Because Linguistics

Everyday, shortly after I wake up, I grab a cup of hot coffee and I sit down to read the New York Times, check the T-shirt of the day on, and finally I check to see the word of the day and browse through the site’s other content.  Today, I happened across an interesting blog post discussing the new ways the word because is being used.  I thought it would also make an interesting subject to discuss in my own blog, because: rhetoric.

If you are a careful reader, you may have noticed that I chose to forego the traditional use of the prepositional modifier of following because.  As the blog post here discusses, people are using the word because in a new (within the past 5 years), terse style that not only changes the way sentences sound, but also the way they are structured.  As the blog’s author notes, because x (the designation used within the blog) is being used similar to the way prepositions are used and also as a connective that can link loosely associated ideas.  For instance, a person might say: “I’m super excited for the spring semester, because graduation!”

The new ways because is being used may not seem particularly groundbreaking, and although it may not catch as much attention as other new words such as twerk and selfie; it represents a marked reformation of a common word.  Because has a long standing history and specific method of use, so how is it that new qualities have been accepted by nearly everyone, from mainstream media to literary organizations?  Because internet.

The 20th century linguist Ferdinand de Saussure notably demonstrated that language cannot be changed by a singular person.  Instead, he theorized that language is like a living organism and evolves over time, gaining its shape and meaning through a series of negations, i.e. it works similar to binary code in computers.  Although this is a gross oversimplification of his ideas, I believe it sheds some light on why words change so rapidly in modern society.

The internet has rapidly accelerated communication and also created a wealth of new information that requires new words and language in order to be adequately discussed.  Additionally, the widespread use of text as a primary method of communication is developing a more malleable type of language, in order to enable more rapid and effective exchanges.  Just think of the large number of words that have entered the lexicon since the Internet’s inception.  Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other websites allow words like epic, winning, fail, and like to obtain new meanings and uses almost overnight.

As we continue through the final week of the online session, it’s becoming easier to see the many ways rhetoric connects to technology and life generally.  This specific blog post relates to an online class about rhetoric in several ways.  First, as the sound and shape of language changes, so to does rhetorical argument.  In order to effectively use emotional and credibility appeals, a rhetorician must adapt to new uses of language.  Secondly, this class is being conducted online and utilizes many online applications, so an understanding of how to use language effectively in the online community is directly relevant.  Finally, because is a word with particular qualities that make it a valuable tool for any rhetorical argument.  New methods of using the connective word, mean new ways to logically shape an argument and link ideas.

As one of my favorite words to use in papers and everyday speech, I’m pretty excited about the new ways I can use because.  Rhetorically speaking, why? Because because!


Free Writing for Fun

One of the things I enjoy doing; more so than a great many of the other activities and hobbies I have developed a taste for over the years, is writing.  I like to write about pretty much any subject matter, although I will admit I have a preference for fiction, poetry, and religion.  The careful observer will no doubt notice that my writings for the online rhetoric course offered during Bloomsburg University’s winter session do not accurately convey this passion of mine, much to my dismay.

In a previous post, I made a statement about rectifying this situation over the weekend in an effort to make up for lost time; then when the weekend came, I found myself swamped with work and unable to fulfill my stated intentions.  At the risk of further destroying my credibility, I would like to make the same commitment for the upcoming weekend, for two reasons.  First, I always complete everything that is expected of me, regardless of whether or not it is too late to be accepted as part of the graded coursework.  Secondly, I have realized over the course of the semester that I enjoy using a blog for general writing and would like to continue to use this blog after the winter session’s end, in order to develop a catalog of writing samples.

As some of my fellow classmates have said throughout the course, it is important to have both, a portfolio of writing and experience with social media applications.  I believe that a blog on WordPress can effectively accomplish both of these tasks, in addition to serving as a tool for future class projects while I am attending Bloomsburg University.  For example, I also use WordPress to view submissions and communicate with members of Bloomsburg University’s Student Literary Magazine, Warren.  I think it can be used to fulfill similar roles in upcoming creative writing courses and also for sharing work with friends and family members not enrolled in the university.

