This is a personal post about a recent tragedy in my home town. Please read with sensitivity.
On May 10, 2014, I woke up, checked my email, text messages, and Facebook. Friends from home (Farmingdale, N.Y) were posting RIP statuses. I immediately looked up what had happened – there was a deadly car crash killing four kids from Farmingdale High School. After making necessary phone calls and finding out my brother was not involved, I jumped on every social networking site to find out more.
Each news article I read, such as this one speaks about the crash. Many news articles and videos are stating that police will not release the names of those who died. I found out who passed away in 10 minutes by scrolling through my Facebook and seeing my friends’ statuses. Is Facebook more powerful than newscasters?
The point of this blog post is the aftermath of this tragedy. I want to point out the beautiful and powerful side of social networking sites. My hometown has a unique trait: its pride. It doesn’t matter how far you go or how old you grow, you always have Daler Pride. Whether you’re on the football team, or the marching band, you have an immense sense of pride in being a Daler. There’s a hashtag on Twitter, #DalerStrong for those lives lost. My Twitter page has blown up with this hashtag and support from every Farmingdale graduate, current student, teacher, and superintendent. Below are some snapshots from Twitter when I searched #DalerStrong. I am absolutely baffled yet humbled by the amount of support everyone is showing during this hard time. Twitter suddenly had this power to reconnect all of us; I connected with my best friend from high school that I no longer talk to, I saw my ex-partner post one as well. At the end of the day, it connected all of us, whether we knew each other or not. Twitter became this place for all of us to show our support, our grief, and our love for each other and our town. Adults have, and will continue to criticize younger generations such as mine that we post too many personal things, and that social networks are ruining people and relationships. In some cases, I would agree; my brother and I keep our phones on the table during dinner. Nevertheless, it is moments like this one that social networks truly show their benefits. Without Facebook, I would have never known what happened. Without my cell phone, I would have never been able to iMessage my brother to make sure he was okay. Without Google, I would have never been able to read more on what happened and what people have to say about it. And finally, without Twitter, my community, my Farmingdale family would not be able to join together and support each other. This horrible tragedy made me realize something quite beautiful: the perpetual togetherness of my town.
So a friend of a friend of a friend of mine is an extremely talented pianist (check out his website if you don’t believe me…..) Among his other groundbreaking work, he experiments with classical music and technology. The video I’ve embedded here is to a piece titled “iridescence, for piano and iPad.” How many pieces ARE there for piano and iPad? It’s hauntingly beautiful, and speaks to classical music fans and perhaps to fans of electronic music as well…..he’s almost like a DJ, making things he plays repeat on the iPad to blend with what he’s currently playing, essentially making his own background music as he goes.
This is a random post, but listening to this music reminded me of what Dr. Schacht said in class today….that we’re using computers to do what humanists have always done, which is to look at what humans do or make and ask, What does this mean? What an important task. And we’re not the only ones doing it– artists are as well. Just think of the digital literature we read, and how difficult it was to interpret it and determine its value. The world is being analyzed in different ways with different tools, but these “ways” aren’t really new, just blending old methods with new tools. And the results can be beautiful. It just means humanists have to catch up to our subjects.
So take a listen if you’re stressed with papers or finals and I promise you’ll love it!
If you ask that question to any serious academic of English, it holds the same connotations as asking a historian if they are familiar with George Washington or a physicist if they’ve heard of Sir Isaac Newton. It would be considered one of those 100 dollar questions in the first round of a game of “American Lit Jeopardy,” one that a student in high school can answer with a certain degree of confidence. Thoreau has become so engrained in the canon of great American authors that he’s even transcended the bounds of literary greatness to be included on standardized U.S. History exams as a figure of profound influence on American ideology. Perhaps posing the question “Have you heard of Thoreau?” is kind of foolish for me to do, so let me try a question that you might not immediately know the answer to: “Why have you heard of Thoreau?”
