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I think I prefaced over this last weekend that I wasn’t going to have a theme with this entry in mind.
I started college as a geology major. Somewhat obviously, I didn’t stick with it, but it’s still a great interest of mine.
Some of you know and some of you don’t that I have an MFA in Creative Writing. So a lot of my so-called “personal” reading is actually keeping up on that end of things for me.
And to combine both interests, I recently read Threshold, by Caitlin R. Kiernan. It’s very much in a genre I used to write–a pseudo-magical realism, if magical realism in literature could be divorced from its Latin American roots (which it can’t be, really). It starts out gritty, modern, and then wanders gently into science, myth, urban legend, and a particular superstitious nature you find in the south.
But my main point in addressing the experience of reading this book was the following passage, voiced by our narrator, Chance, who was in college as a geology major at the time:
“Can you think of anything else I could do with my life that could ever possibly be half this splendid, half this important? I’m learning to read, Deke, and not just the handful of things men have been around long enough to write down. The history of the whole damned planet is written in rocks, just lying there waiting for us to learn how to read the words.” – p. 177
It’s this urge that drives me, strangely enough, in my current work as well.
I’m learning to read in a larger sense than I’ve ever read so far. And to some extent this was an evolution: I did, after all, start on email quite awhile ago, then moved to forums, then Livejournal, then Blogger, then Facebook/MySpace, then Twitter, and Google Reader and the big feeds (Slashdot, BoingBoing, TechCrunch, Gizmodo, etc) got stuck in there somewhere too (and I may be skipping steps, of course: on the multimedia end, Flickr and YouTube are two examples, but I’m talking about text here, in the main).
But in terms of an educated and informed community that I can have face-to-face contact with and shares my academic/work interests, this is a first (which might be, I might add, because my college/grad work had little to do with technology). Not just casual friends giving updates on their lives, but I get a touch of friendliness and personality alongside the theory.
So I get these fantastic ideas as well as the context surrounding them: the problems that were faced to prompt them to come up with these ideas. It’s good stuff.
But larger than that, and for a longer period of time, I’ve been learning to read people and their interaction with technology; learning to read the evolution of society due to technology’s influence; learning to read how technology is changing our minds and changing our spaces.
I’m reading the future. I’ve already learned to read the past.
So between geology and tech, I feel like I’ve got the span of things.1 And while this current tech iteration is more minute than an atom in a drop in a bucket in terms of geologic time, it’s monumental for us living in it.
And I get to read it. And better yet, write some of it.
Writing my first post-a-day blog post in August on my iPhone during gaps in a Spend a Summer Day.
SASD, as we know it and love it for short, is a day-long open house event held at all Penn State campuses. At Penn State University Park, due simply to demand, it’s held on six days: every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday spanning two weeks, usually bridging July and August.
August 1st, incidentally, is also the day our new application for admission goes live. Given that and the fact that EVERYONE in the office helps during SASD (our Executive Director was running between the HUB and Schwab Auditorium on Monday trying to fix a problem), to say this time of year is stressful is an understatment.
I’ve been staffing our table at the information fair during the event pretty regularly so far, and I’ve noted a difference in style between me and some of my colleagues. Some colleagues push our brochures, despite all the information in a few of them being available online.
If I can make a generalization, these tend to be the older admissions folks who are more used to using the brochures. Others offer options: you could grab this AP brochure to see what credit you’d get for what score on which test, or you can look it up on our website. (for my own commentary, why waste the paper and cost us the money for four scores they could easily look up?)
I’ve also found that when I offer my AIM handle to students I’m talking to, they get super-enthusiastic. And even their parents start telling me I’m the last word in customer service: above and beyond and all that.
So while this doesn’t affect the larger conversation of the newest modes of electronic communication, it does tell me that some folks are picking them up no problem (students, to generalize), some folks are slowly picking them up or recognizing their value (parents), and some folks will print out webpages if the brochure is discontinued (the non-technologically-savvy).
But the thing is, we have to serve them all. Penn State is committed to serving the Commonwealth, and any one of the above could either become a student here or at least interface with the University in some way.
So how do we serve all, even those not comfortable with technology?
I think the idea of engaging the early adopters is a good one (apologies that I don’t remember who suggested it right now), and certainly paves the way to spreading the word in a grassroots fashion.
Something else I’d like to explore further, perhaps in a later post, is how technology can help us realize cost savings and green initiatives without leaving anyone behind, especially considering the widespread nature of Penn State’s mission.