaiming their innocence true?  We start with the presumption that it is, and we hold to that presumption until the weight of evidence carries us to the point where we can no longer believe what we started out believing.

If we apply that same standard to a presumption of veracity, instead of just one story, now we have two.  Only one of the stories can be true, but now we have to weigh them equally. 

In the case of Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh, what evidence do we have?  Their histories, the testimony of people who know them, bits of documentation (her therapist's notes, his calendars).  The psychology of trauma and memory.  The motivations that might move them to tell their differing stories.  All of it counts.

To disbelieve Blasey Ford requires concluding, beyond a reasonable doubt, that either the assault never happened or she is mistaken about the perpetrator.   The gaps about time and place in her story are explained by the psychology of trauma.  The delay in telling anyone about it is, we know, quite typical in cases of assault.  None of this is sufficient to conclude, beyond a reasonable doubt, that her story isn't true.  

Kavanaugh's story is weaker.  The testimony of people who knew him, the record of the bar fight when he was at Yale, the physiology of alcohol induced blackouts, all indicate that the picture he presents of himself as a young man isn't accurate.   But this still isn't enough to judge him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. (Not "innocent," remember.  Just not guilty.)

So the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard isn't going to help us if we apply it equally.  But we don't need to hold this as the standard.  This isn't a criminal trial and his story isn't the only one that matters.  We're not facing a question of imposing criminal penalties. We don't need to conclude that he's guilty of that particular assault beyond a reasonable doubt.  We need to decide if all of the facts that we have create sufficient doubt about his character to appoint him to a seat on the Supreme Court.

Whose story seems less likely?  Everyone needs to come to their own conclusion, but if "believe women" is going to mean something seriously, if we're going to correct the state of affairs in which the woman's story is automatically cast in a shadow of doubt, with all of the life ruination and miscarriages of justice that's caused, we need something like the presumption of veracity to correct the balance.  We'll still need to struggle with how to apply it in case after case.  But in this case, I doubt the man. I believe the woman.  

 

 


Making History

"The permanent arrival of Europeans to the Americas was a transformative event that undeniably and fundamentally changed the course of human history and set the stage for the development of our great Nation."  You could be forgiven for assuming this is Richard Spencer talking during his brief Charlottesville 3.0 demonstration.  It's not, but it undoubtedly cheered him and his companions when they read it in President Trump's Columbus Day proclamation.

Here's what Spencer did say on Saturday:  "We care about our heritage, we care about who we are, not just as Virginians, not just as Southerners, but as white people. ... You'll have to get used to us... We're going to come back again and again and again."  They sang "I Wish I Was in Dixie."  They chanted, "You will not replace us," and "The South will rise again," and "Russia is our friend."

In his Charlottesville Statement, posted back in August, Spencer says,“'European' refers to a core stock—Celtic, Germanic, Hellenic, Latin, Nordic, and Slavic—from which related cultures and a shared civilization sprang." For the White Nationalists, this is the true and only foundation of the United States.  It's the perceived erosion of that primary culture into a multiracial, multiethnic, egalitarian society that does not privilege any group over another that they find so threatening.  The Declaration of Independence proclaimed that all men are created equal, and the tortuous history of our country has been the struggle to figure out how to extend that promise to all people.   This the alt-right can't abide.  When Trump proclaims that the permanent arrival of Europeans was the transformative event that led to the development of the United States, he is explicitly telling them that he stands with them.

In Indianapolis on Sunday, other postures were taken.  Many of the 49ers took a knee, of course.  VP Pence, knowing that would be the case, told the press detail not to bother coming in to the stadium.  He knew he wouldn't be there long.  The Colts wore shirts that read, "We will stand for equality, justice, unity, respect, dialogue, opportunity."  Pence walked out, making it clear where he stands.  It was a great weekend for the alt-right.

History is made from our choices.  How we choose to view the past, how we choose to act in the present.  Where, and with whom, we choose to stand.  What we choose to stand for.  

 


Conversation in Charleston: Public Access and Data

"Promote ORCID."

