Wills and Imaginations

Will Richardson writes yet another great post, this time on Kindles, social reading, social writing, social annotation–well, go read it yourself, then come right back.

Now, strap in for more ironies and connections.

I came to the Steven Johnson article myself yesterday, after a colleague in the Baylor library emailed me and another colleague–the Director of the Electronic Library, as it happens– a link (go ahead, peel that onion, dear readers). He was inspired to send me the link because we had been admiring my office’s new Kindle at a meeting yesterday morning. So I go to the article–a fine and unusually thoughtful article, in my view–and I’ve got Diigo and Zotero on, and I see all the annotations, and I look through a few of the comments, thinking all the while “my goodness, I’m reading about the transformation of reading and writing in a space that’s already *itself* demonstratively transformed–recursion rocks.” Then I see that several of the comments are from Will! One of them says something like “I want to have a conversation about this piece with everyone right now!” And I think to myself that in some uncanny, asynchronous, space-and-time-folding way, Will’s wish has come true even as I read it. As John Keats writes of his own reading,

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
  When a new planet swims into his ken….

Then I go to Bloglines this morning and read Will’s blog post, and began to comment, and realized the comment was far too long and would work better as part of a distributed conversation. So I quickly port the comment here. Another layer of marginalia–to Steven Johnson, to Will Richardson, to the world–for now the margins themselves become infinitely extensible, even at the risk or splendor of the margins becoming boundless. (Actually, they already are and always have been–all books are written in the margins of others, and those margins detach and become books themselves. But I digress.)

I hear my skeptical colleagues saying “wasteful and inefficient! how will you keep track of all the layers of commentary? how will you find your way back to all the places you found? what if a server goes down? where is there time for all this stuff?” And I know they’re partially right–but only partially. I know also that the passion to connect that Will expresses so beautifully and forcefully, the passion to learn, to grow and explore and report back from those prospects and “wild surmises,” finds such reinforcement and so many rewards in this environment that my only standard of comparison is the golden summer afternoons I used to spend in elementary school libraries while my father did his janitorial labors and my mother worked at her home-health-aide job. Those afternoons I simply flew through the infosphere of a library, all those books potentially lying open to each other and to me. Now those golden moments can be shared, built upon, reflected on singly and together–as always, but more so, for good and for ill and for good and for ill and for good.

And when I yearn for that library Donne writes of in Meditation 17, I can go there, journeying through time and space with my fellow readers and writers. My fellow human beings. As always, but more so, with new frustrations, but with even more new inspirations. Always good to keep the ledger tilted toward inspiration (“by any means necessary,” I almost wrote). Plenty to worry about, plenty to be deliberate about, plenty to shape and build. Plenty to celebrate. God’s plenty, and ours.

It’s fitting that these threads weave such a tapestry on Shakespeare’s birthday. Shakespeare:  not a “university wit,” but good enough to be mocked publicly by one who was. Shakespeare, whose works were so compelling that his friends and fellow actors (those lowlife rogues) were arrogant enough to collect his writings in this new technology called print, where works as common and public as *plays* became both *plays* and *works* … and “not of an age, but for all time.”

Even though everything that grows holds in perfection but a little moment.

A birthday wish, then, for our wills and imaginations: may we always engraft each other new.

2 thoughts on “Wills and Imaginations

  1. Perhaps it will not surprise you to know that this post resonates, and resonates, and resonates with me. I struggle with island-ness, and the connected conversations that I am a part of allow me to cross the bridge off my island more and more. I, too, want to have the conversation with everyone right now! When I tweet into the ether, that is what I’m am doing, essentially. I know not everyone will hear, and most will not respond. But my words have in some way been recorded and heard and I have contributed to some larger thing. So much of what I do these days feels like that kind of contribution and a membership in some larger communion.

    (You have also prompted me to finally sign up for a diigo account.)

    Here’s to John and Will — what riches there are to find in them.

  2. It does not surprise me, but it pleases me mightily. I’m especially glad it elicited such resonant words from you! I am grateful.

    Nodes and networks are both essential, I think. And in my experience, personhood requires both. Poetry, music, art–these three help me think and feel my way through all the mysteries. I want to be part of those mysteries.

    It helps enormously to have met so many amazing people who are on that journey too.

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