Thinking about online access

Every day we build up the foundations of knowledge. We strive to learn more and more about the world. Deeping that understanding is how we ensure the foundations of our knowledge are strong. That propositional thought made me start thinking about online access to content in general. From that question, I started to wonder about reading and how it happens. One sure-fire way to enhance the foundations of knowledge is to actively engage in reading. Right now thanks in part to the advent of the internet and the near ubiquitous availability of smartphones the ability to access readable content went up exponentially. While it would be easy to focus on just the internet driven side of the access to content coin and only think about that method of amassing knowledge and learning it would not be holistic. The reason it would not be holistic is that internet driven content might be a primary method for people to access readable content; it is not the only way. Other methods of learning and digging into the broader foundations of knowledge have to be understood.  

Now that we have started to question what other methods might exist it would be a good time to acknowledge that a digital divide exists. Specifically, a digital divide does exist. That means that overall the access to readable content has gone up over time. The things we elect to do with that content is rapidly changing. We only have so much attention to spend each day and like a finite commodity it gets allocated. Reading the classic works of history is not always the obvious choice for people using the internet or people picking up something physical to read. You could look at some of the research from the Pew Research Center and start to break down how people spend their time online. The Pew Research Center “American’ Internet Access: 2000-2015” report included a determination that 84% of adult Americans use the internet. That inherently represented a digital divide of 16% of adult Americans.

That figure provides us with the opportunity to complete a basic population based calculation. Back on December 28, 2016 the Census Bureau in a press release projected the population of the United States to be around 324 million people. In this case the general number of 324 million people needs to be adjusted to reasonably reflect the adult population for this calculation. To make that adjustment an assumption is being made about the population split being approximately 25% minors compared to 75% adults as a composite that reflects the total population. For this example, that means assuming that 81 million of the 324 million people in the United States are minors and 243 million are adults. Based on the internet access split referenced above and the adjusted population number that would equate to about 38.88 million American adults that were not included in the 84% of American adults that use the internet figure from the Pew Research Center. That is a lot of people to consider

Somewhat ephemeral content

Staying at the bleeding edge of technology can shift the content toward the category of becoming ephemeral instead of it being foundational. Written content that covers the moment can be fleeting and pass from useful to stale at any moment. Content that is foundational makes a contribution to the underlying academy of academic thought on the subject. Those efforts in the pursuit of studying something to lay a foundation are different from the efforts to observe and report on the phenomenon as it develops. A lot of my efforts fall into the exploratory research side of things. However, most of what I end up producing on this weblog is probably not in either of those categories. It is something decidedly different. My efforts to write are about thinking out loud and for better or worse they are probably somewhere in the middle of those two previously enumerated constructs of ephemeral and foundational content. It is entirely possible that a weblog post from time to time will go one way or the other, but most of them are going to be highly ephemeral in nature. That is the natural conclusion of sitting down and writing about whatever comes to mind. Using a stream of consciousness method to kickstart writing everyday will be inherently ephemeral. It would be a truly interesting case study if things went the other way. Each post represents my thoughts at the moment. Some of it or more likely part of an argument contained in a post might at some point end up published. 

Yesterday, I logged in and used EndNote online. I thought maybe a copy of the software had been installed on this computer, but it appears to have been lost at some point. It was the first time this year that I wanted to use the software. Instead of managing citations the right way it always seems that they end up getting worked one paper at a time instead of comprehensively in a system that manages that type of academic content: references or citations. The reason I wanted to go back and use EndNote was my renewed focus on reading something academic every day. You have to take the time to read everyday. Seriously, take the time to read everyday. If you are reading this second paragraph of prose from July 8, 2020, then you are probably an active reader and my plea to read everyday is unnecessary. My office contains a library of three full bookshelves that from time to time overflow. I am currently reading this book, “Graesser, L. H., & Keng, W. L. (2020). Foundations of deep reinforcement learning : theory and practice in Python. Boston: Pearson Addison-Wesley.” I’m putting a deeper focus on both reading academic works and writing in an academic style. That is where spending a little bit of time reading every day and making sure the citations are collected in EndNote becomes so important. This might be a time in my career where I’m going to spend 90% of my available time reading and only 10% of that time writing. 

Interrupted. School.

