Given all this, I want to conclude with some thoughts about teaching patience as a strategy. The deliberate engagement of delay should itself be a primary skill that we teach to students. It’s a very old idea that patience leads to skill, of course — but it seems urgent now that we go further than this and think about patience itself as the skill to be learned. Granted — patience might be a pretty hard sell as an educational deliverable. It sounds nostalgic and gratuitously traditional. But I would argue that as the shape of time has changed around it, the meaning of patience today has reversed itself from its original connotations. The virtue of patience was originally associated with forbearance or sufferance. It was about conforming oneself to the need to wait for things. But now that, generally, one need not wait for things, patience becomes an active and positive cognitive state. Where patience once indicated a lack of control, now it is a form of control over the tempo of contemporary life that otherwise controls us. Patience no longer connotes disempowerment — perhaps now patience is power.
And add to that this typically thoughtful and nuanced meditation on reading by Andrew Piper:
Skimming, holding, sharing, annotating, and focusing—these are just some of the many ways that e-books diminish our interactions with books. And yet they remain the default way we have thought about reading in an electronic environment. E-pub or Kindle, it doesn’t really matter. We have fallen for formats that look like books without asking what we can actually do with them. Imagine if we insisted that computers had to keep looking like calculators.
Escaping this rut will require not only a better understanding of history—all the ways reading has functioned in the past that have yet to be adequately re-created in an electronic world—but also a richer imagination of what lies beyond the book, the new textual structures (or infrastructures) that will facilitate our electronic reading other than the bound, contained, and pictorial objects that we have so far made available. Instead of preserving the sanctity of the book, whether in electronic or printed form, we need to think beyond the page and into that all too often derided thing called the data set: curated collections of literary data sold by publishers and made freely available by libraries. This is the future of electronic reading.
To support such a shift, we need to do a better job of bringing into relief the nonbookish things we can do with words and how this will add value to our lives as readers. We need a clearer sense of what reading computationally means beyond the host of names used to describe it today (text mining, distant reading, social network analysis). Thinking about reading in terms of data and computation isn’t about traversing the well-trodden field of open-access debates. It’s about rethinking what we mean by “access.”
I may have more to say about both of these essays later, but in the meantime, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them.