10.0622 sustained reading vs. synchronic access

WILLARD MCCARTY (willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Thu, 23 Jan 1997 21:49:53 +0000 (GMT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 10, No. 622.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Information at http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/

[1] From: Wendell Piez <piez@rci.rutgers.edu> (43)
Subject: Re: 10.0615 report from Academe; new Roman stuff

The first item in Humanist 10.0165 quotes an article in the Chronicle of
Higher Education in which Francis Morrone is cited saying

> the 'knowledge society' of the twenty-first century may be about
> all sorts of wondrous things. One thing it is not about is the
> sustained and consecutive reading of texts. Put another way, one
> thing it is not about is research and learning.

The second item announces yet another new on-line development, the VRoma

> an on-line "place" where Latin students and teachers can
> interact live, hold courses and lectures, and share resources.
> At the same time, it will serve as a filter and repository for
> internet-based teaching resources, which will be accessible in a
> variety of formats.

The juxtaposition was interesting and canny. Where's the disjunction?

None of the great classicists of the past, I suspect, would fail to gasp
at the prospect of having all the great reference works at their
fingertips, without having to weigh folios and turn pages, or of being
able to communicate directly with students and colleagues in different
cities through a _written_ (self-recording) medium in "real time."

VRoma is wise enough to say "a variety of formats." The book will not
disappear, even when the long sleep of print is over. Francis Morrone is
correct to point out that a computer display is not well suited for
"sustained and consecutive reading." Does that make a project like VRoma
necessarily misconceived? I doubt it, although I expect VRoma, like many
other such projects, will be engaged in an exciting, challenging discovery
of what on-line media are really good for. Maybe not sustained and
consecutive reading. But the equation between this and "research and
learning" is too simplistic, and any decent scholar knows there's plenty
of opportunistic, non-consecutive work as well.

This is old news to readers of HUMANIST. Research and learning involves
sustained and consecutive attention, as it involves contact with the
insights and passions of others, as it does the creative labor of
assembling bits, scraps and chunks into a coherent, personal whole which
not even the wisest of teachers can make for the readiest of students (or
anyone but her- or himself). The point is well taken that the automaton
will fail at the task the wise teacher knows not to usurp. Will we,
likewise, be able to refrain from identifying the education with the
medium, either of network or bound volume?

Wendell Piez
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities