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BFTP: A little learning

A Saturday Blue Skunk "feature" will be a revision of an old post. I'm calling this BFTP: Blast from the Past. This post originally appeared October 28, 2005. I am currently reading Carr's book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. Remember, you read it here first...

A little learning is a dang’rous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again. - Alexander Pope

A somewhat interesting (but on reflection, not unusual) chain of events happened last night as I was checking my BlogLines feeds just before going to bed.

  1. I read Will Richardson’s Weblogg–ed blog entry that…
  2. Referenced David Weinberger's Jo-Ho blog (that I added to my feeds) that…
  3. Referenced Karen Schneider’s Free Range Librarian blog (that I added to my feeds) that…
  4. Linked to an article she wrote for Library Journal on blogging ethics that referenced…
  5. A Bloggers' Code of Ethics on CYBERJOURNALIST.NET  and
  6. Michael Stephen’s Tame the Web blog (that I added to my feeds) and his The Library Blogger's Personal Protocols.

My five-minute quick blog check turned into 45 minutes reading and the LWW asking “What are you doing on the computer? Having cybersex or what?” And this was 45 minutes I would have spent continuing to read Ray Kurzweil’s probably important book The Singularity is Near.

Now I’ve admitted that blogliness, like e-mail, exacerbates my ADD, but maybe things are simply getting out of hand. It’s starting to feel that I can exercise about the same degree of control over this sort of spontaneous reading that I have over my caramel corn consumption – I can't stop once I've started.

What I really am wondering is how is my reading time is best spent – snacking on blogs or feasting on books when I have time to do but one or the other in an evening. Strangly enough. I'm developing an ever greater degree of sympathy for the Net Genners who “satisfice” to meet their informational needs.

I’m pretty sure that reading Kurzweil’s book is good for me. Nice know just how much computing power a 2.2 pound rock contains should scientists ever figure out how to harness the processing power of atomic particles. I guess. Such a thick book certainly makes me look smart when I carry it about. And there is a genuine sense of accomplishment when I finish such a tome, much like a 4th grader feels after finishing a Harry Potter.

On the other hand, by skipping around last night, I stumbled on a relevant, important topic (blogging ethics) that I had not thought about before, and after reading three short articles, I now probably know more about the topic than than 95% of the rest of the blogging world– which I am quite sure qualifies me as an expert. Oh - the knowledge gained will immediately guide my practice.

Is “a little learning” more important in a fast-paced world than "drinking deep?" Would Pope now have to write A little learning is a ness'ry thing? And just why would one want to be sober anyway, Mr. Pope?

Out of curiosity, did you make it through this entry without clicking on an external link? Adding  a new RSS feed? Are your kids' “hypertext” learning styles rubbing off on you?

Shouldn't you be off reading a good book?

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Reader Comments (9)

Yeah, I clicked on a link and got a "Page Not Found."

November 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPatti

Didn't click on links to external sites, but selected Pierian spring and googled it. Now reacquainted with Pope. I agree that I can easily get lost in the links as I either read a blog, or just click on a link in a tweet. Is this deep learning? What am I sacrificing? Do I have time to do both? What do our students need to be able to do? We hear criticism of education that is a mile wide and an inch deep, and conversely hear the same when students are funneled into specific disciplines, rather than a more traditional liberal arts or classical education. Is there a right answer?

November 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMaureen Tumenas

This is great, Doug!

I literally have The Shallows sitting on the sofa next to me as I write this. I was reading it, but have been distracted for the past hour by the new posts in my Google Reader:)

November 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterErin Ferguson

Here's hoping The Shallows offers more than the Kurtzweil book. That guy is smart but cracked when it comes to his whole "singularity" nonsense.

I do try to set limits on my online time, but like you find much useful information from my feed reader. When someone says, "How do you KNOW that?" it's usually from something that came to me in my reader. So I do check it at least once a day (if not many more) and some of it is fluff along with the professional stuff. But it keeps me happy and as long as I'm getting to the important stuff, I see no problem with it.

But to limit myself I don't have either Twitter or Facebook and take some time out every few months to examine and weed what comes to me on my reader. I also don't have as much time at work to read stuff so usually just check it to filter the wheat from the chaff and save the good stuff for later.

Being a school librarian I have made more of an effort to read more kids books so that is keeping me away from blogging and/or being online too much as well. I feel it's a good balance. Some people can't help it, though. I went to college with Merlin Mann ( and he admits that it it weren't for he wouldn't read anything other than online stuff (and we were literature majors together). I find that sad.

Reminds me of David Denby's introduction to his Great Books in which he returned to Columbia in his 40s to re-take the great books classes and write about "the cannon" and it's implications. As a movie critic he realized he hadn't sat down to read long, difficult passeges for some time and it took him a few weeks to be able to stretch his patience and attention to this long-form reading.

I guess it's true if you don't use it you lose it.

November 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJim Randolph

I fixed the link.

Hi Maureen,

Perhaps we have the best of both worlds - access to a lot of "introductory" information that can lead us to deep sources related to those things that really interest us. I find that is happening more and more with me. I just have to be selective about my areas of "expertise."


Hi Ninja,

I agree that Kurzweil's earlier books (The Age of Intelligent/Spiritual Machines) were better, but I still think he is a fascinating thinker. Maybe I need to go back and re-read!

Unfortunately, my previous "expertise" in children's and YA lit is just about gone. When the tech stuff all came in, the lit all went out with neither time nor brainpower for both. Perhaps in my retirement I will return to this old love...


November 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Sometimes I think it is a matter of more versus depth. Are we better off having more information and no time to go deeper or more depth but maybe miss exciting things coming down the pike? There's an article in this month's Tech & Learning titled Does more tech = less reading? Looking forward to reading that (when I can find the time). It interests me professionally as someone who is always trying to get more technology into the hands of my elementary school students. It concerns me as a parent because my 8 yr old daughter is glued to the computer most of the time. I see a drop in the amount she reads this year but her reading level has shot way up. So I'm totally confused about the effect of tech on reading. Maybe I should Google it and see how many articles I can find online. :)

November 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKelly Posey

Too funny, Kelly!

You say your daughter spends a lot of time online. Might she be reading there? I'll look for the Tech & Learning article. Thanks,


November 9, 2010 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

At home, I am hardly ever on a screen of any type, since my children are limited to half an hour a day. I read lots of books. I come in to work at insanely early hours to blog and read other book blogs, which are extremely helpful in finding books to read. It also makes me feel a part of a librarian community in a way I am not able to, and I feel that when I am done with my hour or so of surfing and blogging that I am up-to-the-minute and ready to face the students armed with the newest info!

November 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMs. Yingling

Hi Ms Yingling,

Your reading habits sound balanced to me. I tend to read more books and magazines at home and more online materials at work as well.

Thanks for the comment,


November 11, 2010 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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