In addition to learning how to use a blog to post written work and share various types of media, we also used Google Maps in the class to create a personalized map that creates a visual argument for an idea or a specific geographic location.  Like this WordPress blog, I can imagine myself using Google Maps in the future, to post bike routes, share landmarks, and communicate experiences that occur while on the road or off.  Although there are many applications that I already use to do similar processes (such as Runtastic for instance) I like that Google Maps is available for free and that anyone can access it.  Also, I like that Google maps offers a wider range of data and is able to be used for non-athletic purposes.

In summation, I think the most useful thing I have learned, throughout the duration of the winter session, is how to effectively use technology to enhance activities that I do on a regular basis.  I look forward to bringing the session to a close and beginning the long journey through the Spring and Summer semesters with the tools that I acquired over the winter.

Cold Weather Blues

“Cold” is subjective terminology, at least as it is commonly used in general language.  When a person asks “is it cold outside?” and another person responds “no,”  neither person is referring to any definitive phenomena; they are each describing the way he or she experiences (or believes he or she would experience) the weather as an individual.  Although this type of language is useful for simple expressions and discussions, it fails to remain as effective in essays or rhetorical arguments.  Oftentimes, it is easy to confuse subjective speech with descriptive terminology.  When this happens, communication is not as effective and any arguments being attempted are likely to fall on “deaf” ears, so to speak.

Recently the weather has been very cold, but describing the conditions outside with this terminology does not really clue the reader in on any specifics.  If we describe the weather with more detailed terminology, such as the specific temperature, we can approach a more complete form of communication.  However, their is still a certain amount of subjectivity due to the way individuals process information differently.  For instance, 32 degrees Fahrenheit is to some a reasonable excuse to stay indoors and turn up the heat.  However, I work in a -10 degree freezer everyday, so for me, 32 degrees warrants a sweatshirt and a hat before spending the day outside.

Descriptive terms can allow us to communicate more effectively with one another, but sometimes even the most descriptive language fails to convey information that is directly relevant to the issue being discussed.  To use the example of cold weather once again, a specific description of the weather such as: 5 degrees Fahrenheit with 20mph winds and a wind chill of factor of -20 degrees, describes the outdoor climate with extreme accuracy.  However this information is not entirely useful without relevant information.

In my own experience, I saw the above weather description describing this past Tuesday night.  I know that water freezes at such temperatures and I was excited at the prospect of having a few people over to play a game of hockey on the freshly frozen pond.  What I did not know, is that such extreme temperatures can also cause pipes inside house walls to freeze solid and burst.  Perhaps, if information directly relevant to weather report was provided with it, than I could have prevented the disaster that I awoke to on Wednesday morning.  Of course, there is measures that can be taken to prevent this from happening, and my recent experience has allowed me to recognize the necessary steps to take in the event of inclement weather, but it did little to comfort me yesterday and today as I was cleaning up.

My hope is that this particular blog-post is able to effectively accomplish two things at once.  First, I wanted to describe the importance of using precise terminology and all relevant information in any type of essay or argument.  Secondly, I wanted to use the rhetorical technique of metaphor to illustrate the aforementioned idea.  I think language is very interesting and I am always striving for more clarity in my writing.  That being said, I do not want to write like a stuffy old philosopher (Immanuel Kant comes to mind).  I think that metaphors and other rhetorical techniques are useful tools for capturing and holding the readers attention; and in the case of the metaphor I used for this post, it allowed me to express my frustrations while illustrating my point.  In summation, I think a good rhetorical essay should be like a hammer: dense, heavy, symbolic and able to drive any point home.

The victors write the history books

In a previous post, I discussed the ways elements of rhetorical discussion can be used to direct a reader’s attention toward certain aspects of a discussion and away from other aspects that may present opposition to the author’s thesis.  The previous discussion focused on the ways officers in the Nazi army used rhetorical devices to dehumanize Jewish prisoners and “justify” their imprisonment and eventual termination.  I ended the former post by describing the ultimate defeat of the Nazi’s and the modern day use of “Nazi” as a metaphor for pure evil.  Although most people would agree with this portrayal of the Nazi army and agenda, the article War, Response, Contradiction made me think about the way history’s victors also use rhetorical devices to portray themselves in a more positive light.

