Monthly Archives: November 2012

The problem with reading online


Four years ago, I started an MA in music education at the Institute of Education in London. The first module was on the philosophy and aesthetics of music, and included the kind of books that I had been avoiding for 25 years, like Hanslick’s Vom musikalisch Schönen. With philosophy, there are no short cuts, you just have to read in depth and slowly.  Mid-term, I went to Malta for a short break to meet an old friend, and took my books with me, including an anthology of texts on the aesthetics of music in the original German. It’s one of my happiest memories of that time, sitting on my balcony, with nothing but a book, reading slowly, going over the same paragraph again and again until some of it made sense. Four years later, I’m still struggling to understand a lot of the same material now, but the pleasure is deep and immense when you realise that something once unfathomable has sunk in and become understood. It’s like watching a tree grow.

If I hadn’t started that MA, I would never have made the effort to achieve that understanding. Writing essays forces you to do grapple with other people’s thinking and writing, and searching, googling, information gathering is irrelevant to the task. The work is in your head. It’s deep, satisfying, and laborious.

So I knew exactly what Randy Connolly was talking about in his short presentation What’s wrong with online reading? You keep hearing about how wonderful the online world is now, how ‘everything’s on Google’ and children today are amazing, multi-tasking geniuses whose brains (as ‘digital natives’) will develop in ways that we oldies simply can’t understand because we didn’t grow up with the internet. The trouble is, despite the hype, there’s not a lot of evidence that this is really the case. What’s more, online reading is not all it’s cracked up to be. It’s causing us to skim and forage without thinking a great deal, and we lose concentration as a result. Connolly’s interest in this subject started, in part, with an article called ‘Is Google making us stupid?‘Given that this is a long article, and given our tendency to skim when things are on a screen, it’s probably best to download and print the article first.

Google can’t make us stupid of  course, that’s up to us. If we don’t take time to think, read carefully and stop scanning and foraging as our only mode of intellection, then we’ll end up – as even some academics admit – unable to read and concentrate in a sustained way. Connolly’s presentation is 141 slides long, but  doesn’t take more than about 5 minutes to go through because each slide has very small amounts of information on – which will ensure that you take it in. It’s well worth taking the time.

And if all this is your kind of thing, you’ll probably like all my rants about the myth of multitasking.


Normal service resumed at last


Battersea on a November afternoon

After 10 days of mourning for the loss of nearly 10 years of posts, I’ve managed to recover my site after all. It’s cost me abou $70, but it was worth it. It’s a lesson in why you should back up your WordPress installation. If I’d created backups on my webhost, backed up my WordPress site, all of this could have been restored for free within minutes.

The trouble is, WordPress has just been too good to me. I’ve never had a problem with it, it gets more and more streamlined and usable with every update, so I just used to think ‘Yeah, yeah, whatever’ when it told me to back up before installing an update.

Thanks to Siteground, my hosts, I was able to retrospectively buy a backup/restore package that would enable me to restore back 30 days. I’m glad that I had the foresight to guess that if I didn’t deal with this soon, the chances are that the hosts wouldn’t have any back-ups.

The biggest nuisance with a failed site is when images go missing. There’s nothing sadder and more illustrative of failure than that broken image-link that appears where a picture should be, and – as I’ve discovered – nothing more fragile and volatile than a digital image. Trivial as it might seem, I was so happy to see the Tooting Heron back up and running after a night of re-uploading the uploads folder.