Oh those pithy moments

Every few weeks, I work on canceling out subscriptions that I accidentally sign up for or just start to think are unnecessary. Maybe for example, I wanted to stream a show or movie and signed up for a service online. A lot of these things you can sign up for are designed to have an ongoing monthly fee paid via a subscription process. That is something I try to avoid. Some of the things I accidently subscribe to are email or text messages with no direct cost other than the time it takes you to deal with them. A lot of web forms that are filled out ask for email and phone numbers. Inevitably those turn into unwanted correspondence. Right now every day I’m getting a ton of unwanted correspondence. Sending “stop” to unwanted text messages and taking the time to unsubscribe to corporate and political emails all takes time. Strangely enough this seems to be an acceptable strategy that corporations adopt as part of what is now a routine and accepted marketing strategy. Everybody is trying to grab just a little bit of my attention in order to either build brand equity or convert sales. Now is a really strange time for advertisers in the marketplace as things are shifting within the community at large. People working on marketing teams within corporations are seeing diminished returns within the advertising space and trying to pivot to a new strategy. 

Sometimes the words just fall into place. Oh those pithy moments that produce amazing prose are few and far between this early in the morning. Most of my pithy moments happen during writing sessions at the end of the night. Maybe I have to spend the entire day building up to being a productive and pithy writer. Given that most of my content generation errors on the side of being word economic in general being able to take pithy to the next level could be considered a skill. Most of the time it is not a useful skill to have. Given the iterative nature of my writing and how ideas and concepts are reworked by being freshly rewritten from day to day until I’m satisfied with the output and sometimes even after that delivering extremely pithy arguments is sometimes self-defeating. What is being said via prose has to be communicated and the nature of strong and viable communication involves building a narrative that communicates the story in a way that can be understood. Extremely pithy prose might very well say the exact thing that needs to be said, but it might get communicated in a way that is obscured from the audience being able to walk away with a particular intended meaning. That is why the art of writing is inherently the art of communication. You have to take the very essence of the argument and distill the parts in a way that can be shared and ultimately repeated by others. You want a solid argument to ripple beyond being read one time and ignored. That argument needs to ripple out across the public mind to make an intellectual dent in the universe. 

That last line was a quintessential attempt at producing a pithy moment of prose. It turned out to be slightly lacking and obvious, but at 06:00 hours it will have to serve as a solid example of the topic being covered today. It is going to take me a few minutes to edit these paragraphs today before hitting submit and allowing this to post. I can tell a few parts need a little bit of work to ensure they are readable and grammatically correct. My recipe for caprese crostini on the other hand requires no editing to communicate a tasty point. It is incredibly simplistic and ultimately a very satisfying appetizer to accompany a meal. That probably was an unnecessary aside at this point in the writing process, but given that this is generally an example of a stream of consciousness driven prose experiment that is what bubbled to the forefront of my mind. Perhaps it just demonstrates my lack of focus on the topic at hand. It does appear that this third paragraph has already required a second page in my document editor. That is probably an interesting sign for the rest of the day that is quickly approaching. Maybe today I’ll end up engaging in highly efficient communication with people. It might just end up being a day full of pithy moments. Oh those pithy moments and the entertainment value they bring to life via the power of prose. 

Recipe for caprese crostini appetizer (vegetarian)

Ingredients: baguette of appropriate size, olive oil, heirloom tomato, fresh mozzarella cheese, fresh basel, balsamic vinegar glaze, salt, and pepper

Directions: 

  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees 
  2. Slice the baguette to crostini size portions (between a fourth and a half inch) and lightly brush the slices with olive oil after placing them on an oven safe baking sheet/tray
  3. Bake the crostini for about 10 minutes. I baked mine for about 15 to allow them to get a little more crunchy. This step needs to be monitored to ensure the result matches your expectations for crostini doneness. 
  4. While the bread is baking thinly slice the mozzarella, tomato, and basel
  5. Build the caprese crostini appetizers by stacking the mozzarella, tomato, and basel to your desired state and top with salt and pepper (if you want S&P)
caprese crostini appetizer

Getting into the habit of writing

Yesterday I spent some time thinking about the quality of my writing day after day. A very long time ago I sat in a room with somebody who tore down everything about my writing. It was a vicious attack on my grammar and my skill at compositing the written word. Still to this day I’m not very happy the individual took the time to do it. A better method would have been to talk about how to use better storytelling to convey my ideas in written form. Focusing on the outcome of engaging in better communication instead of the esoteric foundations of grammar would have probably resonated with me on a deeper level. Instead it was a very strange conversation. Over the years I have graded a lot of papers and provided advice to others. Ultimately, I would still hire an editor or work with a peer to dig into something I wanted to submit for publication in a prestigious academic journal or publish as a stand alone manuscript. Honestly, I think most people do have their work reviewed before final publication. Even my best efforts at editing which I’m really starting to dig into putting more effort into every day are not a replacement for a thoughtful review by somebody else for grammar and clarity of argument. 

