Weekly Review: October 23rd to October 29th

What is the common phrasing of the Biblical proverb? “Seven years of feast, seven years of famine”?

Keeping in line with our rapidly shrinking sense of time and of being overwhelmed, when I look back on writing the Weekly Reviews, I feel like there are seven days of feast and seven days of famine.

This week has been a feast week. I emailed myself twenty-seven (27) stories for consideration for this week’s post. In fact, part of the reason why I did not post on Friday is because I had so much material to sort through.

These Things Caught My Eye

Books Are Just Dead Trees

I love the physicality of books. The weight of one in my hands. The feel of my eyes moving across the page. The sound as I turn the page. Even, to some extent, the smell of a new book as much as that of an old, musty book.

And the Kindle, as well as other ereaders, are changing that.

I have been thinking about this for a while. In fact, the first two links above are from late September and mid October. But the news that the first annual Boston Book Festival was last weekend heartens me.

I believe there will always be a place for the physical book as we know it today. And I also believe that the ancient cultures that used scrolls said much the same. At some point, probably within my lifetime, ereaders will become the dominant way that most people interact with literature.

One thing that worries me about this is the stories and research that I’ve heard about, not cited above, that reading on a screen is more difficult than reading on a page. Do the ereaders with their e-ink technology address that? I remember one review of the Amazon Kindle that disparaged its dark grey on light grey interface. The Barnes&Noble Nook will have a color screen. But at the end, are they screens with refresh rates like computer monitors and screens?

Part of the experience of reading will be lost. I studied art history at Ohio Wesleyan University and I enjoyed altarpieces that opened. The church looked one way when the altarpiece was closed and no services were going on, another when services were provided. Jeffrey Hamburger in his lecture “Openings” talks about several medieval liturgical books and their meaning in religious art and religious services.

Professor Hamburger discusses the art of some of these books that encompassed the whole scene when a book was open, others that set things in opposition between right and left pages.

He also discusses how books engross us. When a book is open on my lap, it encompasses my whole field of view. There are no buttons on the bottom to distract me. I am afraid that just as multi-tasking on computers slowly erodes our ability to concentrate on longer works, so too will ereaders.

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The Lost Art of Reading

Today, it seems it is not contemplation we seek but an odd sort of distraction masquerading as being in the know. Why? Because of the illusion that illumination is based on speed, that it is more important to react than to think, that we live in a culture in which something is attached to every bit of time.
–David L. Ulin

Not dissimilar to the articles I quote above, but I think deserving its own entry, is an article I discovered by David L. Ulin. I can’t quite remember how I found it, some Google search brought it up, perhaps when I was looking for articles related to the ones above.

I have been reading The 4-Hour Workweek, based on a review over at one of my favorite blogs, Get Rich Slowly. (Listen, when you work as a banker and spend all day with people who are working deals to make money quickly, it can be very relaxing to read about reasonable people who believe in budgeting, saving, and resisting impulse buying.) Timothy Ferriss in The 4-Hour Workweek argues that we micromanage our lives for the sake of feeling busy.

In some ways, David Ulin makes a similar argument. We have trouble immersing ourselves in books because our culture has become one of immediacy. We have lost the idea of cultivation. There is a meditative aspect of reading that brings us back to ourselves because of the space it gives us from the present, as well as giving us new thoughts with which to approach the present.

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Learning Takes Time

You can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.
–Warren Buffett

In the same vein, you cannot speed up the cognitive development of your child by sitting them down in front of a television. In fact, some suggest that doing so may actually have the reverse effect.

Human beings are social animals. We have grown and developed throughout time in families, tribes, and other groups. When we sit a child in front of a television, we are cutting them off from that connection and teaching them from a very young age that sitting in front of a screen is preferable to interacting with other people.

