Sunday, October 14, 2012

Lazy Sunday Service

Every Friday and/or Saturday for the past six weeks I've either presented a paper at an event or organised a conference.  It's been quite a diverse set of talks: transforming the crisis (Cork); mapping humans (Oxford); the science behind urban development (Vienna); housing and planning (Athlone); the US election (Maynooth) and mapping Ireland (Tallagh).  Thankfully, I'm getting my weekends back for the foreseeable future.  I also don't have another public talk in the diary until the new year (I was meant to be going to Malaysia and Singapore in two weeks time, but other matters intervened).  Instead I can hopefully crack on with the new (academic) book, which is progressing, but more slowly than I hoped.

My posts this week
Review of Istanbul Passage by Joseph Kanon
Pasting over the cracks in a story
Review of The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin
Measuring Ireland's Progress: Benchmarking against the past and other countries
Oxford Dictionary up on Amazon
Review of Death in the Clouds by Agatha Christie
Why do I always attract the weirdos?


Dyer Wilk said...

Fiction, non-fiction, and talks. That's a mighty busy schedule, Rob. A respite is definitely in order. I seem to recall you mentioning the new academic book in an earlier post, saying you were approaching it without any set goals or an outline. While that may account for the slow progress, you may also find it gives you the most freedom.

As much as I enjoy reading academia, sadly I find much of it to be dry and stiff. Passionless writing dragged down Huppert's "After the Black Death," which still has some very relevant observations on the social history of modern Europe, but comes off somewhat boring.

It would be nice to see something that flows naturally and invites the ignorant into the fold. There's a reason why most folks read gossip magazines instead of history books. They can't see the connection between the past and the present. And even if they could, chances are the language would turn them away.

Sometimes I think modern technology is making Western populations functionally illiterate, which explains why people here in the US like Sarah Palin so much.

Rob Kitchin said...

Whilst I'm sympathetic to your argument, Dyer, it has to be remembered that academic writing is trying to perform a particular role. Making it both entertaining and theoretically and empirically sophisticated is not always an easy task. Especially when it is designed to challenge preconceptions and to make the reader think. We'll see how it unfolds. Ironically, given your last sentence, it is about one aspect of modern technology.

Dyer Wilk said...

Absolutely. One cannot dumb down the writing to the point where the purpose is lost, but my concerns come from what I see as the sad state of education here in the United States. We rank 17th in the world, and yet we have stumping politicians insisting that we're number one––which seems like magical thinking to me, the same way repeatedly saying America is the greatest nation on Earth is supposed to somehow make it true and eliminate any need for improvement.

When I was in college, I was often criticized by my fellow students for wanting to have intelligent conversations. They seemed far more interested in drinking and pop culture. If I switched gears and tried to bring up history in the context of something they liked, to make a connection they might not have been aware of, I was not only met with more disdain, but in a few cases verbal assault.

It saddens me that we have so much access to information, that someone can use their phone to discover a wealth of knowledge that in previous centuries might have taken a lifetime of scouring the stacks at various libraries to attain, and yet people don't seem to want it. These same technologies are used more or less as toys for texting, which is what I mean when I say technology is making people functionally illiterate. Many college professors here in the US have complained about their entry level English students reading at a middle school level and using texting acronyms in their papers, or even in conversation.

What I see today is diminished attention spans, compounded in many ways by a preference for texting and Tweets over e-mails or conversations. I have no problem with brevity, as long as a clear relevant idea is still expressed. But sometimes we need more than a few words to express an idea. We need time and patience, and it seems that people are rarely willing to give either.

I suppose what I am saying here is that I would like to see more people embrace education and I am openly questioning how educators can help facilitate that.

I have enormous respect for what you do, Rob. You're keeping knowledge alive in a time when many people are far more concerned with Kim Kardashian.