First, I must say that I readily agree with any general, negative statements made about the atrocities committed by the “evil” Nazi party.  However, I also find myself feeling sympathetic with regards to Germany as a nation of people.  Despite the common depiction of pre-WWII Germany as a nation of war-mongering, racist Nazis, there were many people in the country that were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.  A great deal of Hitler’s eventual supporters were simply pursuing a happier life when they allowed their country to be overtaken by the Nazi ideology.  Of course this is no excuse for the horrible actions committed in the years leading up to and during the war; but historical information provided from within Germany, has allowed a more complete understanding of the conditions that enabled many moral people to be led so far astray.   In addition to the demoralizing effects of being on the losing side of a war, heavy taxes and other monetary burdens placed on the country after the first world war, made it nearly impossible for many of the average citizens living in Germany to earn a suitable living wage.

In the specific case of Germany during WWII, even their own historical records do not attempt to portray the actions of Nazi-Germany as justified.  However, in other famous wars, we find the differences between the victor’s history and the loser’s to be very different stories.  The American Civil war is one such example, and as many history enthusiasts know; you will hear a different version of the war after crossing the Mason-Dixon line.

I first learned about the Civil War and the events that led to it while living in Atlanta, GA.  While in the south, my teacher’s presented the war as one of independence, similar to America’s own struggles with England in the previous century.  Slavery was an important issue at the time of the war, but as my teachers were quick to point out, the vast majority of the Confederacy’s soldiers did not own slaves; and many of them felt the same as the abolitionists in the north.  According to the things I learned while living in the heart of the south, the war was primarily a result of unfair governmental regulations.  The laws at the time were focused on supporting the industrial north, often at the expense of the southern economy.

Once I moved to Pennsylvania, I found the entire story was different.  Sure, the ending was the same no matter where you lived, but in the north, southerners were evil people that beat their slaves and dated their relatives.  The war, as viewed in my new hometown, was a morally justified effort to purge the new nation of evil.  And that was, in a nutshell, all that was explained about the Civil War during my high school years in the north.

In recent years I have spent a considerable amount of time reading unbiased reports to learn a more accurate history of America’s Civil War.  I found it interesting to discover that both the northern and southern representations of the war were slightly distorted.  Both sides notably use an appeal to ethics, however the northern rendition often focuses heavily on emotional appeals.  Southern history of the war is often apologetic, while at the same time highlighting the important role it played in the cultural development of the modern south.  No matter which “version” of the Civil War you are familiar with, it pays to study both and discover the truth of the war, or at least as close of an approximation as can be achieved without a time machine.  Finally, a thorough study of the winning and losing sides history with regards to any war, allows a reader to appreciate the finer points of rhetorical argument and to see it used in action.

Internet Freebies

Up to this point, many of my blogs have focused on the darker side of technology and social media.  Although there certainly is a yin to every yang, I do not wish to come across like a curmudgeon with regards to technological progress.  So for this blog, I decided it would be interesting to explore some of the more wonderful aspects of technology and the ways that it is improving modern society.  This blog was mostly inspired by an article featured in the New York Times today.  The article, which can be viewed here, details the remarkable progress that researchers have achieved while mapping the human brain.

The mapping project is being undertaken at Washington University by a large team of skilled scientists, who are using computers and data from over 1,000 volunteers, to create the most extensive and complete map of the healthy human brain to date.  The massive amount of precise readings being collected, is made possible by non-invasive MRI scanners; a technological wonder that has allowed modern scientists to view brain activity in real time.  In addition to collecting the data, the research team is working to build an interactive map that will allow people to see the ways neurons are connected and develop a more complete understanding of how the brain works.

The detailed map is itself an impressive feat that is only possible with modern software and computers.  One researcher highlighted the important role technology plays when he said (hopefully) “that the Human Connectome Project will be a step toward… something more like Google Maps, which is interactive and has many layers.”  Like Google Maps, a highly detailed interface such as the one the research team is attempting to create, requires input from as many sources as possible.  In the case of the Connectome Project, the input comes from 1,000’s of brains volunteering to be studied; as well as a few brilliant brains willing to do the studying.  Each person that volunteers participates in hours of testing, with the resultant data taking multiple more hours for researchers to interpret.