That one is a little bit tougher. Why do you know him? I mean, you just do, right? He’s always been there at the top of American literary greatness, along with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman, as one of the best. There’s no question about that…right? Well, actually, no. Believe it or not, Henry David Thoreau was not well known during his lifetime. According to Wendy McElroy in her article, “Henry David Thoreau and ‘Civil Disobedience,’” his most influential political theories were mainly reserved for small lectures or brief sections of relatively obscure periodicals. She also mentions that a eulogy penned by Emerson concludes with the line, “The country knows not yet, or in the least part, how great a son it has lost.” His obituary has no mention of Civil Disobedience, and only briefly mentions Life in the Woods, capitalizing instead on his “eccentric…habits” as a naturalist.
If that’s the case, and Thoreau was relatively unknown during his lifetime, then why is it that his name and works survive today as being such a cultural landmark for our national identity? The answer has not so much to do with the work of the man born in 1817, but rather to do with a man born 100 years later, and the work he did to make Thoreau an American great. That man’s name is Walter Harding (1917-1996), and it is because of him that students from California to the epicenter of his legacy in Geneseo, NY recognize Thoreau’s name and reputation for what they are today.
I, along with my incredible project teammates, got the chance to interview with Mr. Harding’s son Allen recently to gauge how his father’s impact has changed the canon of American literature from what it was fifty years ago, to what it is today. The entire interview can be found at walterharding.org and I seriously encourage you to visit the site to get the sense of how Walter Harding’s work has influenced us as a college, as Americans, and as literary scholars. But more precisely, I wanted to attention to two things we’ve come across as a group that, at least for me, has changed the way I perceive Thoreau as an author. Firstly, when asked to specify his father’s lasting legacy, Allen Harding specifically pointed to his father’s role in elevating Thoreau’s status within the American cultural canon, saying:
…he [Walter Harding] took an author who everyone ignored in the 1930s and 1940s, and made him into a star of American literature. If you ask anyone up at the Society or in Concord, they will say that Thoreau wasn’t considered that important. But after my father got a hold of him, that all changed.
That really registered with me as such an incredible testament to Walter Harding’s influence on the literary canon, and on a larger scale, his influence on American identity. Think about it: You can walk into any high school English or American History class across America and ask who Henry David Thoreau is, and I’m sure you’ll get a positive response…and that’s largely due to the lifetime work of one man, whom we’ve had the great privilege of hosting as a professor here at SUNY Geneseo from 1956-1983. Now if that’s not a point of pride as a Geneseo student majoring in English, then I’m not sure what is.
The second thing I wanted to call attention to was the way that Walter Harding expanded the influence of Thoreau’s teachings to validate his legacy and place in American history. Take a look at this except I extracted from the Cracking the AP U.S. History Exam 2012 textbook. It explains that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. acted on the principles of civil disobedience outlined by a certain literary figure by the name of Henry David Thoreau.
Sure, you might say that this is an indirect consequence of Walter Harding’s work, and that it is more of a retrospective pairing of Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King’s similar messages. But take a look at this correspondence from the King Center (also available on walterharding.org) between Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and Professor Harding:
That brief letter, all ten lines of typewritten text, tells a story of a well-respected literary academic’s subtle yet profound impact on American history. Walter Harding and Martin Luther King discussing Thoreau with respect to contemporary American society. King’s legacy and Harding’s legacy coming together in a cross of mutual respect for an author that, just a few decades earlier, was relatively unknown. It is thanks to Walter Harding, Thoreau continues to enjoy new life 150 years after his quiet death, and it is thanks to digitalization efforts such as the Thoreau-Harding Project here on campus that we can continue Professor Harding’s legacy and actively shape our cultural canon for many years to come.
So next time you come across the name “Henry David Thoreau” while reading a textbook or some academic paper discussing his legacy, try not to forget that it was Professor Walter Harding’s legacy that allowed you to recognize that name in the first place.
I was scrolling through my Facebook timeline and a friend of mine shared this video.
I really liked the message it was sending; technology is wonderful, but it shouldn’t be everything. People are spending more time in front of screen with headphones in seclusion than ever before. I understand what the man is talking about. For example when he brings up that having a group chat is not the same as hanging out with friends, we are secluding ourselves from life. While we believe we are submerged in this mass social media with constant flow of attention and socialization, we technically aren’t. We’re in our beds in pajamas with headphones on a Saturday night when we should be at a bar having a beer and meeting new people.
