Monday, October 27, 2014

Kids are the future

This past Thursday I was privileged to evaluate fifteen or so student proposals to "deliver news to communities using social media." The contest was conducted through the Mass Communication* School, with the winning proposals receiving a cash grant, presumably to help complete the project.

I learned a few important things. First, this group of Mass Comm. students are ambitious, innovative, and as dedicated as one could reasonably expect of 20 year olds. Their proposals were generally well thought out, though they had a blind spot when it came to creating original content, or understanding why commercial entities would not be excited about someone else aggregating their original content for free.

Another thing I learned was the virtues of being able to do everything on one's phone, without ever having to look up, rely on another device, or interact directly with another person. Seriously, I heard this repeatedly, to the point that I was a little frightened. I knew that these kids relied on their phones more than old people believe can be healthy, but I didn't realize that the people shaping tomorrow's media believe heartily that this is a good thing.

Perhaps the most important thing that was confirmed for me was that reading is boring.  I heard repeatedly how tedious it was to wade through New York Times articles, long e-mails (with bullet points, no less!), or even verbose Facebook messages. A minute is entirely too long to watch a video. We should be able to put the salient points of any news story into a clip no longer than 45 seconds, and usually more like 15.

I really don't know what this means for our media future, but I know that it seems like what we see will be shorter, more immediate, and more personal than social media and smartphones have wrought to this point. Good luck, young ones.


* What used to the Journalism School.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Just words

I feel surrounded by Death,
and the Promise of Death.

Too many dear to me have lost friends,
and mothers, sons, and fathers,
in what seems the space of an afternoon.

Others have been sentenced, and
now they wait.
And I wait with them,
counting under my breath.

I cannot help.
My cup is empty
in the face of such loss.
Their pain overwhelms me.
I fear my own weakness.

My thoughts move unbidden to places where this
much death and more is truly the work
of an afternoon. Families and friends
wiped away, each day after day.

How do they do it? How do they stand?
How can a soul face so much death and live?

Ebola, ISIS, Russian Separatists.
They are only words to me. Pictures on a screen.
But every day they deliver Death,
and the Promise of Death.

Call it tragic.
It is the Way of Things.
These are the
rules of our existence.

So, this is middle age.
Perhaps I should have taken more
risks in my youth, though I am
not sure what else I could have done.

I will recover. I will find my feet.
I will help as I can.

But it won't be today.
Today I am paralyzed by Death,
and the Promise of Death.

Image from here

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Are you ready for some chaos?

Back to school time is my least favorite season of the year. There, I've said it. It's not that I don't like the approach of Fall. It's my favorite season. And I don't really hate the return of the academic year. I try to appreciate all of my days, valuing each as the gift from Bokonon that it is. Some days are easier than others, but generally I feel pretty good about the results.

But, being on a major college campus during the transition from summer tranquility to the busiest time of the year comes with no shortage of aggravations. Like the first cool breezes that foretell the arrival of autumn*, the precursors show up about a month in advance. Advanced orientation begins for incoming students, and one starts to see guides walking around campus holding large numbered placards, trailing several dozen lost looking former high schoolers, still sporting the latest styles of their home town.

By two weeks before school, college-sponsored camps and programs begin, and traffic around campus starts to pick up. The organized orientation groups are replaced by family groups, the parents regaling their kids with outdated wisdom and stories of past college glory. A short round woman and her short round son** stopped me in the student union a couple of weeks ago, and she demanded to know if there were anything to eat in the building besides McDonalds and Einstein Bagels.

Me: "Sure. If you go through that door there is a place where you can get a built-to-order salad or sushi."

Them: (blank stare)

Me: "Further on there are plate lunches, po-boys, and other sandwiches.

(crickets)

Me: "You will also find Panda Express, Chick-Fil-A, ..."

Her: "OH THANK GOD!"

And they wandered off without another word. This is a pretty typical -- and thankfully not that common -- interaction. For the most part it's people meandering from one side of the sidewalk to the other, or stopping dead in a group in the middle of a hallway, squinting at their phones.


Next comes rush week, generating hordes of identically dressed hopeful Greeks-to-be. The surreality of the whole thing is evident in the array of Hawaiian shirts, jerseys, and whatever other ridiculous garments the participants are required to purchase and wear. This is also when it starts to get hard to get a meal or cup of coffee on campus.

The green flag drops on move-in day, when every street on campus is infested with bumper to bumper Suburbans and U-Haul trailers packed with more crap than will ever fit in a dorm room. Crosswalks become kill zones, and the exhaust from a thousand idling SUVs provides the little extra push to turn the humid August air into toxic steam you can breathe. On the plus side, I am thinking it could give me superpowers.

After a month of this, the actual start of classes is almost a relief. Almost. Traffic now backs up several miles from campus, and every sidewalk and passageway is filled with students in a great hurry, most going the wrong way. I won't leave my office for at least two weeks, and it will be a month or so before Thirsty Thursday infects the rest of the calendar, and attendance drops by a quarter or so. By the middle of October, enough students will have stopped going to class that I will be able to walk the campus again. I might even be able to get lunch if I don't go between 11:00 and 3:00. By February, many will be back in their home towns or working full time at Chili's, and I will be looking forward to summer.


*Which won't actually show up here for another two months.

** Seriously, I thought they might be Weebles.