The best part about this large, highly-ambitious, technological undertaking?  All of the data and the detailed map resulting from the data; a project that is costing millions of dollars to complete, will be made available to everyone (not just scientific researchers)…for free!  The doors that this aspect of the project alone will open, are countless.

Now, how does a massive study on the human brain relate to a digital class on rhetoric?  Well, the first way that comes to mind is of course communication.  In the beginning of the blitzkrieg-paced winter course, Dr. Martin stressed that rhetoric is not one way communication, as it is often viewed today.  The Connectome Project, both its undertaking and the finished product (which is free!) would not be possible without a large amount of rhetorical communication.  Consider the amount of arguments that had to be made just to get the project started, then the amount the were made to give the project direction.  There was without a doubt multiple, practical arguments made that fundamentally shaped the project.  I’m sure even something as basic as giving the project a name required at least a measurable amount of debate.

Secondly, the project itself is a rhetorical discussion.  By allowing the completed project to be available to all for free, the research team is inviting everyone to discuss the important issues of brain function and health.  After the project is completed, independent research teams will be able to use the data to accomplish their own specialized goals.  Who knows, maybe a foreign team will discover a cure for schizophrenia or Alzheimer’s with the help of the Connectome Project.

Finally, the project is like our class in that is being made possible with the aid of technology.  The research team is able to communicate with each other, publish data in Washington that can be viewed in Georgia and visually produce the brain map because of technological advances in the past 30 years.  Similarly, our small rhetoric class is able to have discussions, look each other in the eye, and interact with the same documents; despite the fact that we have never been in the same room together.

I hope this article has the rest of my class as excited as I am about the project.  I think it represents an important push in multiple fields and a commitment to share important medical data without a price tag.  Also, I hope this blog does something to curve the image I feel I have digitally created so far; that is, of an an old man distrustful of those new-fangled computa-mah-jiggys.  In short, it’s fascinating to read an article written in New York, and then feel the neurons in my own brain fire and spark a chain reaction all the way to whatever little piece of grey matter holds the things learned in this class.

Big Brother is not watching you; he is directing you

Every year, after Christmas rolls around, I end up with a handful of amazing gifts (like a banjo this year) from my closest relatives, and a few gift cards from those I am not nearly close enough with.  Of course, I say thank you for the gift cards and then set about using them to get a few of those necessary items, that seem like a luxury while living on a college student-level budget.

This year, after logging on to Amazon to buy some new cold-weather gear I was amazed to see the items I was planning to buy displayed on my screen before I even searched for them.  Although I am well aware that companies often track consumer’s online activity, it is somewhat disconcerting to realize just how much they can learn about me as a person just from paying attention to the websites I view.  It is at times helpful to have shopping suggestions displayed, such as when I am searching for a new album to get me through the week.  However, it can also make the individual feel alienated from their identity as a valuable member of society. Oftentimes, I find myself wondering if the decisions and purchases I make online are my own, or the result of constant personalized advertisements.  As Karl Marx suggested in The Communist Manifesto, it begins to feel like human relations are reduced to mere financial transactions and opportunities for profit.

In the past year, controversial figure Edward Snowden revealed how thoroughly modern citizens are watched and monitored.  Many people viewed him as a hero for releasing the information, while others labeled him a national traitor and called for his incarceration.  My personal opinions aside, I think that another important question to be considered, is whether technology users can expect simultaneous online privacy and world-wide communication.  It seems, that the internet is similar to the traditional town-square: it allows for the individual to be heard and discuss things with a large audience, but because of its blanket coverage over all of society, it necessitates the removal of true privacy.

The article Dr. Martin posted here: , refers mainly to the ways data collectors and researchers are able to track web browser history in order to predict academic performance; i.e. if a student is spending 8 hours a day on Facebook, it is likely they will not perform well in their studies.  I think this aspect of data-mining illustrates possible benefits for educational reform.  However, it also seems somewhat counter-intuitive; more technology and monitoring is being used to combat problems created by technological overuse and social saturation.  I believe a more beneficial use of educational data collection would be to analyze the aspects of education and social need that are not being met in current school and university structures.

