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Friday, 16 December 2022


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As a foreigner coming to this country when I was 26, I missed out on some American habits and icons, be it a TV celebrity who hadn't made it across the Atlantic or Twinkies...

I think for a while I was caught up, but the last decade or so I'm falling behind my children. Quite honestly, I don't care.

About writing vs video, I'm a writing guy, but I also readily admit that in a sense what we generally do all day is listen do other people anyway and a lot of what videos do is people talking to you. I just hate the fluff, but that's true of bad writing as well, just as it is of bad video (I thought, until my kid told me that videos have to be a certain length to be able to get monetized, so it's fluff with a purpose).

I get a kick out of watching Jeopardy when not one of the contestants, all usually under 50, have no idea for a 1950's to 1970's trivia question that was mainstream to us older folks.
I can identify with them however, for a book I researched on Linhof Cameras I had to delve into the 1900's German cursive style print where I could not make out an "f" from "s" or "v". After 10 minutes I was seeing double!

And yet, there is hope: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/15/style/teens-social-media.html

This resonates quite a bit with me. Here are some thoughts.

A few years ago I sat an invigilated exam with the Open University (UK) where I had to write an essay. Although I'm your age, the last time I had written anything was a postcard. I found it very difficult - and it made me determined to physically write stuff on a regular basis

I currently work with a guy (in IT) who makes notes in a notebook. He has the most beautiful copperplate script I have ever seen. I'm humbled and jealous and aspire to do the same

In an earlier life I did a lot of mountaineering / hiking. I developed pretty good skills using a map and compass, and navigating in difficult situations (fog, mist, white-out etc). I'm still proud of these skills and of course they can be life-saving if your phone dies!

Let's not lose skills just because they seem irrelevant to our modern daily life

Here's John McWhorter (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/13/opinion/teaching-cursive-handwriting.html?searchResultPosition=1) in The NY Times telling us why we don't need and shouldn't teach cursive writing anymore.

We are constantly leaving old technologies, crafts, skills and knowledge behind. It was de rigueur in the 17th, 18th and even the 19th centuries for a well-educated person to know ancient Greek and Latin. Not so much anymore.

I had to go back and look for it and then immediately saw it."

My son was born during the Generation Y era and can read and write cursive. He went to Catholic school because I wanted him to learn math the old fashion way with paper and pencil first, then by calculator later. Penmanship started in his first-grade classroom, and by the end of that school year, he was writing his first and last name in cursive, and the little guy was proud of it.

I hardly ever write in cursive because I was forced in third grade (school changed from S. Calif -> S. Jersey) to switch from left-hand to right-hand writing; it ruined my natural flow. 95% of what I write is printed as if the caps key was left on, and it all shifts to the left. People have said throughout my life I write like an architect, whatever that means. :(
My right-hand fatigues pretty fast when I write anything, so I am a keyboarder. I understand the importance of personal handwritten letters, and I try, but I am not always successful because my writing hand pains me.

My Rip van Winkle moment arrived when a classroom of young adults I taught did not know who Leonard Cohen was and a few other singers/musicians. We planned a classroom party for our graduates, and it all came up when they asked to look through my digital music library. After that experience, I felt it was time to sit back in the student's seat, observe how my perspective of the world has changed, and learn what the younger generations contribute.

Trying to sign my name in cursive with my finger on credit card signature pads is always amusing. Sometimes it works; often it does not. I have to resort to primitive non-cursive strokes that look nothing like my signature.

The thing that bothers me about the analogue clock thing is the implication that a digital time display is obviously better.

It’s not, any more than a table of percentages is better than a pie chart. Humans are visual animals, and a visual indication of the time is more suited to how we process things.

I remember back in the 70’s I was an early adopter of digital watches, but it didn’t take long to discover their major limitation. A digital timepiece gives you one discreet bit of information: what time it is now. A traditional clock face gives you a graphical representation of time; you can see what time it is now in relation to other points in time, and that’s useful information. I will say that I think we make it difficult for anyone to learn to read a clock by sticking to our archaic system of hours and minutes. Maybe someday someone will recommend a base 10 system that is easy for people to learn.