Disney is refunding money to people who bought Baby Einstein videos. The videos “have been discredited, redirecting emphasis on the importance of interaction between parents and babies for proper development.” The offer from Baby EinsteinTM

allows you to exchange the videos for other products, receive a coupon, or receive a refund of $15.99.

I know that parents want to give their kids all the advantages that they can muster. But buying the Baby EinsteinTM videos is not the way. If you are going to use Baby EinsteinTM, you should sit with the child and interact with the child while the show is on. Bring the concepts from the screen world to the real world.

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Reminded of Mortality by Eating an Apple

  • Tipton Apples, Michael Doyle, Science Teacher
  • Michael Doyle writes a very personal blog post here, about eating apples. I had never thought of apples, specifically, as a memento mori — another Latin phrase you think you know — but now I’m not sure I’ll ever look at an apple quite the same way.

    I have linked to Michael Doyle’s Science Teacher previously, in a Weekly Review a few weeks back. He’s got an excellent blog on teaching and life. You should all take a look.

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    Single Parenting and Cognitive Development

    A German biologist, Dr. Anna Katharina Braun, studied a Chilean rodent, the degu, which is normally raised by two parents. She removed the father degu and studied the impact on brain development of the pups.

    She found that the pups deprived of a father had less dense neuronal brain connections when the pups were 21 days old. The fatherless pups did gain some density by the time they were 90 days old, considered adulthood in this species, but there were still differences in the brains.

    Although I do not like the emphasis on the heterogeneity of parents in this article, I was intrigued by the findings:

    • “A preliminary analysis of the degus’ behavior showed that fatherless animals seemed to have a lack of impulse control, Dr. Braun says. And, when they played with siblings, they engaged in more play-fighting or aggressive behavior.”
    • “In a separate study in Dr. Braun’s lab conducted by post-doctoral researcher Joerg Bock, degu pups were removed from their caregivers for one hour a day. Just this small amount of stress leads the pups to exhibit more hyperactive behaviors and less focused attention, compared to those who aren’t separated, Dr. Braun says. They also exhibit changes in their brain.”

    If I’m reading one sentence right, degu parents spend about equal amounts of time with their children and the single mothers did not compensate. The scientists are attributing the decreased neuronal density to the loss of time with a parent. If the degus were raised by two mothers or two fathers who spent equivalent amounts of time with the children, what would the neuronal density look like?

    So, if the important factor is the amount of time spent rearing children, then different family structures can all raise healthy children. They need to compensate for any loss of time as they are able. I would love to see more research on this that included the role of extended families, such as uncles, aunts, and grandparents.

    At the end of the article, they discuss the impact of single family parenting on IQ scores. I have written elsewhere, in a few different posts, that IQ is one metric but that there are other factors in determining a children’s success than their IQ scores.

    Part of what determines success is impulse control and the ability to delay gratification. The research indicates that fatherless degu pups have trouble control. If we were sure that carried over to humans, we would have a lot to worry about.

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    Mirror Writing

    I have not read anything by John Irving. But now I want to read his 12th novel, Last Night in Twisted River.

    One topic I touched on briefly in Sailing with Rumi — very briefly, in fact, I think it was just two sentences — is one of my personal interests: where was the writer end and the narrator begin? The review suggests that that is at the heart of this novel. John Irving writes enough parallels between himself and the novel’s Danny Angel that we are able to have this argument along with John Irving.

    The metafictional, self-reflexive business is in part a tease. While inviting a reader to focus on autobiographical elements, it allows Irving, in the voice of Angel, to protest the way his “fiction had been ransacked for every conceivably autobiographical scrap’’ and “dissected and overanalyzed for whatever could be construed as the virtual memoirs hidden inside them.
    –Floyd Skloot

    What does it take for a man or a woman to engage the world through the written word? Writers take their individual life experiences and try to find the universals to which others can relate.

    Literature is entertainment but equally connection. It provides us a sense of continuity, a sense of community through the opportunity to discover that we are not alone because others have either experienced or imagined what we have gone through.

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