Beyond those very deep and philosophical questions I had last night on the nature of writing high quality prose, I had a few ideas about my focus on completing that writing. Together those two lines of inquiry developed a layered attack on both the quality and quantity of writing output I produce on a daily basis. Yesterday when the weblog publish button was clicked yesterday that submission marked 50 days in a row of writing and sharing weblog posts. That is a good step in the right direction of sustaining a daily writing habit. Part of that writing is getting back into the habit of critical observation of the world. A lot of my previous writing has been about the normative nature of things and how civil society functions. Those are key questions right now and using logic and critical thinking are as import as they ever were. Matched with a renewed focus on generating high quality output aimed at better communication, my daily renewed focus on devoting time to the written word is working well in tandem with an emphasis on quality. Obvious and logical after reading it that combination of things still remains true. Part of getting into the habit of writing is for better or worse the process of writing. Layered deep presentation of arguments is something that has to be developed. 

Being really pithy and producing a single sentence with a deeply nuanced delivery of meaning might be one way to go about it. Being able to engage in effective storytelling so the argument is conveyed in a way that is both understandable and repeatable could have a more lasting effect on the reader. Even if true understanding of something delivers the ability to prove brevity is the heart of wit sometimes you need to spend the time to write out the full argument. My biggest failure as a writer is not grammar or procrastination based. It is entirely a failure related to expecting the reader to fill in the logic of how it got to an argument instead of clearly telling a story that step by step walks the reader to the conclusion. Sometimes I wholesale pin my hopes on the conclusion instead of the entire process of argument. Making the assumption that the conclusion can stand on its own is inherently a logical fallacy that should be avoided. 

Interrupted. Work. 

Community apart

Last night we watched the PBS production of “A Capitol Fourth” via over the air broadcast in high definition using the TiVo Roamio box. It was a little bit surreal to watch the 40th edition of that fireworks show without any crowds in the background. It was a wonderful and engaging television show, all of the people participating tried to stay positive and communicate a message of hope, and the orchestra played the 1812 Overture which always reminds me of Farscape. 

I spent a lot of time yesterday reading the news and trying to better understand where we are as a society in general. Within this time of quarantine it feels like we are seeing civil society running apart from the community. It is disjointed and hard to really comprehend. Twenty years ago back at the University of Kansas I went to the library and read entire shelves that were related to civil society. It was a curated way to experience knowledge. Somebody has gone to the trouble of including all of those books on the shelves. Each one had a deeper meaning to somebody and they were all included for a reason. Even now the bookshelves behind me contain a bunch of books about civil society, democracy, and community. All of those books at one point had a deeper meaning to me and were chosen for purchase for my home library. I remember having so many books to choose from in a university library that picking one was about looking at the table of contents and thinking about how the author structured the argument being presented. Based on the structure of the argument and how much it resonated with me certain books were read a lot faster than others. It was wonderful based on how many books they had to read and how much I wanted to learn more about civil society. 

Right now we are a community living apart separated by a pandemic based quarantine that represents something very new as a challenge for our communities. What is happening within the public mind right now in this watershed moment of shared experience will profoundly alert our community when we come back together. We have all seen what happened. It was a shared experience. It provides a common context to a generation to talk about things. Having truly seen the backward linkages of supply chains and production fail to meet the needs of demand, a generation has now seen what happens in a prolonged demand shock where supply could not respond. 

Everyone has now seen the reality of empty shelves and things that are generally unavailable being inaccessible. It was a strange experience. Walking into stores in masks to get food while social distancing was a very new and surreal experience. Foundationally the notion of having a community operating apart without access to the things that sustain it will remain at the forefront of the public mind for a long time. Crafting a method for support and engagement within the context of that foundational notion will require a lot of planning and very strong institutional memory and commitment. These are the types of questions that are keeping me up at night. Overall they have impacted my sleep quality for months now. Figuring out a path forward that builds out robust institutional frameworks capable of handling this type of disruption while maintaining strong and healthy communities will require a commitment beyond anything we have seen in the last few decades. 

Watching “A Capitol Fourth” every year does relax my mind enough to engage in some reflective thought about community in general. It’s probably all the references to the general needs of the people and how that drives my thoughts toward civic engagement. Now is the time to really think deeply about the future of civil engagement and community development within the content of pandemic and quarantine driven events. We are going to see cycles like this again and being ready to have institutions that are capable of responding will be critical. It will be critical to every community. We have complex networks of communities of place, circumstance, and interest where people engage together. Figuring out how to engage within a community apart is a very complex endeavor that tests the realm of the possible. Digital divides separate access to the internet which includes community message boards, chat rooms, social media, and increasingly the news. We are seeing decreases in subscriptions to physical newspapers, to cable television, and magazines of all kinds. Figuring out the best way to broadly communicate and engage within a community is challenging. Even before the pandemic neighbors were often disconnected and had essentially separate patterns of daily life from even the people living nearby.       

Interrupted. Breakfast.