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Archive for March, 2010

Little Messages That Matter

March 24, 2010 3 comments

The decline of newspaper circulation

A talk on literacy, democracy, blogging, and Twitter

The 2010 Lundquist Lecture–Ken Smith, Department of English and Master of Liberal Studies Program

7:00 p.m., Tuesday, April 6 in 1001 Wiekamp Hall (1800 Mishawaka Avenue)

Reception to follow. Free and open to the public.

As Franklin Roosevelt noted, education—literacy itself—is a precondition for improved democracy, as well as a force in a country’s political progress. Certain classics of American literature attest to the generative power of literacy, but the short forms of writing common in blogging and mandated by Twitter are strange and disruptive. Familiar institutions, such as newspapers, are threatened in part by the appeal, especially to young people, of these more informal paths for information and dialogue. In fact, a rising young generation now has grown very comfortable using new social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook, working out their lives in part online. There is no shortage of bad behavior on the Internet, but we also find examples of community-building and active citizenship that inspire hope for a more constructive future of democratic exchange. We don’t know for sure where this great shift will take society, but many institutions are already being challenged by these changes. In time, our public universities will have to prepare a more informal, less authority-driven generation for a new social order that takes digital media and collaboration for granted. This may be the start of one of the greatest changes in human society since the printing press, making these years very exciting and challenging for educators, journalists, and active citizens.

Twitter before Twitter

March 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Otto Hampel, in custody.

An episode from the April 6 talk, the story of Otto and Elise Hampel. They were trapped in Berlin during World War II and wanted to protest Hitler’s government. They had no political skills or allies, no  kind of public voice. They hit upon the idea of writing short, Twitter-like messages on postcards and leaving them around town. What happened next survives in police records and Gestapo files.  We’ll see pictures of some of the actual postcards as well as film footage of the Nazi judge who tried their case, and then we’ll talk about aspects of the Hampel’s story that are more visible to us now that we have social software like Twitter and blogging. See you, perhaps, on April 6th?

The story of Elise and Otto Hampel was passed down in the form of a 1947 novel by German writer Hans Fallada. Recently translated into English and published in the United States as Every Man Dies Alone, the novel uses and fills out the chilling details contained in the historical records.

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