January 2010 Archives

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I don't think I could live the kind of life that the Amish live but I would like to start doing it justice.  After reading Howard Rheingold's essay titled "Look Whose Talking," from "Writing Material," I was reminded of a reality television show I had watched a few years ago called "Amish in the City".

Yes, this show really existed.  My mom and I thought it looked interesting so we decided to watch the first episode and we were immediately hooked.  The Amish men and women were at the young adult age and thrown into the "real" world for a few months with the question of "will they return to their Amish life or choose to live outside of it and be banned forever from their families?"

I was astounded by how much they didn't know about the modern culture that most people live in.  I watched their struggles and then watched their triumphs when some decided to go on and get degree's and live life outside their community while others enjoyed what they had experienced but longed for the peace they had in that small community.

"It's not just how you use the technology that concerns us.  We're also concerned about what kind of person you become when you use it" (Rheingold, 380)

As I learned more about the Amish when reading these pages, I realized what they were doing.  They were not looking to make life harder by not using the technology that we think makes our lives easier; instead, they are making their live easier and less complicated by using the simple machines, the ones that they could make themselves.  It seems to me that the Amish are evolving but they are not looking to evolve as fast as us.  They use the technology that they can create on their own.

Technology does change us.  The use of the television is purely for entertainment purposes.  It is never really needed.  The only truly positive use of it is to watch the news.  Computers have changed the world in probably a million ways and I honestly think we need that technology in the long run.  However, I can see how that much technology creates power in people that they probably shouldn't be feeling.

"'The thing I noticed about the telephone is the way it invades who you are,' Caleb said.  'We're all losing who we are because of the telephone and other machines - not just the Amish'" (Rheingold, 385).

I just recently returned from a retreat in which we had non technology all weekend.  We did not have access to any televisions or computers and we could not use our cell phones.  We barely had the knowledge of what time it was but none of that mattered.  We put ourselves in a place where it was quiet and peaceful and we didn't have to be anywhere but there.  All of those reasons made it more relaxing.  I didn't feel stressed because I was in a stress-free environment with people whom I would call family; just as the Amish live in their environment. 

Using that example of the small way of living I encountered like the Amish, I can understand better the reasons why they do it.  Of course it helped that I was in the midst of reading this story while I was on the retreat.  The Amish are choosing to evolve in their own way and I respect that.  Of course I think a lot of us could learn a thing or two about their community and the importance of family to them.  Still, many people in this world have created wonderful things using technology.  We need to find the right balance; though, looking at how fast we are moving, it would have to take a large force to slow us down.

Plato's Ingenius Discovery

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"But when they came to the letters, This, said Theuth, will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit" (Plato, 361, Writing Material).

Socrates is explaining to Phaedrus the first discovery of letters in ancient Egypt.  Plato can be very hard to understand so I was actually proud of myself for being able to understand the short passage at hand.  I think the discussion between Socrates and Phaedus reflects some of the discussions we had in class about the written word and oral communication.  Socrates explains the he and Thamus think that writing will create forgetfulness.  

I never imagined people thought that in the early ages although I see how it makes sense.  I write notes in class so as not try and remember everything the teacher tells me but the beauty is that I can take them back to my room and work on remembering them later.

By the end of this passage, Socrates explains, "in the garden of letters he will sow and plan, but not only for the sake of recreation and amusement; he will write them down as memorials to be treasured against the forgetfulness of old age, by himself, or by any other old man who is treading the same path" (Plato, 363, Writing Material).

Sometimes I do write things down to forget them.  The priest at my church would talk to the youth group and tell us that a good way to get troubling thoughts out of our minds was to write them down.  He could not have been more right.  I would constantly think about a situation that made me very upset by reliving it over and over again in my mind.  When I wrote down the situation it was like a release.  I never had to think about it again but it existed on paper in case I ever chose to be reminded of it; and that was a comforting thought.

For the most part, I can agree with the conclusions of Socrates in that writing memories down does not mean they will be forgotten.  If I write memories down it is for the reasons that Socrates says; in case I forget them when I am older.  But when I read memories that I have written down it only takes a second for me to remember them because they are never completely forgotten.

Homer and the Iliad

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I could not help but not entirely read the ancient Greek version of the passage from Homer's Iliad.  I tried to identify some of the letters (or symbols) that looked similar.  

