The meeting will be in the Esther Howland Room at City Hall; for more information on Howland, who attended the alma mater of both my mother and sister, see here and here; also here for a portrait that got her voted “Least Likely to Start a Commercial Business Having to do with Love” in high school.
When I was a girl, I thought class was something that women developed in the same way that certain body parts develop. I thought that it was an effortless process, that one day I would wake up and look in the mirror and realize that for the past month, I’d been a classy lady, and that I would continue on in my classy way for the rest of my life.
Of course, I was wrong.
I knew for sure that this was wrong when I was 28 and my brother’s bride said to my mother, “I want a classy wedding.” She was, of course, referring to my wedding, but she had the mistaken impression that my lack of class translated to the rest of my immediate family, especially my mother, who has more class in her little finger than my sister-in-law will ever have, and who has tried in vain to instill class in me.
What many of the more egregious posters on the Telegram website lack is not taste, but class. Class is the ability to impress upon people not only your own self-worth, but to raise up their self-worth by your mere presence. Class is not just refinement in personal appearance, and it’s certainly not only good taste. It doesn’t require money, it doesn’t require education. It requires someone to love and respect themselves in a way that causes others to behave better. I obviously don’t have that gift, and I never will. I wrote that previous post out of anger and disgust, and it did nothing to raise dialog to a more intelligent level. I am sorry for the latter, but not sorry at all for the former.
Now, as for why I didn’t post that on the Telegram website, or why I didn’t sic my blogger friends on the Telegram commenters: I don’t think what I had to say would fit into their comment word limit. My blogger friends (all four or five of them) have their own forums in which to express their opinions. I don’t know that all of them have the same opinion of the Telegram website that I do. I do wish that there would be better monitoring of the website and removal of offensive comments, because I think that private entities have a right to censor at will. Ultimately, though, if someone had the patience or attention span to read my whole post through, and to mull it over, they would have the patience to re-think some of the more offensive things that they post.
Jeff has a greater confidence than I that our society has the potential to grow more literate. With the advent of the internet, there is a greater opportunity for people to read, and a much greater opportunity for them to write and have a readership, whether it be texting or emailing or tweeting or writing blog posts. I think the internet age (and the related phenomenon of personality-based, completely biased, infotainment programming) has gone a long way towards shortening our attention spans.
This is not to say that I think there was ever a golden age of reading, or that the news from 100 years ago wasn’t more biased than it is now, or that I’m anything more than a selective luddite. I think that when people look at the past as a “golden age” or “better time”, what they are really pointing to is a missed opportunity. There was a time (and perhaps this is just memories of The Age of American Unreason replaying in my head) when we had an opportunity as a society to become more cultured, more educated and – yes! – to have better taste, and I think that opportunity is gone forever.
Where this op-ed piece comes into play is that I think that there is a portion of the population that hasn’t learned that conversation involves both speaking and listening. Investing time in a book, or in a professor’s lecture, or even a long blog post, requires concentration, patience, and a willingness to invest time in something that isn’t all about you. Literacy isn’t just about being able to write three sentences, or text your friends for hours on end. I think the ultimate point of literacy is to be able to read widely and synthesize what you’ve read into an informed opinion. When I read a book, I look at it as a conversation between the author and me, a conversation that requires me to listen and pay close attention.
I’m concerned that certain pieces of technology have made us less able to truly listen, and therefore less able to give an informed opinion. It’s not just a matter of taste – of course I think everyone should read Trollope, listen to opera, watch Masterpiece on PBS and read Albert Southwick, but that’s a subject for another post – but I think it ultimately diminishes us as a people when there are a lot of us spouting off about topics we know nothing about and when we are not willing to listen to the opinions of others.
That’s what I’m talking about when I talk about the telegram.com commenters. I’m talking about a larger issue, about people who need to text while they drive because they can’t not be connected, about people who feel the need to insert themselves into discussions to which they are not qualified to respond, about people who are willing to be led like sheep by whatever news personality has struck their fancy, rather than doing the hard work of reading long articles and informing themselves on all sides of an issue. This is not a new phenomenon; I think there’s an inclination towards laziness in humanity that is not particular to 18-22-year-old American college students. But the internet has made it more obvious.
So, as a blogger, is anything I say or do different from someone commenting on a news website? Perhaps not. I hope that what I provide is something a little more thoughtful and a little less off-the-cuff, and I probably meet that goal less than I should. One of my concerns with the major news outlets is that they use certain situations (like the town-gown issues at Holy Cross) not to inform, or to give insight into the true issue, but to instigate and incite people into worse and worse behaviors. And the limited enforcement of propriety at telegram.com is no better. How does any of this make us better informed? What does it serve except as a sounding board for some and a place to gawk for the rest of us?