Shareski’s not-top list and the rage of Achilles

One semester, as an undergrad, I took a course on ancient epics:  Gilgamesh, the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Voyage of the Argo, the Aeneid, a couple of side trips along the way. The University of Detroit is a Jesuit school, so we called the professor Father (not Doctor) McKendrick.  I recalled him as I read a post on Dean Shareski’s Ideas and Thoughts blog.

Here’s why: we spent the opening night of class—two and a half hours—on the first seven lines of the Iliad.

Dean Shareski is a digital learning consultant for a public school division in Saskatchewan.  His post, Dealing with My/Our Attention and Information Issues, is well worth reading, even if like me you aren’t involved in the education of children.  Rather than offer a top-five list, he says he wanted to “share a few things I think can be helpful in a day of attention deficits.”  I thought I’d highlight a few here.

Simplify the complex

Dean points to the Common Craft videos as great distillations of complex topics.  He suggests that educators sometimes reject technology in the classroom because of the complexity.  (I’d add that the techno-jazzed can sometimes contribute to that rejection, at least in the world of work.)  “We can spend lots of times examining the intricacies of using media, but without a good story, it doesn’t matter.”

Sometimes good enough is good enough

“When you get 3 million search results, sometimes you settle,” Dean says.  Be honest: when’s the last time you clicked through to the fourth page of a bunch of Google results?    This is not to say “settle for anything.”  It’s more like, “Where are you going, and how long do you plan to pack?”

I’m iterative.  A lot of the time, what I produce gets better if I’ve had the chance to revisit and rethink it.  Heck, sometimes when I’m explaining something, I’ll interrupt myself as a clearer picture emerges in my head.

But there’s sometimes (often?) a diminishing-return factor, and occasionally the procrastinator’s optimism.  (A standing joke with a video producer was, “We’ll fix it in post,” meaning the post-production process.  Sometimes you can’t fix it; sometimes, there isn’t going to be a post.)

Snacking versus eating

For me, this was the grabber in Dean’s post.  I could easy snack all the time, whether you’re talking about information or food.  There’s not necessarily anything wrong with snacking, but for myself, I have to choose to focus.

I’ve always been something of a generalist, at least since I decided not to study English in grad school.  At the same time, I’m drawn to detail when I can discern a story.  When Father McKendrick spent all that time on seven lines of the Iliad (there are nearly 16,000 lines altogether), he turned them into a framework—as Homer had—to invite us further into the story.  Not a snack, an appetizer.

The opening lines of the Iliad, from the Perseus Project.

Rage–Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles,
murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls,
great fighters’ souls, but made their bodies carrion,
feast for the dogs and birds, and the will of Zeus was moving toward its end.
Begin, Muse, when the two first broke and clashed,
Agamemnon lord of men and brilliant Achilles.

(Greek text from the Perseus Project;
translation by Robert Fagles)