That was Greg's "if you take just one thing from this session" recommendation.  Howard agreed, but added, "...equally promote having your researchers submit their funder information when submitting manuscripts for journal publication.  Having the Researcher ID and Funder ID together married up to the article DOI is a powerful combination."

On the other hand, just having Howard & Greg chatting together on the same stage was a pretty powerful combination.   When SHARE & CHORUS were first launched, just a few months after the Holdren memo was released, many observers saw them as competitive.  In this corner, the publishing lobby making a policy end run to try to maintain their market dominance; and in this corner the combined might of the research libraries and universities seeking to leverage their investments in institutional repositories into some greater relevance.  Which of these mutually exclusive solutions would the federal funding agencies settle on? (Or would PMC simply vacuum everything up into an expansive PubScience Central)?

Fortunately, it didn't take too long for the developers to see where the projects overlapped and where there were advantages to be gained for both projects by sharing expertise and perspectives.  By the time I had lunch with several of my Roundtable colleagues at the AAAS meeting last February those conversations had gotten to the point where a joint appearance at Charleston was starting to look like a real possibility.  I immediately thought of Greg as a potential participant.  He's a Charleston regular and has been working with SHARE as a consultant.  Turns out that he had been having discussions with Judy Ruttenberg about a similar panel proposal and when the Charleston directors got wind of all this, they put us together.

Bringing Howard in was a natural given his role with CHOR., and I wanted to include John Vaughn, whose experiences with handling scholarly commnications issues for the AAU go back many years, and whose roles in chairing the Roundtable and in helping to develop the SHARE concept have amply demonstrated his commitment to including the views of all stakeholders in working through these very complicated issues.

The concept that Greg & Judy were developing was broader than just SHARE & CHORUS, however, and when the three of us spoke by phone over the summer we agreed on the necessity of bringing in a data person.  We were very fortunate that Laurie Goodman, editor-in-chief of Gigascience, was able to join us.

I've done several sessions like this over the years -- "facilitated conversation".  No presentations.  Some informal agreement among the participants about the likely themes.  I prepare half a dozen or so questions ahead of time, but once we get to the event, I rarely use more than two.  With the right people, the conversation flows naturally and takes its own course.  My job is just to keep it moving.

With this group, my task was extremely easy and the 45 minutes went by in a flash.  Of course we could have gone on much longer, but I'm happy with the range of topics that we were at least able to touch on.  (The session was recorded, so there will be a link on the Charleston website at some point). 

One of the most striking moments was when Greg asked how many in the audience were involved in managing institutional repositories.  Half the people raised a hand.  Then he said, "Keep your hands up. Now how many of you are successful in getting your authors to submit directly to your IR?" Only 2 hands were left up and one of the two was wavering in uncertainty.

Reshaping the scholarly communication eco-system is a massive job.  As John said, developing achievable policy will require adult deliberations and negotiations among all the key players – universities, libraries, publishers, and government.  It is also clear that a focused effort in data access and interpretation, management, and preservation will become increasingly important, and is one of the areas that currently is both most volatile and most challenging.

So in addition to promoting ORCID, noting funding sources, sharing best practices for effective IR management, and a whole host of other things that came up during the session, John suggests getting one of the nifty yellow Data t-shirts like the one Laurie wore.  Cafe Press has some nice options.

 


Not FASTR Enough

While the publishing industry continues to explore numerous avenues for providing full Open Access to the stewarded versions-of-record of the scientific literature, SPARC once again offers up the hope that the US Congress will save us from the evil paywalls.  Is  this really the best they can do?

Springer is now the largest commercial OA publisher in the world.  The publishers on the Highwire platform make over 2 million articles freely available within twelve months or less.  CrossRef is playing an increasingly important role in this space, most notably with the FundRef initiative.  NPG, AIP, and others are launching mega-journals built on the PLoS One model.  Wiley announced just today that they are moving two of their established journals to open access.  Even stodgy conservative Elsevier now publishes a couple dozen fully OA journals.

SPARC has changed the name of  their bill.  Yay!  Let's write our congresspeople!

