Tuesday, December 14

[Will there be minivans in heaven?]
Now it's official; I'm done with undergraduate work. I know I'll miss compulsively embarking upon new intellectual pursuits every semester. From now on, I'll just have to initiate them myself. I started today by picking up a bargain book at Hastings: The Failures of Integration: How Race and Class are Undermining the American Dream, by Sheryll Cashin. I think I heard this woman on NPR several months ago when the book first came out. The book is about the massive white exodus to the suburbs and the willful self-exclusion of blacks and how such self-segregation is driving the spike of prejudice deeper into the ground of the nation. It sounded really interesting, and I found a nice hardcover edition for $5. Racial politics is an area I've pretty much steered clear of because it's so sensitive and complex, but I would really like to learn more about America's tense racial landscape and why it exists (beyond the obvious).

I've also been thinking a lot lately about the communication landscape, since I've been trying to write about it for the J-School brochure. We're living in a really critical and historic time for communication (though I suppose any time is a critical and historic time for anything, but I think you know what I mean). The internet is changing every industry -- especially communication. I know a lot of people like to harp on the blogsphere for being self-absorbed and egocentric, but I think this view is shortsighted. Unlike most media of the past, the internet is interactive, almost to the point of being annoying because everyone -- even the most illiterate, ignorant sap (say, you or me) -- can publish anything. But this is the beauty of it, because its interactive potential ensures that it cannot be oppressive in nature. What I mean by this is the following: As long as the internet is "free" (as long as you have a connection, which in many public spaces, is free), everyone can transmit a voice through it. Unlike television, print publications, or, to a lesser extent, radio, whose content bombards us and gives us little to no chance to interact, the internet is dripping with opportunities to speak up.

We've seen the enormous potential (for good and bad) of this interactive mass medium. Blogs come under fire (by Camille Paglia and others) because they let people showcase every mundane detail of their banal little lives. There is an actual danger to blogs, and that's that many may not be reliable as sources of fact (you could just as easily and successfully make this argument about any other type of medium as well; even the "newspaper of record" has had its bouts with credibility). But there are other ways to look at the blog phenomenon that aren't quite so pessimistic and stodgy.

I've already mentioned the interactive, non-oppressive nature of blogs. They give a voice to everyone who will take the time to fill out a quick form. But by far the most important achievement of the blog is this: they get people to read and tell stories. The death of reading has been proclaimed imminent on many occasions: the birth of TV, radio, film, internet, phone, etc. But blogs have reaffirmed society's love for hearing/reading and telling stories. People share narratives, communicate ideas, post news stories, stir up activism, and more. There couldn't be a more encouraging phenomenon for those of us who value the written word and our very human knack for sharing stories.

Of course, this isn't to say that every blog matters to every person, or that every (or any) blog is a gold mine of transcendental wisdom, but the blog as a medium should not be written off as worthless and sophomoric. The people putting their thoughts, stories, creativity, opinions, and selves on the screen every day for their friends and the occasional internet drifter are part of a very real communication revolution that could fizzle out or someday revolutionize the way we think of communication. Perhaps it will do something in between. Even people who scoff at blogs and post snarky anonymous comments are part of this revolution; we all have something to share. If every writer thought his or her story too stupid or self-centered to tell, nothing would ever be written down.

Anyway, that's how I feel about it.

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