When I read the Lattimore version of the poem, I did feel like it was a story from beginning to end just as it is described to be.  I noticed myself stopping after each line to slowly take in the understanding of what was happening in the passage.  It was very descriptive but I could easily understand what the story was about when I had finished.  

When I read the Fagles version of the poem, I noticed that I was reading it fast.  I do not know if that was from the way the words were arranged the shorter lines, but I could tell this version was meant to be read at a faster pace.  Or maybe I read it fast because I had just read the other version of the story so I knew what was basically happening.  Whatever the case, I think if I had read this version first, I would not be able to explain what it was about.  It seemed more choppy and I definitely felt like it ended abruptly.

I think all translations should stick to their originals as possible.  I am most interested in learning what was exactly said rather then a more choppy version that leads to me being a little more confused. 

Spoken Word vs the Written Word

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When reading in Writing Materials, I think the few points that Jay David Bolter brought up about oral and print communication reflect the discussions we had in class about how they are different and what the benefits and downfalls are.  He talks about the use of scrolls in ancient times and why books became such a lifesaver for reviewing what you have read and going to back to look at earlier points.

He discusses those good points of knowing your audience and how it is helpful in oral storytelling.

"The Homeric storyteller chooses what events to tell and the pace of the telling, and the storyteller can adjust the tale in order to suit what he or she conceives to be the wishes for the audience" (Bolter, 77)

Later, he goes on to talk about Plato and his ingenious idea to read dialogue aloud.  I thought this was very interesting because he said it makes the audience want to jump in (as they normally could nowadays with asking questions and commenting during oral presentations) but they cannot because the dialogue is already written and out of their hands to control.  I learned about Plato in my philosophy class but I would have much rather learned about him in this way (from a writing point-of-view) than trying to decipher all of that history.

Bolter goes on to talk about storytelling in the form of writing.

"In any case, writing changes the intimate relationship between the creator and the audience.  It is no use shouting a novel whose plot is heading in a direction we do not like: the book cannot adjust itself to our wishes as readers.  In that sense the reader loses control" (Bolter, 77).

Sometimes it does bother me that a story doesn't seem to be going the way I want it to go.  I keep reading because I occasionally find that the story does go the way I want it to go it just took a little longer to get there.  That is the beauty of stories; usually the very end is what surprises you most and you don't expect it.

Bolter goes on to say that the reader does have control over their own pace or trying to change the path by scanning or skipping parts.  I have to admit that if the story still doesn't end the way I want it to, I just visualize a scenario that better suits what I needed to happen.

English is not so Ordinary

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I never thought to blame the Latin language.

William Zinsser writes, "I'm sure all of you, newly arrived in America, have already been driven crazy trying to figure out the instructions for ordering a cell phone or connecting your computer, or applying for a bank loan or a health insurance policy, and you assume that those of us who were born here can understand this tuff.  I assure you that we don't understand it either."

I think this is so intelligent because I have been asked to explain directions to foreign students in my classes and I have get nervous as I'm explaining because I know it isn't making any sense.  I suppose knowing that I can blame the Latin origin of our language for my inability to understand directions, and other means of writing, isn't such a bad thought.

Look, I think I'm even using too much Latin-originated words in my blog right now.

I can't help it, I have studied many Latin words for the S.A.T.'s, and I have been expected to write intelligently for resume's and other work that has to be written professionally.  Zinsser probably isn't implying that the usage of big and confusing words for resume's and such is a bad idea, because people always want to know you have a professional side somewhere.  However, I liked when he referred to the Anglo-Saxon origin of our language as the "free" part.   I look at that part of our language as the part that I can most relate to.

I also want to add that I agree when Zinsser talked about good writing.  As people who speak English, I think we automatically look at our writing and phrasing as the correct way.  Before I took ever took French, which was about eighth grade, I never thought it would be so complicated as to learn the correct way to write and speak in another language.  I probably just assumed that the French words could be swapped with the English words and then I would have a French sentence.  It isn't that easy as we all know.  It's hard to imagine that every single language has such a different use of nouns, adjectives, etc.

"So what is good English - the language we're here today to wrestle with?  It's not as musical as Spanish, or Italian, or French, or as ornamental as Arabic, or as vibrant as some of your native languages.  But I'm hopelessly in love with English because it's plain and it's strong" (Zinsser, Writing Engish as a Second Language).