November 5, 2009

What do I read?

My online reading habits drift, partly as I find new sites I like, and partly because I'm one of those people who gets overwhelmed by bad news. I used to read some of the big-name feminist blogs (Feministe, Feministing, Pandagon) all the time, but stopped when it started to get me down that they were all reporting the same frustrating, sad stories. I'm at about that place with Shakesville, which is a real shame because the community there is very tightly knit, but the focus of the site is maybe too honest for me. A frank look at the world, from the perspective that people deserve to be treated fairly, gets to be too much when society refuses to play by the rules. I have picked up good habits from reading there, and at Shapely Prose - I can't even read the body-snarking comments at Project Rungay or the "I'm so fat" contests in some of the Jezebel threads, because they're so obviously wrong after just a little time in body-shame-free environments.

I can be a real news junkie at times - I was completely addicted to 538 in the month before the last presidential election, and the level of detail in FireDogLake's coverage of congressional hearings and debates is a great antidote for me to the hopeless superficiality of TV news. Lately, though, I'm getting that feeling again, where opening up a lefty news aggregator like Crooks & Liars creates this heavy feeling in my chest, where I wonder what's gone wrong since the last time I checked the US news.

Fortunately, news isn't the only thing on the internet: although I do research in physical science, I like to read about literature, history and philosophy. Maybe I'm making up for the time I didn't spend learning those things in college? Edge of the American West and Crooked Timber discuss a lot of subjects I don't know a lot about, usually with a good amount of backstory and nuance, and while I don't know what Michael Berube is talking about in his "Theory Thursday" posts, the thread about the Golden Compass series gave me a sci-fi/religious philosophy reading list that would take months to get through. I also used to read Language Log regularly, but quit when the "grumpy old man who doesn't allow comments on his posts" contributor started getting more airtime than the computational linguists.

I also read very little about my field, or those related to it, online. I don't think the blog environment works well for real science education: there isn't the time, or the possibility of real-time interaction, that make science education work. The surface-skimming of popular science reporting grates on me a bit, too: when I write for and read journals, it is with great care and precision, and blog-format writing doesn't have the time for all that. For me, the details are the interesting bits. There is also a little professional jealousy in action here, I should admit, because my subfield is only a little bit cool, and doesn't get the kind of attention or money that follow the sexier specialties.

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