Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Blogosphere plus campus tragedy = farce

I think everyone who reads this (all three of you) knows that I am far from a luddite, and that I think academic blogs are, generally, a positive development of academic life. Even electronic sunshine can disinfect. However, in my spare moments since the terrible events at Virginia Tech, I've scanned the blogosphere, and have been mostly (and often deeply) disappointed. Even the academic blogosphere is set up to mimic the 24-hour news cycle, and that just doesn't leave room for the kind of reflection and assimilation that an event like this deserves. What you generally find -- and please correct me if I'm wrong -- is an entry saying that we should all give some space to mourn, and then another about three hours later commenting on the failures of campus security, the administration, gun control, etc. This extends to multiple sides of the political spectrum, I think. I was so sickened by this example -- in which the author insinuates that everything from co-ed dorms to the English major were to blame -- that I wanted to write something here.

What I think this blogosphere-out-of-control reminds me is how much I value the parts of our profession that are not driven by the digital revolution: the length of classes, the weeks of the semester, the hours required of reading a novel. The academy may be the last place that recognizes that the intelligence, reflection, and judgment necessary to face the violence of everyday life all require duration. We are teaching our students a relationship to time itself that is little in demand elsewhere, and that is also being steadily eroded by both the corporatization of the university and the mass culture of digital technology. I think a real challenge for using technology in the classroom is how to use it in such a way to continue, even cultivate, the experience of duration that has been part of the academic tradition.

4 Comments:

Blogger Brian said...

Michael, I think these are important issues you raise. The drive for many bloggers, as for any of the regular media networks is to get the largest number of eyeballs to their posts. This means that they need to respond as quickly as possible to an event--otherwise they will have appeared to have been caught napping, not ready to leap into action the moment something news-/commentary-worthy transpires. This is one of the pressures of the real-time environment.

It absolutely takes time to respond to an event like this and to the conditions in our society that seem to be making them more common (not the least of which is the real-time environment produced by the media). It takes a lot more than reading the 1,000 stories generated from the same AP news feeds.

As I see it, the liberal arts degree is based on the assumption that one should set aside a period of time (4-5 years) with which to think about some subjects of generalized knowledge and to think more deeply about a few of those subjects (your major and your minors). Graduate school is obviously a continuation of this process. But the emphasis on professionalization among our students--and among our graduate students--take away from the chance to engage in this long process which to a certain degree emphasized learning as its own end.

Anyway, well worded.

9:16 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Forgot something: I think that integrating media studies into English programs and technology into our pedagogy is important precisely because the rest of our discipline depends so much upon longer temporal activity. We learn, in part, to read the rapid refresh rate of visual images and to think critically about the news feed through the juxtaposition of these things with the long work of a novel or a poem. And these works of literature take on new meaning when they are read in context with the other media that is being produced at the time.

9:22 PM  
Blogger rachel said...

Michael and BC: thank you both for these thoughtful and critical observations. For my part, I feel very grateful to be a part of this community which is doing the hard work of thinking about the consequence of how we react/respond to the world around us.

As a Victorian novel type, I feel like much of my work traffics in precisely the temporal (and textual) depth is takes to make meanings and for those meanings to take hold. There is value there, value that is clearly extendable to the duration of college, to the accumulating logic of a syllabus, etc. It is, to some extent, precisely this temporal depth and assimilation of experience that makes us subjects (or psychoanalytic subjects, at any rate) (or so my dissertation really hopes, anyway).

There is, this is to say, something in the rush to make meaning, to find explanatory causes wherever we can, that does a deep disservice to precisely that which allows us to make sense of ourselves and our world.

9:52 PM  
Blogger Lauren said...

Being someone who doesn't really blog or even follow blogs (except for this one--you can up that readership to at least five), I haven't read any postings about the VA Tech shootings. I've seen the news, of course, and talked with friends and family in Virginia, but I've had no desire to look at what's transpiring in response to this tragedy on the internet. I guess I need to come to terms with what's happened myself before I can reflect on others' commentary.

12:43 AM  

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