There was a remarkable scene at the STM Annual Meeting in Frankfurt last October.  I was moderating the closing session, a discussion of the value of emerging models of scholarly publishing with Kent Anderson as the main speaker.  Always eager  to be provocative, Kent was being sharply critical of eLife, BioMed Central, PLoS One and the notion of open access in general (this will come as no surprise to readers of his pieces in the Scholarly Kitchen).  What resulted was significant pushback from many in the audience, who argued that not only were the various OA models financially viable, but that moving to OA was the  right thing  to do -- that it represented the values that had brought so many of  those people into publishing in the first place.  Imagine that -- 300 STM publishing executives in a conference room with a significant portion of them (and seasoned professionals at that) vociferously defending open access.

Alas.  I think I was the only librarian in the room.

The tide towards open access is inexorable.  Many in  the publishing industry recognize that and are actively engaged in making things happen.  Wouldn't it be nice if librarians were a part of that?  But SPARC, as the librarians' advocate for OA, would have us sit on our hands (well, one hand, I guess -- we're supposed  to use the other to write to Congress) and hope for a legislative solution.

The previous FRPAA versions of FASTR haven't even been able to get a decent congressional hearing.  It's easy enough for a congressperson to sign on as a co-sponsor, but  there doesn't really seem to be much legislative muscle behind it.  And even if it were, somehow, to get through Congress in the current session, think of  the time and money that will be wasted on building the infrastructure necessary for each agency to comply.  All for the sake of "freeing" manuscript versions of articles, many of which publishers are already making available.

I suppose you can't blame librarians too much.  If all they know about publishing is what they read in SPARC press releases it's natural to think that publishers are evil demons bent on hoarding knowledge to the detriment of civilization as we know it.  The slogans about publishers getting everything for free and making the taxpayers pay twice are compelling if you don't look at them too closely.

I'll agree with SPARC on one thing -- we've got no time to waste in moving the open access future forward.  Too bad that while publishing professionals of all stripes are working to make that happen librarians seem content to sit on the sidelines waving cardboard sabers.

 


Living In This Moment

She says, "Can I have one of my pens, like yours?"

She means one of her fountain pens.  Last  summer I bought her a set of disposable ones in a rainbow of colors.

We're at Mikey's for the weekly family dinner.  I keep a stack of stuff on the credenza at home, and bring it along every week.  A couple of Josie's notebooks, her fountain pens, a box full of crayons and paint sticks.  A deck of cards with family table games.  (Tonight there's also a stack of circulars from the Sunday paper so that Josie can do a little Christmas shopping for her Mom -- Lynn will take her out to the stores on Saturday).

I ask her which color pen she wants and she picks the blue one.  I hand her that, and a notebook.  She writes,

Up on the House top!

 

Up on the House top Rain dear pas

Out jups goodol Santa

down thru the chipny with loss of

 

Then she stops and sings it to us before she goes on.  She knows several verses by heart.

She practices writing in cursive, although she's not supposed to do that yet, in first grade.  Her Mom wants her to do some of her homework, but for all of the writing implements that we have with us, we don't have a #2 pencil, and that's the only thing allowed for homework.  She'll have to wait until she gets home.  I make a mental note to add a couple of pencils to the box.

Later, after we finish eating, she plays games on her Mom's phone.  She sends Queenie a text.  She tell us the story of a dream she had last night in which she and her (imaginary) big brother were nearly electrocuted by an alien monster.  She draws a picture of the monster to show us his huge long creepy hands with lightning coming out of the fingers.  It's hard to tell how much she is remembering and how much she is making up on the spot.

We adults live in a linear world in which we grew up with pen and paper and printed books and now wait impatiently (eagerly or with trepidation), wondering when digital is going to replace all of that.  As if the flow is all one way and inevitable.  But Josie lives in the world of now.  In her world, people use fountain pens to write for recreation.  They use phones to talk and text and email.  They gather for family dinners and talk about their dreams and desires.  Printed books and digital books are different experiences that nestle comfortably alongside each other.  Live theater is as thrilling as a 3-D movie.   Sometimes you sing and dance and sometimes you listen to your iPod.

