Don's diary: Sites for lifelong unlearning and stamps

November 14, 2003

Anish Kapoor remains at the top of the hit list for the fifth month running. His name in a search string leads more internet users to my website than any other, which is a bit frustrating as I wouldn't rate my thoughts on a 1998 Kapoor exhibition as the best thing on offer. Compare it with my essay on the Turner Prize!

But just as writers can't do much to control who reads their books, website builders - despite keywords and promotional packages - can't do much to control traffic. On balance, that is a good thing, since the unexpected visitor is the one most likely to have an unexpected thought.

I began putting my lifetime's academic (and not-so-academic) work on a website a couple of years ago. I was weary of waiting three years for articles to appear in unread books and unreadable journals. Now I put out one or two essays a month on my site, and within a few weeks the webcrawlers eat them up and spit them out in response to Google searches.

Readership is worldwide and - I guess - includes many users whose first language is not English. So I try to edit my prose. Long sentences get cut in half. Or quarters. There's a free tip, especially for young cultural theorists.

Saturday and Sunday
Students don't work at weekends. This is a truth universally acknowledged and solidly supported by website statistics.

I am in discussion with my website manager, Andy Bicknell, on how to handle a full-length book, Language in Mind and Language in Society , which Oxford University Press is never going to reprint. It seems clumsy just to shovel it all on the website whether html or rtf. One possibility is to put up a sample chapter, with the option to download the rest of the book if this preview whets readers' appetites.

Another idea is to put the book on CD-Rom and, supported by review quotes, sell it over the internet. But this introduces money, and that introduces a bureaucracy, which brings back memories of university life. Some things are best forgotten. (Click on my essay Lifelong Unlearning for the argument.)

My website manager wants pictures and sound, which I resist.

They tend to slow things down; not everyone has broadband. Maybe I'll let him have my travel photographs. They might tie in nicely with the essay on the nature of photography on the site. Or perhaps I'll let him have a reading of a short story to enliven the creative-writing theory section.

But then there are issues about quality control, and I don't have any peers to review me. ( Sotto voce : thank God!)

It's going to be another happy day. I'm going to Hamburg. The return flight, booked over the internet, cost me tuppence plus taxes. I need to view a stamp auction. What my pension doesn't cover - the champagne, fast cars, having children at university, that sort of thing - I fund by dealing in postage stamps. Many of my regular clients are academics. This is not surprising. As Lord Rutherford observed, there are indeed only two branches of science - physics and stamp collecting. Auf Wiedersehen .

Trevor Pateman was reader in education at the University of Sussex from 1985 to 2000. He now earns his living at and publishes his work at

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