Induction: The Trope of the Digital Decline

It’s the end of the semester, which explains my terrible absence from updates, but it also brings up the subject for this blog.  This time of year is one for listening to people give talks–at graduation, awards ceremonies, conferences, etc.  I’ve had to sit through several of them recently, and I’ve noticed two things that are repeated over and over again:  1)  We need to value everyone’s voice, regardless of their background or identity.  2)  The modern world is getting all of its reading from the internet, and that’s a bad thing.

To me, I feel like these things have a certain amount of dissonance between them.  In fact, I would argue that by putting down the “literature” available digitally is a continuation of classist/elitist attitudes that put us in the position to need to issue statements like Students’ Right to Their Own Language.

But before needing to go even that far, just a reminder that several prominent publications are online only.

  1. McSweeney’s Internet Tendency
  2. Slate Magazine
  3. Kairos
  4. Texas State’s own Front Porch Journal
  5. The Onion has a print version available, but is largely online-oriented.

Of course, I think the typical response would be “that’s not what I’m talking about!”  The digital disparager will cite things like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr as examples of things that might be dumbing down the reading of the young masses.  But I think the truth is more complicated than that.

When I log onto Facebook, I usually see a slew of news articles from friends, family, professors, and classmates.  These articles come from the New York Times, feminist blogs, foreign publications, and a slew of others.  They are sources that I probably wouldn’t be reading if not for the internet connection into my home.  I log onto Reddit and am part of a book club; we’re discussing Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler and The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman this month.  On Twitter, I find out what topics come up at conferences I can’t attend, and I learn about what events authors and publications I enjoy are taking part in.

And I also look at pictures of cats.

Again, the digital disparager might say, “that’s not what I’m talking about.”  After all, the circles I travel in lean toward academia already, so it’s not fair to use them as representatives of the vast online world, is it?

But the truth of the matter is that the segment of the population who shies away from intellectual reading online are people who probably would be shying away from these things even if they weren’t online.  The other truth in the matter is that there are some big literary/intellectual achievements out there, online, that are pretty far removed from the traditional, canonical world of ivory towers and leather-bound covers.  Laugh if you’d like, but I would argue that things like The Book of Brodin, this dramatic recut of The Big Lebowski trailer (or, slightly more entertaining, this Gran Torino / Up mash-up), or this collection of movie still cinemagraphs are just as worthy of our critical and popular attention as book award finalists.  Yes, their audience is different, and yes, their authorship is different, but in artistic terms, why would we even begin to consider them as somehow less than their pre-digital predecessors?

Henry James once said that “We work in the dark–we do what we can–we give what we have.  Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task.  The rest of the madness is art.”  To discredit the products of the digital world is to discredit the passions of a group of people solely because their lived experience and products are different from what you have come to expect of art.

Once again, do you see some parallels between this and the need for Students’ Right to Their Own Language?

Homework:

Analyze the collage of Harry Potter scenes present in this musical YouTube mashup.  For our next class, bring in a 3-4 page commentary on why these scenes might have been chosen, and what it achieves for the audience.  You may also critique the use of autotune, especially as it varies between characters.

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