Josie teaches me to live in the land of Now.  To be grateful for the ways that I can reach out electronically without giving up nestling in front of the fire with a hardcover novel.  When I read the debates between Kindle lovers and the devotees of printed books, I think of Josie and think that we are being very foolish.

The restaurant starts to empty and we softly sing Christmas carols to each other as if it's the most natural thing in the world.


University Library 2031

Please share your ideas about what university libraries might look like in 20 years and how we are planning and adapting to keep pace.  This information should be limited to one page...

Every summer I have a 90 minute planning meeting with the President & Provost.  It's an opportunity to talk about how the year has gone, but more importantly, to discuss the major priorities for the year to come.  I get a memo every year listing the items I'm supposed to write up (generally in no more than half a page each) to lay the ground for discussion.  Typically they include things like the university scorecards, significant achievements, top priorities, faculty & staff development and the like.  This year, there were a couple of new questions, including the one above.

I had to smile.  Five years is a long time to be planning these days in libraryland -- to predict two decades isn't science fiction, it's fantasy.  But I always enjoy these meetings and this year I've got a new boss who is really putting a lot of good thought into imagining how the libraries ought to be developing.  So I'm looking forward to the meeting, and I like the challenge of trying to distill my fantasizing into one page.

Here's what I wrote:

 

Twenty years is a long time.  In 1991, when I would try to explain the Internet to people, I would have to show them.  If you hadn’t used a browser, you didn’t have a mental map for what pointing and clicking to move from site to site was like.  The Netscape browser, which made the Internet accessible to anyone with a computer and a dial-up connection, wouldn’t be released until December, 1994.

The consequences of those developments have been huge for academic libraries, and we can expect even more of that over the next two decades.  No doubt, some of what will be the most crucial developments are literally unimaginable from this vantage point.  Nonetheless, one can make some assumptions and speculate about the nature of the academic library based on those assumptions.

  • Most scholarly/educational information will be distributed electronically, although print will continue to be an important niche technology in certain disciplines
  • The form and format of information containers will be radically different, incorporating multi-media and social devices.  The distinction between “e-journals” and “e-books” will have disappeared
  • Much of the required content will be distributed via national or global projects similar to the Google Books project and the Digital Public Library of America
  • Management of locally produced data (“data curation”) will emerge as one of the critical tasks for research universities
  • The “information space” will continue to be very complex and rich, and students and faculty will require training and support in making efficient and effective use of the resources available.

Consequently:

  • “Collection development” as it has been practiced in the past will disappear.  Librarians will focus on managing access to widely distributed information resources, on data curation of locally produced research information, and on organizing and making available locally produced special collections
  • The library building will be student focused as an alternative site for solitary and group study, social interaction, and access to specialized tools and resources.
  • Faculty librarians will spend the majority of their time outside of the library building, participating in curriculum development and teaching, and as members of research teams.

Our space planning focus continues to be making the building a hospitable environment for students.  Our focus on licensing resources is very much usage & request based, so that we can be sure that everything we pay for is being well used.  Our liaison program encourages faculty librarians to spend time interacting directly with faculty and students in the schools that they support.  We will continue to focus our future planning on these areas.

 

How much of that will actually ring true in 20 years I have no idea.  But in the summer of 2011 it's my one page best guess.

 


Reading E

Lynn sends me an Unshelved comic that, while it may not entirely reflect my experience of reading on the iPad, sure does resonate.

I read Turkle's book on the iPad and I've started The Information (so far I'm only getting books in which the iPad itself has at least a bit part).

Here's what I like: 

I can write notes of any length (or, at least, I haven't hit a word limit yet).  Since I have to type them (which is easy enough with the wireless keyboard) they're more legible than my handwriting ever is, and I don't have to squeeze them into the margins of the page.  In a print book that is really engaging, this sometimes gets ludicrously messy.  I really like that you can then go to the front and see a list of all of the places that you've underlined or noted and go right to them.

