Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Friday, December 5, 2008

Greetings, people of earth

Hello, and welcome to a new blog about technologies of reading and research and, well, knowledge. I'm not going to turn this first post into a manifesto, because manifestos tend to be a lot more boring than they're meant to be, and in any case if you hang around you'll see what I'm up to. But in brief:

I'm a fifty-year-old professor of English and therefore, as you might suspect, a lifelong reader. Books and magazines have been near the core of my identity since I learned to read at age three. I love the printed word and think that it embodies a set of technologies whose virtues can't be replaced by other media. But I also have a deep interest in and attachment to the online world; I tend to get pretty excited about what I can do, what I can learn, what I can read, and in general what I can experience online.

I'm interested in how reading on the page differs from reading on screens; in how different kinds of screens enable different kinds of knowledge; in the strategies and tools we employ for information gathering, for information ordering, and for information evaluating. I think a lot about linear and non-linear forms of organizing mental experience, and the technologies that make such organization easier or harder. I wonder about whether we're really losing serendipity, as so many people say. I'm fascinated by the various speeds at which technologies move and by our ability (or, sometimes, inability) to match those speeds. I wonder what libraries are for and what they will be for.

I have had a few things to say about these subjects in the past, and some of those things are online. There’s this critique of the blogosphere which I don't actually repent of, despite my presence here and elsewhere online. I’ve reflected on the disagreement between Steven Johnson and Mark Bauerlein about the values and dangers of online life. I’ve written about serendipity and about how people in the sixteenth century dealt with information overload. And many of my thoughts about these issues began when, about eight years ago, I started experimenting, in my usual incompetent way, with Linux: I wrote about that experiment, and the reflections it prompted, in a series of essays for Books & Culture that later appeared in my collection of essays Shaming the Devil: Essays in Truthtelling.

So please check in to see what I'm up to. I highly recommend the RSS feed; this is just the season for it.