In conclusion, I think data collection is a natural by-product of the internet era; but internet users should be aware of the ways their data is being used.  As I write this blog, I am well aware that I am further-exposing myself to surveillance and that this will in turn, affect my future internet use and non-mediated social interactions.  However, I am hopeful this will allow for more a refined effective experience in the years to come.

For today however, social media and data collection has pointed me to the perfect pair of winter socks and a method to re-connect with those all too distant relatives.

Discrete Metaphors

Over the past two days I’ve been going through and catching up on the readings I missed over the Christmas/ New Years break.  It’s been interesting looking through the readings and seeing the particular ways rhetoric is used in society both past and present.  The most striking use of rhetoric, in my opinion, was the way the writer of the “Rhetoric of Metaphor”  article employed it to serve his or her purpose.

The basic building blocks of rhetoric, as I discussed before, are logos, ethos, and pathos; or put another way, reason, emotion, and ethics.  The “Rhetoric of Meaphor” author employs all three elements to create an instruction manual for the technical aspects involved in “processing” a material that is never directly named or described by the author.  Any reader familiar with the basic history of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust will quickly understand what the author is actually discussing in the manual: the operation of Holocaust gas-chamber vans.  Once the reader gains an accurate understanding of what is being discussed in the writing, it becomes easier to see how the aforementioned techniques are employed in the writing.

Reason and logic are evident throughout the memo, because of the subject matter and the technical processes being discussed.  However, the element of reason is deliberately overstated in the article in order to distract the reader from any emotions that would naturally arise while reading about such a gruesome subject.  A striking example of the overuse of reason is evident when the author says “…it has been observed that when the doors are shut the load always presses hard against them as soon as the darkness sets in.”

Although the author does not directly use pathos, the near-complete removal of this particular rhetorical element creates an effect in the reader through its absence.  When the author discusses subjects that traditionally provoke an emotional response, such as screaming and “alarming nature of darkness,” the reader’s attention is drawn to the missing characteristics of the memo’s subject matter.  By noticeably attempting to avoid emotional appeals the reader can infer that the subject being discussed is a very emotional one.

The author discusses the “load” in a technical way that removes all human characteristics from the subject, and also establishes a certain amount of credibility.  The focus of the writing is on efficient completion of the task at hand, and on the mechanical particulars involved in the task.  Technical diction, or jargon, encourages the reader to believe the author’s instructions without question.  The author could not make a credible appeal if he or she used a different style of writing and a more complete description; because the reader would be too distracted by the emotions associated with mass genocide.  Finally, the brief length of the memo works with the technical writing to disguise the true character of the subject matter.  Before the reader can make too many emotional connections or seriously contemplate the effects of the instructions given, the memo is concluded and signed, Just.

“Rhetoric of Metaphor” illustrates the ways that organizations can manipulate rhetorical devices to serve their purposes.  As the title of the article suggests, metaphors are powerful tools to either enhance or detract a reader’s attention to the particulars of rhetorical communication.  Metaphors, used as they are in this article, allow for the discrete discussion of sensitive subjects.  The author disguises the subject at hand in technical metaphors and avoids making any humanizing comments.  Unfortunately, the Nazi party used rhetoric and metaphor so well that millions of people simply believed the metaphors and followed the instructions of memos like this one, or they failed to intervene and stop the Holocaust for continuing as long as it did.  On the fortunate side, Nazi Germany was defeated and the Holocaust ended; today the most enduring metaphor from the WWII era is the synonymous use of Nazi and evil.

Back to School

First, I have to apologize for my absence from the classwork.  There was some confusion about what work was expected of me between now and the last post on this blog.  So today, I have spent much of my time trying to fit the reading and work of multiple missed days, into a few hours.  Unfortunately, working at a hastened pace also means that there will inevitably be some points/topics that are missed.  In order to compensate for this, I’ll put up a few additional posts over the weekend; with the focus being on the missed material and discussions.

