robertogreco + interests + culture   4

The Rabbit-Hole Rabbit Hole - The New Yorker
"How did “rabbit hole,” which started its figurative life as a conduit to a fantastical land, evolve into a metaphor for extreme distraction? One obvious culprit is the Internet, which has altered to an indescribable degree the ways that we distract ourselves. Twenty years ago, you could browse for hours in a library or museum, spend Saturday night at the movies and Sunday at the mall, kill an afternoon at the local video arcade or an evening at its X-rated analogue—but you couldn’t do those things every day, let alone all day and night. Moreover, content-wise, you couldn’t leapfrog very far or very fast from wherever you started, and there was a limit to the depth and nichiness of what you were likely to find; back then, we had not yet paved the road between, say, Dorothy Hamill and a comprehensive list of Beaux-Arts structures in Manhattan, nor archived for the convenience of humankind ten thousand photographs of fingernail art. Then came the Internet, which operates twenty-four hours a day, boasts a trillion-plus pages, and breeds rabbit holes the way rabbits breed rabbits.

Those online rabbit holes, while wildly variable in content, take recognizable forms. One is iterative: you’re settling down to work when you suddenly remember that you meant to look up that flannel shirt you saw in a store but couldn’t find in your size, and the next thing you know, it’s two hours later and you have scrutinized two hundred and forty-five flannel shirts. Another is exhaustive: you go in search of a particular fact—say, when Shamu debuted at SeaWorld—and soon enough you are well on your way to compiling a definitive account of captive killer whales. A third is associative: you look up one thing, which leads to looking up something distantly related, which leads to looking up something even further afield, which—hey, cool Flickr set of Moroccan sheep. Thus have I have gone from trying to remember the name of a Salinger short story (“Last Day of the Last Furlough”) to looking up the etymology of “furlough” (Dutch) to wondering whether it had any relationship to “furlong” (no) to jogging my memory about the exact distance represented by that unit of measure (an eighth of a mile), to watching approximately every major horse race since the development of the movie camera.

Experiences like these are so common today that, if Carroll had never written “Alice in Wonderland,” we would have needed to invent some other way to describe them. (We might have been aided in that quest by the fact that both nets and webs connote capture and entanglement. Or maybe by analogy to sinkholes we’d have linkholes, or perhaps we’d all get stuck in hypertraps.) But why, one wonders, was “rabbit hole” such a natural appropriation? Granted, Alice, too, accidentally wound up in a convoluted environment, spent more time there than she anticipated, couldn’t find a way out, and emerged, when she finally did, rather dazed. But much the same could be said of Dorothy in Oz, and of a great many others characters transported—by cyclone, wardrobe, mirror, or tollbooth—to mysterious lands.

As a metaphor for our online behavior, however, the rabbit hole has an advantage those other fictional portals lack: it conveys a sense of time spent in transit. In the original story, Alice falls for quite a while—long enough to scout out the environment, grab some food off a passing shelf, speculate erroneously about other parts of the world, drift into a reverie about cats, and nearly fall asleep. Sounds like us on the Internet, all right. In the current use of “rabbit hole,” we are no longer necessarily bound for a wonderland. We’re just in a long attentional free fall, with no clear destination and all manner of strange things flashing past.

For us Alices, these journeys into the rabbit hole can feel accidental and out of our control; thus do we describe them as “falling,” rather than leaping. That’s a somewhat disingenuous take, since there’s no such thing as digital gravity, but it’s true that many Web sites are deliberately designed to function as rabbit holes, and the most successful are routinely described as such. "

"Consider armadillos. Consider digitigrades. Consider all of this, and I don’t see how you can regard rabbit holes as anything other than boundlessly interesting and terrifically fun. And yet, as the phrase has grown more popular, it has acquired a largely negative undertone. By far its most famous post-“Alice” use appears in “The Matrix,” in a context that is unmistakably dystopian. (Morpheus, on offering Neo the red pill: “You stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”) Conspiracy theorists, likewise, love rabbit holes, for the suggestion of a hidden reality beneath the semblance of things, and even the cheery and the sane increasingly use the phrase to describe anything that is dark, unpleasant, or byzantine. The American criminal-justice system is sometimes characterized as a rabbit hole, as is U.S. health insurance, Verizon tech support, and anything having to do with United Airlines. The phrase has even evolved an off-label use to describe a downward spiral in mental health. In 2012, Taylor Swift cautioned against going “too far down the rabbit hole of what people think about you,” and an article on depression refers to people thinking, “ ‘I’m worthless,’ and off down the rabbit hole they go.”