With the end of the semester coming up and the need to move back home I’ve noticed a huge increase in online “garage sales”. At the beginning of the year my friend referred me to a Facebook group called, “Livingston County Virtual Yard Sale”. It is a great group in which people from around the county can search for and sell their household items. It basically makes going to a garage sale much easier since people can find the item they need without actually driving around and looking for a garage sale that may or may not have the item they need. People even use it to search for pets or services such as tutors or babysitters. The site has it’s own set of rules to make sure all transactions are done fairly.
In the past month I have also joined another group similar to this which is specific to SUNY Geneseo students. Already I have noticed it become a great source for students who are graduating to sell their unwanted furniture and items that they have accumulated over the years. In addition, students who are moving off campus are able to look for affordable items that they may need in their new apartment. I have been able to find a pretty nice and cheap bed frame, box spring, and mattress within days of joining the site. My friends and I often use this tool to furnish our apartments without damaging our bank accounts too much. Since there has been a rise in online “garage sales” I have seen a student from Geneseo start a new website that specifically helps Geneseo students in selling and buying their furniture. With all of these resources moving into a new apartment has been a relatively stress free experience!
For anyone who wants to use these resources to buy or sell items:
Throughout the semester, the Archivist group has been working on our Walter Harding site, adding information and pictures and changing the appearance to make it look better in general. I won’t write too much about it because we’ll be presenting everything later, but I wanted to mention the interview we had with his son, Allen Harding, a couple of weeks ago. (You can check it out here!) In our conversation, we found out that Walter used a typewriter to record all of his research, and only later did he buy a laptop. The amount of information he was able to record with just his typewriter is amazing, and I can only imagine how much more he could have done had he researched Thoreau now, especially with all the tools we have developed.
Computers have evolved tremendously, from huge chunky machines to sleek laptops to tiny tablets. This progress has allowed access to the Internet for so many people. I found this article, which talks about how more and more of the older generation have begun to use technology because of tablets. I think it’s because tablets are so convenient to carry around; they’re small and light enough to not be a burden, yet have a bigger screen than phones, which is easier on the eyes. Because everything is accessible on the screen through the touch of a finger, it is easier to navigate. If Walter Harding had a tablet during his research I’m sure he would have been able to collect and share his data so much easier.
Though people usually say bigger is better, it seems that with technology it’s the opposite and I’m wondering what could be next?
I came across this video in a class that I took last year, and then came across it again in a seminar I just took. I thought it was incredibly powerful in the way it delivered its message. I wondered if I was a student in high school sitting through an assembly on bullying prevention what I would respond to more. Would it be a motivational speaker or this video? I think technology has the power to create really strong messages that catch peoples’ attention and get them to listen. See what you think!
Though Facebook was originally created for people to reconnect with their friends from school, it has now become a platform for socializing and has extended to use by people as young as elementary school students, whether is it to play games or to interact with others. In a poll taken in early 2012, Facebook was the most used social network, dominating at 56% and easily overwhelming other social networks.
Facebook gives users the power to post content for others to see and “like”. Recently, however, I’ve noticed that many of my friends have begun to covet their “likes”. For some reason, the number of “likes” that someone receives on a status or picture has become a determining factor for someone’s popularity. A higher number of “likes” indicates that that person has more friends, or that they are better-liked than their peers.
A lot of people also overshare information, posting mundane things and expecting people to respond to them. In fact, oversharing is one of the things that Facebook users dislike the most about other users. There is constantly a request for a “dislike” button, which doesn’t exist for obvious reasons.
I have a friend who uses Instagram and is obsessed with the number of “likes” she gets per picture. Her exact words to me one day were, “I posted this picture 5 minutes ago and I only have 2 likes! Should I delete it?” I think this way of thinking is ridiculous, but it seems to be a common thought-process. I wonder what this trend might suggest about people these days and whether it is a positive thing that ego is boosted based on “likes”, which are essentially meaningless in the real world.