Now, moving forward:

The main focus of this week’s class readings, is Twitter.  This is a subject that I knew nothing about until over the Christmas break.  Although I had gathered a working idea about what Twitter does and how it functions in our society, I did not know that it could be used to gather and distribute information beyond what Kanye West (or another current Pop star) had for breakfast.  Interestingly enough, my crash course in Twitter functionality came from my middle-aged aunts and uncles at our annual Christmas party.  Not only did they explain what a “hashtag” was and how it should be used, they also informed me that I could use Twitter to follow events, in addition to people that are not making front page news.

As the Christmas get-together continued, I noticed how different it was from family gatherings in the past.  6 years ago, every person under 25 had their nose in some sort of digital device. But this year…even the adults were surfing the web, selling items on eBay, and sending e-gift cards to the people they forgot to buy for.  Looking around the room, it become apparent that there is no escape from the digital revolution.  If it is not a job requirement(as some of my relatives claimed their constant smart phone use to be) than it is required simply to feel like a member of society. My participation in this class is often done with dragged heels and gritted teeth, but after the scene at my family gathering; I began to see that this class is an effective way to integrate with the growing phenomenon of digital media.

After leaving our family’s Christmas get-together, the new found tech information quickly dissolved from my brain.  I had previously decided to refrain from checking any of my online accounts over break(a big mistake as noted in the beginning of this blog), and I was definitely not going to begin a new one.  It was only this summer that I acquired a Facebook page, and between email, Facebook, and the online requirements for school; I am frequently contemplating a Thoreau-esque retreat into the Pennsylvania wilds.  However after reading the articles provided by Dr. Martin, and remembering what my family members said about Twitter, I find myself wondering if it would be an effective way to communicate in a world that continuously demands more of each individual.

A standard page-length blog post is fine every now and then, on the slower days; but trying to keep track of daily posts from even a small group of close acquaintances can make any person feel recurrent waves of anxiety.  The idea of having a person’s thoughts confined to 140 characters and categorized according to subject matter, seems to me, like a welcome method of reducing the modern disease known as information overload.

The article about the number of users switching from Facebook to Twitter is not surprising because of the reasons previously mentioned.  Although I am a little dismayed that the social media I am just now getting used to is being abandoned by so many, I am also seriously relieved; because maintaining a Facebook page has felt like a chore to me since the beginning.  I will probably never be an active contributor to digital media websites, simply because I prefer to interface in the real world, but Twitter seems like an excellent solution for keeping tabs on the constantly changing digital discussion.

If I were to put it in a near Twitter-length conclusion: I’m ready to get back to work(and catch up).  I suppose I will get use to the growing necessity of digital interaction, eventually. Afterall, if my Baby-Boomer relatives can wrap there heads around a tweet, there’s no reason a kid from the Nintendo-generation can’t.

Holiday Music and Thoughts about School

Winter break-away from school:  for me this means going back to a 40+ hour work week and bending time to get all of my responsibilities done; with my sanity intact of course.  With the impending holidays comes overtime at the warehouse and hopefully, maybe, a chance to read a book of my own choosing.  Now, like most in the modern day and age I enjoy the opportunity to vent (though it’s honestly more like whining) on the digital page, but I also realize that there is a lot to be thankful for, especially regarding my education.

As I said, I’m looking forward to reading a book of my choice.  It will most likely be something short and simple; maybe I’ll read through The Great Gatsby yet again, the possibilities are nearly boundless.  However, as much as I like the books I choose to read, there is a certain homogeneous character to the contents of my bookshelf.  If it was not for my school teachers and college professors continuously stretching my mind across the four literary corners, it is doubtful that I would have any knowledge of a single writer outside of the 20th century.

After reading the assigned articles for my Rhetoric class and watching the videos by Michael Wesch, I decided to take a look at where I had staked my educational claim.  What did I come to school to find? And perhaps more importantly, what did I find instead?

In answer to the first question, I came to Bloomsburg University to learn how to write the sort of things people read on rainy days.  There was really no other motives for me to go back to school, as I promised myself long ago that any earned degree would not and could not become a one-way ticket to a desk job.  But time has a way of changing hearts and minds.  Now, more than 5 years after I first enrolled at BU; I find myself moving further away from the English courses and instead, seeking out the next mind-blowing philosophy seminar or enlightening anthropology course.  My claim at first was substantially small, earning a bachelor’s degree seemed like a monumental undertaking.  Now I find myself hoarding cash and searching for the most ideal conditions to leap into graduate school.