I’m on the text side of the text/video divide. It comes down to practicality. Text has three things going for it that video lacks. The first is random access. It is very easy to find the information I need in a book, as opposed to a video (aren’t indexes wonderful things?). The second and probably most important is information density. I can read must faster than I can watch a video, given identical subject matter. And third, there is retention. It’s a personal thing, but I retain information much better if I’ve read something than if I’ve watched a video.

Finally, in regards to the 12 iconic people “test”, I really couldn’t care less. Perhaps the most irksome trend of the internet era is how the whole “celebrity” thing has spiraled out of control. There are certainly those who we should celebrate (Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, MLK) but as of late we have people who are famous only for being famous. I started reading newspapers (Mike please explain to your younger readers) in the early seventies, and I continue to this day. Back in the day, the articles were about WHAT happened whereas today they are primarily about WHO did it. I’m starting to sound like a curmudgeon now, so I’ll stop.


At some point, all of us and our precepts get left behind.

About 30 years ago, I was outside in front of our open garage. A neighbour boy came over and asked to use our phone, and I directed him to the one just inside our garage. It was an old phone, as I didn't feel the need to have a new one in a seldom used location. He looked at it and asked 'How do you use this?', as it was a black desk phone with a dial.

"...whether they find it more efficient and comfortable to ingest information as video or text,..."

Put me in the text (print) category. I am voracious in reading articles where they do comparisons, (watches, lenses, martial arts, etc...), but I loathe YouTube videos that do the same. Videos are chronologically linear, text can be flipped back and forth to extract the information, really great when doing any A vs. B research. I get to the end of a 15 minute video and don't remember what was discussed in minute three. With printed articles I can skip the fluff and get to the need-to-know data.

I'm with you - can read faster than people can talk. The only videos I look for are those that teach me how to repair my computer equipment!

There are a few websites with videos I do appreciate - those with transcripts. Skip the video and read.

Guess we'll devolve back to heiroglyphics. Hey, worked for a few thousand years for the Eqyptians!

Hmmm...I noticed the 'typo' right away, but classified it a yet another example of really bad grammar so common these days.

As for the ability to read or write cursive hand writing, guess that I was well ahead of the curve. I abandoned cursive writing in middle school (back in the late 60s) when it was no longer forced upon us. My cursive handwriting was always very poor.

I learned decades later that, at least some of my troubles in this regard stemmed from the fact that I am left handed and that they only taught cursive for right handed folks.

Also, when I was in middle school, it was common to have boys learn 'drafting' (i.e. drawing of engineering plans) and girls learn typing. Using a technical pen as a left-hander was an 'interesting' experience. I don't believe that I ever produced a drawing that was smudge free!

Furthermore, my lack of typing skills has never been a problem. As computers/word processors became common, I learned to draft text while sitting at the keyboard. My thought processes are always the rate-limiting step, not how fast I am able to type; my two-finger typing keeps up easily with my brain.

With regard to youngsters telling time, my offspring are now nearly forty. Back when they were in middle school, I had a similar experience. The kids were in the family room where there was a perfectly serviceable analog clock upon the mantel. Yet when they wanted to know what time it was, one of them rose from the sofa and walked to the kitchen to see the time on the digital clock built in to the stove. They had certainly learned to read an analog clock but were just too lazy to bother. I guess that they had learned but the skill was not second nature to them.

My solution was to put gaffers tape over every digital clock in the house. There were many! The taped stayed on for more than a year if I remember correctly.

This state of affairs regarding analog clocks must be interesting when we old folks use the terms "clockwise" and "counter clockwise"!

I am old enough to remember comedian George Gobel on Johnny Carson and my favorite sentence from him. "The world is a tuxedo and I am a pair of brown shoes."

I prefer text. You mentioned some of the reasons already, no need to repeat them. But the specific thing that's easy with text, when you already know something on the subject, and need to know more, is to zoom along as the text aligns to what you already know, and stopping at the point your knowledge stops. Then settle in and read carefully. It's easy to go back as much as you need. Some people like making notes in the margin. Books usually have a table of contents, and the useful ones usually have an index. Videos are only just beginning to have something that crudely resembles a table of contents.

I can read far quicker than people talk in a video, and most of them take forever to get to the point, with pointless diversions along the way. It's infuriating.

And the book is almost always better than the movie, especially if it's a good book.

Some content only exists on video. Sigh.

Oh, Lord, don't get me started ...

Ray Bradbury was right. Everyone remembers "Fahrenheit 451" because of the book burning, but there was a great deal more in there.

