Friday, April 2, 2010

Converging Ourselves To Death

Since being asked to deliver the keynote address at the Rocky Mountain Communication Association's annual conference, I've been gathering material and organizing my thoughts on their theme, "convergence." Here's a summary of the approach I envision for my 30 minute speech...

Having witnessed the varied articulations of postmodernity, the postwar rise of globalization, and the transformative integration of the internet into our daily lives, we share a unique opportunity to both define and critique what many call an Age of Convergence. After all, each of these forces -- uniting intellectual, economic, and technological trajectories -- contribute to the vanishing of formally sacrosanct divides between "high and low," "here and there," and "us and them." Still, all that is solid does not melt into air. Instead, as communication scholars and as human beings, we are compelled to consider the implications of convergence upon our roles and duties within an increasingly corporatized public sphere in which discourse that could possibly disrupt traditional modes of power becomes replaced by the babble of singularities.

Indeed, with apologies and appreciation to the late Neil Postman (whose germinal book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, inspires the title of my talk) my enthusiasm for this Age of Convergence must be defined as "guarded." As a shameless tourist of places and ideas, as a professor initially hired to teach courses on internet communication in Silicon Valley, and, of course, as a hopeless iPhone junkie, I recognize the opportunities that flow from our power to dive into oceans of data, where once we seemed trapped within lonely rivulets. And I accept both the efficiency and the serendipity of technologies that enable us to leap from node to node in a ubiquitous network that gathers all of human society into a shared structure and perception of mutual presence and potential interaction.

Yet I encourage caution and some degree of existential forbearance before we plunge so deeply into that matrix that we lose sight of ourselves. Put another way, I suggest a middle-ground between globe-girdling convergence and the rearguard erection of solitary cathedrals set against the desert of the threatening Other. I offer this proposal in recognition of the need for physical and intellectual "locales" wherein we affirm the virtue of places marked by time and character. I emphasize here that places and people set apart, a necessarily revitalized notion of the sacred, need not cast us into towers of elitism, so long as we refine the purpose of our endeavors as humanistic first and opportunistic later. Toward that end, my talk considers one basic question designed to complicate the presumed pleasures of our ever-present, ever-conflated society: How may the communication studies professor working both in the classroom and within the broader marketplace of ideas make a unique and useful contribution to the world in this Age of Convergence?

Follow-up: Here's the entire speech.

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