Basically, what I found during my time at college was an end, not a means to an end.  I discovered that I enjoy learning and broadening my horizons, and I have found that I want to claim all of the opportunities that are available to me.  Since I have returned to the university, I have yet to take a break from class sessions.  Here’s to hoping I can keep up the same pace until I graduate and move one rung higher up the educational ladder.

On an altogether different but not unrelated note, the video link at the end of this blog serves 2 purposes.  First, it provides a preview of my subject for the first major Rhetoric Class writing assignment.  Secondly, I think it illustrates one of the points I was getting at with this particular blog.  Fair warning!  It is admittedly very dark, black humor, but if you enjoy that sort of thing it is quite a unique way to illustrate a can-do attitude and a willingness for thorough success in all undertakings.

Communicating Technology

Last night, after our class’s Skype conversation, I sat around for a little while, wondering whether video conferencing is seamless enough to be used in the classroom.  Of the 5 people expected to be in the conference, 4 were actually able to participate, 3 could see each other, and only 1 (I think) was able to connect without any software updates or other hiccups.  Once we were able to begin our conference, it was already a half hour later than our scheduled start time.  True, first time endeavors rarely go smoothly, but the overall experience left me feeling more disconnected than ever.  

And to make matters worse, that was the second time in the day that electronic communication had failed me.  Dropped phone calls, pages that fail to load and messages that are never received, are common headaches associated with humanity’s digital dialogues.  I often find myself wondering whether technology is allowing people to communicate more efficiently or preventing them from really communicating at all.  

Consider the internet, with its incredible ability to link people across the globe.  As logically structured as the internet is, it often resembles a massive, million voiced mob.  A few people are raving about politics, some weird guy is making modern “art” pictures of Hitler, a girl in Japan is doing a video about the latest pop sensation, and a few dozen people are playing video games for hours on end; and all of this on the same website even.  It can be overwhelming to the most adaptive people; it can cause nervous breakdowns in less malleable minds.  Furthermore, a private conversation on the internet is virtually impossible. Even if a small group of people can create an intimate forum the persistent presence of each statement accumulates until they literally drown in their thoughts.  I have an admitted bias for old, low-tech living and face to face conversations, but is the ability for millions of people to communicate instantly really an enhancing accomplishment for humanity? 

On the other hand…

If information is a mirror that allows people to see themselves, as some philosopher once said, than the current generation may well be the most free and individualistic people to ever walk the earth.  I’m not entirely pessimistic when it comes to technology: the knowledge that the aforementioned philosopher’s name and entire body of work could be accessed with a few clicks of a mouse is truly inspiring.  And for an aspiring writer, there has never been a better time to be alive (assuming that a writer wants people to read his or her work).  All complaints aside, I think digital technology is empowering the majority and the minority for the first time.  It will be interesting to see where it all leads to next.

As I sit here trying to type up my closing paragraph, and reflect upon the nature of my online course; my dog is whining and pushing his water bowl around at my feet.  Despite his lack of human language, I feel that our communication is more successful than any digital communication, precisely because it is taking place in an organic environment.  There is a living energy in face-to-face communication that, like living things themselves, cannot be replicated with technology.  However, after I give my dog some water and he continues to whine, I realize there is another type of barrier between us.   The type of relationship I have with my dog leaves me with a certain sense of longing.  I need another intelligent mind to bounce mine off of.  After realizing there is no one else home to talk to, I reach for my phone to see what my distant friends are up to.  I think, when all other options are unavailable, there is a certain amount of fulfillment to be found in technology; an electric persistence in human interaction that is, for the first time in history, able to transcend space and time and link me to you, for as long as this page exists.

In short, I think the best way to approach the digital age is to view it as a tool, not a replacement for real-world interaction.  It is great to be able to do my school work from my favorite chair, but I’m looking forward to the spring scents that waft through the quad and into the open windows of the classroom.