The Weekly Review

by Chris Bowler

I recently shared a list of personal blogs that I enjoy. But I neglected to add Alan Jacobs to the list. Perhaps it’s because he maintains several blogs, some regularly, others less so.

But his primary personal blog is one I subscribe to, and it’s almost like a digital commonplace book. I first mentioned Alan in this space because of Habits of Mind in an Age of Distraction. Since then, I’ve enjoyed his site and several other longer essays on other sites. The one at the top included, which is a profile of Jacobs by David J. Michael. If you’re not familiar with Jacobs’ work, this is a good place to start.

I appreciate Alan Jacobs for his writing on theological matters, but also because he’s a man of faith willing to take on the subject of technology. Indeed, he embraced the internet from early on, as mentioned in this piece:

Jacobs began thinking more seriously about technology in the late 1990s, when he taught himself to code. At that time the internet was emerging as a vibrant place for intellectual conversation, and he became an early and active participant

But even more so, Jacobs, a veracious writer on many topics, saw changes in himself brought on by changes in technology. And he’s not been afraid to tackle that subject either:

By the end of that decade, Jacobs noticed he was losing his ability to focus on books for extended periods of time. Worried that it might never return, he made strenuous efforts to reclaim his attention and made adjustments to his online habits. He also started to work out ideas around concentration, reading and technology on a new technology blog called Text Patterns. He collected these ideas in Reading in the Age of Distraction, which argued for the value of “whim” in reading and made recommendations for preserving the pleasure of reading amid the noise of the internet.

Another related piece by Alan himself is Tending the Digital Commons: A Small Ethics toward the Future. Cal Newport has referred to this article a few times in recent months and for a good reason. In it, Jacobs outlines a few issues with the current state of the internet and the “walled gardens” of Facebook, Twitter, Google, and the like. And (this is where I finally get around to relating this to last week’s issue) he makes a case for running one’s own website:

For the last few years we’ve been hearing a good many people (most of them computer programmers) say that every child should learn to code. As I write these words, I learn that Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, has echoed that counsel. Learning to code is a nice thing, I suppose, but should be far, far down on our list of priorities for the young. Coding is a problem-solving skill, and few of the problems that beset young people today, or are likely to in the future, can be solved by writing scripts or programs for computers to execute. I suggest a less ambitious enterprise with broader applications, and I’ll begin by listing the primary elements of that enterprise. I think every young person who regularly uses a computer should learn the following…

He goes on to list several skills that all relate to running your own site. Buying a domain name, choosing a good web host, and writing some HTML & CSS. It’s a long piece, but he sums it up well.

I am, in short, endorsing here the goals of the Domain of One’s Own movement.

I haven’t even mentioned the books that he has written, two of which are very high on my to-read list. If you’re looking for a new site to subscribe to, I suggest Alan Jacobs is a worthy addition!