I see it as the text / streaming divide. As far back as the very late 1970s I found training courses for work on cassette tapes to be slow and boring. I found that by playing them double-speed, which doubled the data rate, plus the brain-power it took to figure out what they were saying shifted up an octave (because this real, analog, cassette player couldn't shift the tones back down the way digital players do today) managed to keep my attention long enough to get through the course. Text I would have gone through much faster and learned more from.

Am I in charge, or is the presenter? I like it better when I am :-) .

I dunno. Seems to me like the video generation do an awful lot of texting.

I have been surprised to learn over recent years that joined-up handwriting (cursive) is not taught as standard in the USA. In the UK it is standard. However, my handwriting was never that neat and lack of practice as a result of using a keyboard has made it even worse. I wish I wrote neatly. Perhaps that should be my goal for 2023.

An analog clock IS a math problem. One can memorize the relative positions of the hands and quickly get a sense of the relative time, but at its heart it's still a math problem.

Of course, this relativity can be an advantage, like seeing proportions on a slide rule instead of just digits on a calculator.

50 books a year? You are slacking. My 16 year old daughter (who is also a print published young author and a keen fan fiction author with 310,000 words to her name this year) says she reads 400 page novels in about 2 hours. I always thought I was a dedicated reader but she outclasses me.

Typically I read fiction at a rate of about a book every day or two days. All the time. Currently I am reading John Meaney's Ragnarok trilogy (for the 3rd time,my preferred authors can't keep up) - I estimate I will read the whole thing in 3 days. Not everyone takes to reading - one of my sisters doesn't own a single book, but some bookworms become so captured by fictional worlds it's basically what they do :-)

Cursive handwriting is still taught as standard in British primary schools, as is the traditional clock face.

Video is ok, but it is such a slow way to convey information. I do MOOC courses and subscribe to a number of YT photography channels but I have to watch at 1.5x or 1.75x to make it bearable. All those silent gaps, and umms and ers are excruciating. And American creators tend to speak slower than British for some reason I don't understand.

Here is an observation.


And this was when the author considered himself on team conservative! Recently he wrote a piece where he said explicitly that he is disenchanted with the conservatives, but how do you read this article and not conclude he had already gone very far in that direction already by late last year.

Also re: cursive. What killed cursive was the ball point pen. You have to press on the paper quite hard to get it to write. Your illustration of "chicken scratch" was certainly done with a fountain pen. The Atlantic had an article saying this. And when I write with a fountain pen, I can deal with writing cursive. With a ball point or gel pen, forget it. Even so, my signature is more flourish than letters. It is so much so that the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission tried to get me to redo my signature (doing the registration part).

And for maps. Once I asked a friend if they knew how to read a highway map. So we were driving along and I asked how many kilometers until such and such place (this was in Nova Scotia a decade ago, it was a free tourist map, and we had it because I guessed right that reception would be hard to come by). No idea. They didn't know how to read a map.

The informed debunking by readers in the comments to McWhorter's anti-cursive screed in the Times is more valuable than the piece itself, which is little more than personal axe-grinding serving as click bait.

Telling the time from a clock's hands:
see the Irish comedian Dave Allen on this.

David Brown wrote, "...our archaic system of hours and minutes..." That division of things into 60ths or multiples of 60 goes all the way back to ancient Babylon, and even before that to Sumeria. We also divide circles into a multiple of 60 degrees (6 times 60 is 360) and there are roughly 360 days in a year. Latitude and longitude, until recently, were always given in degrees, minutes, and seconds of arc, with a minute equaling 1/60 of a degree and an arc-second equaling 1/60 of a minute. A minute of latitude (or, at the equator, longitude) is just a little over a mile. More recently, people have started using decimal degrees and forgoing minutes and seconds. But that number 60 is deeply entrenched. France tried a decimal time system during the revolutionary period, but it died out quickly. Good luck getting 60 out of our time measurements.

As I've probably said before in this space, I vastly prefer text to video for information, since the efficiency difference for someone like me (a quick reader and master skimmer) is close to an order of magnitude. For entertainment, all media have their place; hell, I haven't read a book in years, but I've listened to hundreds of novels as audiobooks (while commuting, because efficiency), and that's more than enough to scratch my itch for long-form storytelling.

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