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Home, Brain Slightly Expanded

I have returned from a day-long discussion held by the Institute for the Future of the Book. I left very reluctantly, sorry not to be dining with the people I had shared the day with, but glad I was close to concluding the fifth business trip in two weeks and could spend the weekend catching up on homework and spending time with Sandy and the cats.

Despite (or due to?) the invitational letter, I wasn’t sure what to expect–a West Coast Webcred, perhaps? But–as good conversations among intelligent people often transpire–the day moved in its own direction, and by the end of our discussion we were all agreed that the world needed a more significant presence for public intellectuals, and that blogs are a fitting medium for this presence–not a small conclusion, in a world where academic endeavor is increasing hidden behind high walls, and the dominant public voices are too often driven by motives far from the public interest.

I will share more of what I have when the institute has digested and published the day, but I had somewhat more personal thoughts by the end of the day. There are days when I feel a small shadow of regret for quitting a PhD program back in 1995, after my first semester. I left for good reasons: it felt like a poor fit, everyone in the program seemed depressed and alienated, and I couldn’t imagine spending the next five years in such misery. I have had good jobs and interesting times since then, and I wouldn’t be in the MFA program right now, and I really like my writing studies. Still, I think to myself, what would life be like if I had stuck with the PhD?

But I listened to the academics today, and that life has its own anxieties. Imagine a world filled with worry about tenure or department heads. Imagine jockeying around the politics of academia. Imagine life in a tower. It’s windy up there, and cold.

So perhaps I have the best of both worlds. I get to spend time, now and again, with the sparkle and fizz of minds honed by academe. Then I go back to being one of the sturdy village smithies tapping out the tools of information science with our digital hammers, and I am reminded, visiting the writing of my peers, that I work in a profession blessed with the brisk salt air of the real world, balanced with a chorus of intelligent insights about users and how they relate to information. I’m pretty lucky.

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