Tuesday, April 17, 2007

In an Instant . . .

I have been exhorting an active effort from you to be graphic in your writing--by showing and not just telling events, experiences, feelings--in order to give your readers a vivid picture, to pull them into your mind as you recall the narrative. However, there are events that we may not necessarily wish to be shown explicitly, yet we feel too compelled to pull away. Such is the case of many of the major tragedies of our lifetimes, including the horrible shootings this past Monday at Virginia Tech University. If you are like me, when confronted by the news of such an awful occurrence, you simultaneously want to know everything and wish you had never heard about it in the first place. You wish to turn away from the reports of terror, and yet you cannot, as you are prodded by a overwhelming desire to make sense of the situation.

In the age of instant news updates, when nearly everyone has the capability to be a reporter, it is even harder to detach from the news and easier to virtually be "shown." Much has already been made about the impact of student blogging, like those sent to the college newspaper site, which offered instantaneous first-hand accounts of the horror of the shootings. These blogs, and those written immediately in the aftermath, have been used as primary sources by news outlets nationwide. And it's not just the blogs. People can glimpse--if you wish; these items may be too graphic or simply just to "real" for some--both an instant message conversation between a Virginia Tech student (who was trapped in a classroom the gunman entered) and his brother and also footage taken by a student's cellular phone (in which multiple shots can be heard). The immediacy of these media-- cell phones, blog, instant messaging--along with the fact that nearly everyone has access to them, speeds up the news and perhaps even democratizes it. We will discuss over the ensuing weeks whether this is ultimately a positive change in how we receive information or if the downsides (like the quick scouring of blogs kept by Virginia Tech students leading to some people to accuse Wayne Chiang of being the shooter based on circumstantial evidence) ultimately outweigh the benefits.

And maybe through the discussion, we can make a little more sense of this mess.

UPDATE (4/26/07): A student in Canada was arrested for remarks he made in his blog regarding the Virginia Tech shootings and threats he made to schoolmates. Apparently, police felt there was the potential of Joshua Bryn Bauman committing copycat murders. Another dimension of blogging: the semi-anonymity can lead to private discussion becoming very, very public.

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