Rock, paper, iPhone
Charles Herndon has scoured the fields and Lake Erie shore along Ohio’s Kelleys Island for most of his 60 years, seeking boulders that carry a story that he can reveal. Stone sculptures litter the outdoor gallery at his home, and dozens more sculptures occupy pedestals and floor space in a more traditional albeit cluttered indoor gallery. Touching is allowed as long as visitors remove their shoes to avoid introducing dirt and other particles that might damage his art.
Herndon’s favorite sculpture is one he’s named So Far, No Farther. Glaciers and tugs of the earth and water pushed this piece of gabbro rock so far and no farther, and then Herndon applied his tools and took it, again, so far and no farther. He fell in love with the stone so much that he kept track of how long he worked on it: 333 hours.
I comment that he’s invested a lot of time in one sculpture. “Yes,” he said. “But it came to me with 10,000 years in it.”
Pulling out the beauty that lies within each stone requires a blend of the old and the new in Herndon’s workshop. In the early years, all of his work was done with hand tools. Then the head of the sculpture department at his art school passed along a set of power tools. “That really set me going,” he said.
The power tools help him start each new sculpture, but three-quarters of the work on each is left to his hands. Decades of pressing into unforgiving rock have left his hands, as he puts it, “kind of pulpy” and now arthritic from the wear and tear.
With water washing over the rocks in order to bring out their color, Herndon rubs the stones by hand with abrasive bricks of silicone carbide to smooth them and bring out the shape that he wants. “It’s very subtle, something I couldn’t possibly do with the tools. It’s where the magic is,” he said.
Folding in technology
Our relationship with reading is not nearly as old as the rocks in Herndon’s gallery. For roughly 5,500 years, man has been trying to share messages and ideas through symbols on cave walls, then pages of paper, and then computer screens.
Reading is an unnatural act. Scholars tell us that no genetic code puts reading into our repertoire. Unlike breathing, seeing, speaking, hearing, tasting, or touching, reading is a skill that humans have had to acquire, each one on their own. Each of us reads because of the careful and repeated instruction of other human beings who taught us to do so.
The power tools of the new technologies haven’t really changed the core of reading. Eyeballs and brains still must interpret odd squiggles on a page and make sense out of them. Those new tools haven’t even done much to speed up each individual’s process of reading. But technology has clearly made the difference in disseminating the written word in ways that were almost unimaginable even at the dawn of the Internet 20 years ago.
Technology has unleashed a cacophony of communication, and we have flung ourselves at opportunities to share our discoveries and insights. How else do you explain 271 million people willingly reducing their thoughts to 140 characters so they can use Twitter each month? And what about the millions of blogs being published around the world?
The power tools of reading — our computers, phones, and tablets — have expanded our world and given us access to untold volumes of human thought. But, as Maryanne Wolf counseled in my interview with her (p. 14 of the November issue of Kappan), each of us must slow down and read deeply. In the same way that Herndon uncovers the magic of his stones through hand sanding and refining, we must turn slow down in order to uncover our own thinking about what we read. To find the mysteries in our thinking, we all have to polish the stone.