In all of these cases—dystopia, conspiracy, bureaucracy, despair—the salient feature of the rabbit hole is that you cannot find your way out. That can also seem true of our semi-accidental online excursions, but the rabbit hole as metaphor for distraction is not a purely negative thing. Unlike “time sink” or “time suck” or just plain “waste of time,” “falling down the rabbit hole,” when used in this sense, suggests not a total loss but a guilty pleasure. Sure, we could have spent those hours reading Thomas Mann—but go tell that to Alice. When her story begins, she is terribly bored: not just in general, by the prospect of a slow summer day, but in specific, by what we would today call long-form writing. “And what is the use of a book,” she wonders, after glancing over her older sister’s shoulder, “without pictures or conversations?”

Of many uses, this book critic would hasten to tell her. But I would say much the same thing about rabbit holes and the headlong, hopscotching, borderline-random encounters they enable. And I wouldn’t be the first. In “Tristram Shandy,” Laurence Sterne wrote, “Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine—they are the life and soul of reading.” In “The Anatomy of Melancholy,” Robert Burton described his mind as “like a ranging spaniel, that barks at every bird he sees.” That’s the happiest image of intellectual appetite I’ve ever encountered, and I suspect that Burton—and Sterne, too—would have appreciated the current proliferation of rabbit holes. The common charge against our online habits is that they are shallow; but, in keeping with the metaphor, rabbit holes deepen our world. They remind us of the sheer abundance of stuff available to think about, the range of things in which it is possible to grow interested. Better still, they present knowledge as pleasure. The modern rabbit hole, unlike the original, isn’t a means to an end. It’s an end in itself—an end without end, inviting us ever onward, urging us to keep becoming, as Alice would say, curiouser and curiouser."
kathrynschulz  rabbitholes  books  culture  reading  time  2015  internet  online  web  cv  curiosity  distraction  howweread  hyperlinks  hypertext  howwelearn  interests 
june 2015 by robertogreco
Why American Mothers are Superior
"Lots of middle managers like people to do exactly what told…

Schools really like people to do what they're told, & unis just love grad students who pay high out-of-state tuition, teach for low wages, or work in lab for free. Hey, don’t blame us if 30% of students we admit are from other countries, they did best on tests & had 4.0…

Someone ought to ask WHY we measure what we measure…tests we give & other admissions criteria were not handed down by God…

I doubt many unis would admit student like me today…I did have an intense desire to learn about world…my undergrad ed gave me gift of profs willing to respond to my interests, enough time not to interfere w/ my relationship w/ library, & classmates I argued w/ for pure intellectual exercise…

Dr. Chua is raising children to fit Ivy League…I’m raising…to be themselves…Her definition of success is to have…prodigies. Mine…who learn, live & love well. She’s a success by her standards as I am by mine."
parenting  education  culture  tcsnmy  freedom  interests  interestdriven  duty  cv  teaching  schools  schooling  schooliness  identity  prodigies  admissions  gpa  testing  standardizedtesting  passion  learning  well-being  china  society  success  meaning  lcproject  unschooling  deschooling  amychua  from delicious
january 2011 by robertogreco
Creative Generalist: Leonardos
"From this article about science-culture hybrid champion Seed Media Group's foray into a blog network [also something Maisonneuve pioneered early (but, sadly, appears to have neglected lately)] comes mention of a new target group: "Leonardos". Yeah, as in
generalists  culture  science  interests  hobbies  careers  life 
february 2006 by robertogreco

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