With the case that Marian gave me, I can easily prop it up and read while I'm eating lunch.

I love that you can touch an endnote number and go right to it and come back.

What I don't like: 

Blocking the passage that I want to highlight or attach a note to is very awkward. More than half the time it takes me two or three trys to get it to stick. This interrupts the flow of the reading. Very different from just having a pen in hand to underline or annotate as you go along.

There's no variation in marks.  You can highlight or attach a note, but that's it.  When I'm reading I underline, use check marks and circles and stars and a whole iconography that I've developed over 50 years of reading and writing in books.  I feel bereft. 

I was startled, when I started The Information, at how much I didn't like the fact that it looks exactly like the Turkle book.  It's a different book.  It ought to look and feel different.

 

The technology will get better.  We are so much in the early stages of this.  No doubt a scholar in Alexandria who was used to papyrus scrolls was very frustrated the first time he came across a codex.  This'll never take off, he would've thought.

Still, it's hard for me to imagine that an electronic version could ever be better than the equivalent print book.  It can be different.  It can do different things, and be much better at those things.  Josie loves the electronic version of The Monster at the End of This Book.  But when she goes to that she's playing with a toy, she's not reading a book.  Not for a moment does she think that it's equivalent to reading the book (which she also loves).  They're different experiences.  Both worthwhile, but fundamentally different.

I'm trying to imagine the technology getting to the point where I would prefer the electronic version of a print book.  But unless the "book" does different things, I can't see why I would -- and then it's no longer a "version" of a print book.  It's something else.

I do love that endnote feature, though.


Ambient Overload

Valerie asks if any of us have tried to do the kind of daily audit that Henry Cloud recommends. Somewhat sheepishly I confess that I've been doing that for over 20 years.

"Where does the time go?"  people say, wistfully.  In my case, I could tell you.  Yes, it's a little OCD I suppose.  I think of that senator from Florida who took a lot of ribbing a few years ago for tracking all of his daily activities in little notebooks.  I'm not quite as manic as he was -- but I kind of understand the impulse.

The particular context of the discussion we were having was figuring out how to arrange the time in your life in order to have the life that you want. What Cloud calls the audit (what I call my "day logs") is just a tool for helping you see where your time goes so you can make better choices.  It's all about choices.

I just finished reading Turkle's "Alone Together."   That I am not a social person protects me a bit from the excesses of constant connection that Turkle worries about.  I don't have a smart phone (yet). When we were at Disney a couple of weeks ago, I didn't post my status to Facebook because I didn't feel that people needed to know where I was.  (My mom and the people I work with knew -- that's enough). 

Clay Shirky will be one of the major speakers at the MLA meeting this year.  (Shirky, Geoff Bilder, and me. Hmmm.)  I'm looking forward to Shirky's talk and hope I can incorporate some of what he says into my own.   (He kicks things off on Sunday, I'm the Monday morning speaker).  I  expect that I'll disagree with much of what he says -- I usually do. He has a much sunnier view of social technologies than I do and I think he is flat out wrong about what their impact on politics and culture is.  That's okay -- he's thought-provoking and his reputation is as a really good speaker.

But I'm thinking about him now as I'm thinking about managing time and dealing with connectivity in the context of a post that Nick Carr put up earlier this month on different kinds of information overload. He quotes Shirky saying, "It's not information overload. It's filter failure." This is the pleasantly optimistic view of a lot of the techno-geeks. The more information, the better -- we just have to build better tools to sort it all out, and that, of course, is just going to happen because that's what we're so good at doing.  (This is a point of view that has been thoroughly debunked by David Levy, who doesn't get nearly as much attention as he deserves in these discussions.)

Carr approaches it by saying that it's more complicated than Shirky thinks (most things are). "Information overload actually takes two forms... situational overload and ambient overload."

"Situational" is what we tend to think of -- it's the needle in the haystack problem. This is what librarians worry about. With all the stuff out there, how do we get you to the piece that you need?

