Archive for January 2010
In our “Writing for Community” class yesterday we discussed the difference between blogging and journalism. It’s getting harder draw a firm line between who is doing what, but the code of ethics about fact-finding and fact-checking remain key differentiators.
Stan Schroeder at Mashable offers the story of five French journalists who lock themselves in a farmhouse in France for five days and “write news based only on what they read in Twitter and Facebook.”
The success of their news gathering and sifting for facts will require great ingenuity. But I’m reminded of Thomas Merton, the Trappist Monk whose influential writings about current events were based largely on letters he received rather than rapt attention to media.
Clay Shirky, writing in “Here Comes Everybody,” argues effectively that with the lower transaction costs for forming groups (caused by social media), there are more possibilities than ever to pull a group together for most any reason. Dan Pink wrote yesterday of a social media-driven mobile hair-cuttery he saw at Google headquarters. Whether your focus is major profits, minor prophets or mingling in Provence, there are all sorts of new opportunities for banding together around a passion. All it takes is strategic use of the tools freely available, plus the willingness to reach out.
I’m asking my Writing for Community class to brainstorm the contours of the opportunity before them as they seek to build communities. With a passionate leader encouraging group sharing, what sorts of things are possible? We’re already seeing examples every day, from the high-schooler who tried to get released from being grounded by amassing thousands of fans on her Facebook page (her parents remained unimpressed) to the seemingly spontaneous “I’m with Coco” protests.
Depth of passion may well be the limiting factor. Just what am I willing to do to make my point? How far out will I reach?
Our small group is reading an ancient text together. It’s reproduced in a contemporary volume and to my eye looks like the same English words and punctuation I might find in today’s StarTribune. But the prophet Amos is writing from a very different time and place. He was a shepherd back in the B.C.’s when kings ruled the peoples. And though he was (again) just a shepherd, he spoke a message that came from the God whose roar could wither a mountaintop and drop a pasture into mourning.
John Walton, in his introduction to “The Lost World of Genesis One” (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2009) writes that understanding an ancient text is not a matter of translating the culture but entering that ancient culture—as much as possible. I picked up Walton’s book because I am fascinated by the huge task taken on by the writer of Genesis 1 and mirrored in John’s Gospel (John 1). Who doesn’t wonder how everything began? And this: what do those deep roots say about life today?
Entering into Amos’ ancient culture will be our task. We’ll do it as a group. We’ll bring supporting sources and texts that point us toward that ancient culture as we walk through those nine chapters. We’ll look at how the author uses his words, what he repeats, what he emphasizes. How he frames his argument. We’ll take a bunch of conversational stabs at understanding the text and I expect to be deeply challenged about the ephemerals I fixate on.
And…I’m expecting God to show up. I’m listening for that roar.
I look forward to the promise of voice commands on every field in my smart phone, which is noteworthy in the Nexus One. I’ve just discovered that my AT&T Tilt responds to voice commands. Sorta. It’s true there is a feature that allows me to talk at the phone. I can get it to recognize most of my family’s names, though my son’s name always starts a Latin Jazz tune from the Columbian band Sidestepper (preloaded on my phone). Annoying. Does my phone purposefully misunderstand me? Even when I use my best clipped public speaker voice, my “Call Mike Flannigan” never results in anything but contact information for Mark Whalen. I may say “New Appointment” and, well, nothing happens. I can lower my voice. I can slow my voice. I can speak closer to the microphone. But…do I need to work on persuading my telephone to do my bidding?
Most of our rhetorical situations involve people. Usually a speaker and an audience. As a copywriter, I’m most often thinking about persuading some target audience with a written medium—but you see the point: people persuading people. Aristotle wrote about the elements of persuasion and talked about using pathos (emotion), ethos (character) and logos (logic) to get attention (and buy-in). All of these are available when we interact with fellow humans. But which of these is needed for telling my telephone what to do? My phone can’t judge my character (or…can it?). I know it relies on logic, especially when I tell my Tilt to do things it was never programmed to do. But pathos…. Do I need to speak kindly to my telephone? What kind of relationship am I about to have with my telephone?
My wife travelled with a friend not too long ago. The friend called her son using a voice command. Though weaving through traffic at highway speeds, she spoke his name in a low, calm, soothing way. She spoke slowly and got through with her practiced recitation. She knew exactly what her phone would respond to. And that’s what she gave it. Once connected, she went back to her higher, quick-moving manner (which her son knew all too well) and persuaded him of something in short order.
We’ll adjust to new technology. We’ll learn to use voice commands to accomplish stuff. But I am starting to notice the relationships I have with non-human stuff: my phone. My computer. The lamp in my office. Is there a limit to the number of relationships I can have? Do my relationships with stuff crowd out my relationships with people?
Recently I applied for entry in an academic program. I had the opportunity to read my college transcripts from a couple decades ago. My shadowy recollection of college was that I started in electrical engineering, didn’t care about the classes (hated them, in fact) but soldiered on because that was the clear path toward economic security—or so I thought. Eventually, the engineering department and I sat down together and had a frank talk. Both of us felt there just might be a better place for me elsewhere at the UW-Madison. That’s when I made the switch to study philosophy and immediately felt like I had come home. Twenty years later, the cold hard facts on the transcript were much worse than I remembered. Yikes!
Subsequent experience and studies helped me understand there are some paths I am meant to walk down, and some I am not. Engineering was not one of those paths. Writing was and has been since. In applying to this particular academic program, I made the case that some of us learn what we’re about later in life. I tried hard not to say “slow learner.”
Whatever part of life we’re in, there’s a story that needs to be told. A story waiting for us to tell it. Where the story starts is not where it ends (I’m thankful for that). And even our retelling of the story makes it stronger, validates it, and causes growth in all sorts of ways in us and in our listeners. The guys who hung around Jesus the Christ told stories of what he did and who he was, especially after he died and came to life again. New Testament writers called them “apostles,” which means “ones sent to act on the authority of another.” (Donald K McKim, Dictionary of Theological Terms) Part of what these apostles did was tell stories. These stories gained traction as time went on and became cultural foundations (as well as personally life-altering for me).
Our communication is and always has been marked by the stories that help us understand our experience of life. Sharing our stories helps us grow.
I’m certain each age holds fresh delights, but I still hold a certain nostalgia for Dylan’s “Forever Young.” Check out Lance Strate’s blog and all the different versions that have been done over the years. All sound pretty good, but the Pepsi commercial is especially so. Does that sound like a copywriter talking?
Seems like a fitting tune for this beginning day.