Thinking about all-the-time access

I spent my afternoon in a 3 hour discussion of social media, education, and one-to-one laptop use – presentation given and facilitated by Scott McLeod, as part of my school’s workshop week.(He blogs at Dangerously Irrelevant, now added to my RSS feed along with a number of others.)

I was pleased to find that I had, in fact, read most of the major books he mentioned (though I’ve now put a bunch of them into our current book order, so other people can read them.) His list of recommended reading and viewing for us is here and includes a link to his PowerPoint.

I found a couple of things particularly interesting:

– The Internet Revolution video he showed us is a really great and specific summary of some of the changes that social media tools have brought to this generation of students. (My favorite fact: the computer in our cell phones is about as powerful as the computer that sent us to the Moon in the 60s.)

– There were three of us using our computers to take notes and do other things that deepened our understanding of the material. All of us are under 40. (Me, our new assistant in the library, and one of our grade deans.)

Me, I have a lovely set of notes, and I also got to add books to our book order on the fly. It’s a small thing, but it means it’s one less task I have to remember to do later, and it made for  a much more organic feel. (I also did a couple of quick terminology/technical term look-ups on the fly, for things that were somewhat unfamiliar to me.)

– It was my first workshop week with a personal laptop (and mine actually is personal: my school computer is a desktop for reasons I’m hoping to remove the necessity for this year, namely access to our cataloging software)

I’ve been a earlyish adopter of a lot of technology (not cutting edge, but on the early side of the broad adoption range for technologies I actually use). Two computers ago, I had a laptop, but wireless access was not widespread, so it was mostly useful for writing/taking notes in other place. The next computer was a desktop, and the current laptop, I’ve had since May. I’m amazed at how much it makes my life easier – and all the ways I hadn’t even really thought about.

I want to write more about them in future, but here’s a few:
– time and task management
– storing notes and having access to them anywhere.
– being able to store information in formats that work best for me. (I’m using a rather specific combo of programs.)

One thing I got to thinking about in the presentation (and a post for another time in any depth) is how we teach how to find the good stuff (however we define that) in a world of increasing demands for attention. I’ve been checking my various online spaces between the end of the day and an after-work meeting, and got linked to an interesting discussion of this by Elizabeth Bear, who is an author herself: see her blog for her link and some commentary. (I’m linking there rather than the original because I suspect her blog will get some interesting comments on it too.)


Some of my favorite microhistories

The fastest way to get me to post something is usually to ask me a question – and one of my IS colleagues did so earlier today. He asked if I had favorite microhistories I wanted to share.

First, a brief definition: microhistories are small pieces of a big idea, basically. Generally, they’re about a given topic (salt, color, honey, chocolate, cod, whatever.) throughout history. They tend to cover ideas and experiences from a wide range of places and times, and one of the things I love about them is all the new areas and ideas I find myself interested in after I read them. Some of them are weird topics, but odd little bits of what makes the world go often make really good microhistories, I’ve found.

You can find some other general lists here: . Below are a few of my favorites: (I used for the publication info, so these are also sorted in alphabetical order.)

Abbott, Elizabeth. A History of Celibacy. New York: Da Capo, 2001.
Yes, an odd topic – but it’s a look at the power of relationships in history, oddly enough: for a lot of recorded time, celibacy gave people options in their lives that they wouldn’t otherwise have had. That’s particularly true for women, but also in other settings. This is one of those books where every 2-3 pages is a different topic, and I continue to dive deeper into other areas as I get a chance.

Almond, Steve. Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America (Harvest Book). New York: Harvest Books, 2005.
A great look at a bunch of mostly-forgotten or highly-regional candies: funny, thoughtful, and fascinating.

Anelli, Melissa. Harry, A History: The True Story of a Boy Wizard, His Fans, and Life Inside the Harry Potter Phenomenon. New York: Pocket, 2008.
About Harry Potter and Potter fandom – from someone heavily involved in one of the main fan websites. Again, fascinating for a look inside a particular community and culture, and also (at least to me) entertaining in writing style.

Bishop, Holley. Robbing the Bees: A Biography of Honey–The Sweet Liquid Gold that Seduced the World. New York City: Free Press, 2006.
All about honey.

Brenner, Joël Glenn. The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars. New York City: Broadway, 2000.
A fascinating look at the two largest US chocolate companies at the time. Willy Wonka is not as far off (in terms of industrial spying, etc.) as you’d think – and some of the other factors in companies run by founders with extremely strong personalities and desires make this a fascinating read.

Finlay, Victoria. Color: A Natural History of the Palette. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2003.
One of my favorites on this list, this is a look at color. Finlay divides the book up into chapter by color, starting with black and brown, and working through red, green, yellow, and so on. She goes from the lapis lazuli mines of Afghanistan to the question of arsenic green (and whether it’s what caused Napoleon’s death.) Lots of fun and also very informative.

Gladwell, Malcolm. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.New York: Back Bay Books, 2007.
Maybe not technically a microhistory, but it reads a lot like one. Gladwell always gets me thinking, too.

Kurlansky, Mark. Salt: A World History. Boston: Penguin (Non-Classics), 2003. One of the earliest and best-known microhistories (also, a great audio book), Kurlansky has also written about cod, and the Basque history of the world (among others.)

Lee, Jennifer 8. The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food. New York: Twelve, 2009. I haven’t actually read all of this one yet, just the first chapter, but it’s a funny and thoughtful look at the history of Chinese food in America.

Roach, Mary. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2002. All about what happens to people’s bodies after they die and donate their bodies to science – there are a lot more options than you think. What made Roach’s book a best-seller is that despite the topic, she’s caring, and thoughtful about what she finds out, and shares it in a spirit of learning and understanding, rather than poking fun or in horror.

Getting started for the year again

Really, I hope to keep up with posting for the year, and I got a jumpstart from a request from a coworker.

First, though, I thought I’d share a couple of photos of the newly rearranged library: in the last week, my assistant and I have moved every book in the collection. (Sometimes more than once, due to needing to move it to temporary locations like the top of the table before the shelves were moved.)

the upper school library

the upper school library

I’m really pleased with the flow and light and all those other intangibles of setting up a space.