But Carr says, this isn't really the problem. We are building better tools to deal with this and when we say that we're suffering from information overload, this is not the kind of overload that we're referring to. "Ambient overload," he says, is that we're surrounded with so much information that is of immediate interest to us that we feel overwhelmed by the pressure of keeping up. This is what prevents us from focusing. This is what continually distracts us.

Better filters aren't going to solve this problem. While they winnow out the stuff we're not interested in, they deliver vastly greater amounts of stuff that we ARE interested in. So we're still overwhelmed.

We don't need better tools. We need a kind of daily discipline that enables us to focus on the things that are of most value to us. This is what Cloud is trying to get at with his daily audits, and the other techniques he discusses.  Every moment that we spend is a moment of choices. What kind of a life do you want to lead?  Make better choices.


Touching the words

Their birth dates are all in the early 1990s.  They're undergrads in the Honors class that Liz & Sylvia are teaching, and I went in yesterday to talk about issues involving copyright and plagiarism and retractions in the context of the role of librarians in preserving and transmitting culture.  I wanted to frame it, as I often do when talking about this stuff, by comparing the world that we now live in with the beginnings of print culture in the late 15th century.  I'll usually talk about what a long time it took from those beginnings for a truly mature print culture to emerge.  I've often used the phrase "the mature print culture that we all grew up in" because my audiences have always been people for whom that's true.   But I realized as I was speaking yesterday that I'd have to say, "The mature print culture that I grew up in..."  as contrasted to the nascent digital culture that they've grown up in.  Digital natives.

I wrote a letter to Josie yesterday morning, as I do every few months.  I imagine these letters to be read by a Josie who is 12 or 14 or so, a young woman who'll get a kick out of reading about what she was like in her own pre-literate era.  But she is emerging from that now.  Her reading is clearer every time I see her, and her writing is getting stronger.  We spent nearly twenty minutes after dinner the other night as she wrote out for me a Valentine's Day poem that she'd learned at school.  When we were at  DSC03300 John & Evelyn's some weeks ago, we'd get up in the morning together and she'd write in her diary sitting next to me while I wrote in mine.

Soon I'll have to quit writing letters to her older self -- I'll need to be writing them to the girl she is now. And then, I think, will she want to write back to me? She's fascinated right now with her ability to form words.  But for how long will the notion of putting pen to paper, rather than fingers to keyboards, retain any appeal?

Twenty years ago, for reasons that I won't go into here, I switched my daily journal writing from the notebooks that I'd been using to the computer.  For about five years, I did all of my journal writing that way.   But the letters that I wrote to Lynn were done with pen on fine stationery (the way I write letters to Josie now).   After I moved to Birmingham and the flow of letters to Lynn gradually slowed (although it never has entirely stopped, and it never will), I found myself moving back to the pen and paper journal.  It seemed to give me something I was missing.

There is an intimacy to writing with a pen on paper that cannot be replicated electronically.  The screen is forever between you and the words.  There is an esthetic quality to the pen and ink and paper that is inherent in their physicality.  It is rare, very rare, that I will spend half an hour in a bar or restaurant writing in one of my leather bound Italian journals and somebody won't make some comment about how beautiful the journal itself is.  The envy in their voices, and the sense of desire to handle such beautiful objects is palpable.   We are physical creatures, not digital constructs, and we respond to physical things.  Sometimes I need to write something down for the content and any medium will do.  Sometimes I ache for the physical act of writing and nothing can substitute.

I've pointed out many times that if I'm writing an essay, I want to do it at the keyboard.  That's the best tool.  But if I'm writing a love letter to Lynn, a fountain pen and fine paper are the only sensible  tools to use.  Neither is better than the other in any absolute sense -- they have different qualities which make them appropriate for different purposes.   I don't think my chef's knife is better than my paring knife -- I need them both when I'm working in the kitchen.

I expect to be writing letters to Josie for the rest of my life.  I'll certainly communicate with her electronically as well, but the letters are a kind of communication that can't be replicated in any other medium.  As my little digital native grows older, I hope that she never loses touch with the magic of making little marks by hand on pieces of paper -- little marks that change lives.