I recently participated in a conference at Missouri State University entitled Culture of Connectivity.
Nice work, says you, if you can get it. But what the hell was it all about?
Well, I too had much the same thought as I arrived in Springfield, MO fantasizing that I might down a few pints with Springfield’s most famous son, Homer Simpson, in the course of my four day visit.
I had little time for socializing, however, before jumping onstage for a solo show and then braving a question and answer session that ranged from the ideals of Bobby Sands to the current state of Irish-America’s soul.
From the next morning on I was immersed in a grand stew of ideas about the nature of modern life, and the changing manner and sheer variety of ways that we connect with each other.
Springfield is an old city, a Civil War battleground and scarcely an oasis of peace in the various social and economic wars now raging for the soul of America.
On my first panel I was quite rightly taken to task for assuming that the US was intended to be a democracy. Anything but, I was informed, the founding fathers were terrified of the anarchistic influence of the mob.
Their ideal was a republic governed by the educated, propertied class. This prickly revelation led the discussion to the current elevation of the American Constitution to a status as revered as the Ten Commandments.
But how wise can this noble document be, questioned a panelist, if it excluded the rights of women and condoned slavery?
Because, another postulated, the constitution has been amended down through the years to encompass current and more wholesome ideals.
Shouldn’t this then be an ongoing project, remarked an audience member; for instance, why should the Second Amendment be deemed sacrosanct when more Americans are annually killed by legal weapons in the US than in the worst years of the war in Iraq?
Lively stuff for a first morning session, and the pace never let up!
One of the main thrusts of the conference was how we’ve all been intrinsically changed by modern means of communication.
Many complained that the ubiquitous cell phone has rocketed the level of rudeness, while the “yap factor” has driven them to distraction. I overheard a particularly irate scientist predict that the descendants of Homo Erectus were slowly morphing into Homo Crick-in-the-Neckus from staring down into hand held screens.
Another common theme - does Facebook have any redeeming values? Is it merely a vast time-waster?
At first the constant brainstorming was a bit overwhelming for how often nowadays do we allow ourselves the luxury of unbridled thought, much less have time to question our own preconceptions and shallow media-influenced notions?
Around the third day, though, the following ideas began to take shape for this participant.
There’s far more to democracy than just having a vote. In fact, democracy itself is destined to failure unless it adapts to the challenges of the times.
And our times and democracy are dominated by a rapacious corporate culture that is reaping huge profits on the backs of those lucky enough to be granted the right to work. Ask anyone who has a job – hours are longer, benefits fewer, and inflation-adjusted wages are lower than ten years ago.
But our new culture of connectivity has provided us with weapons. Just as Facebook and Twitter were employed by the youth of North Africa to topple their corrupt governments; so too with the threat of boycott can we force our new corporate masters to bring back jobs from overseas and spend a portion of their profits on retraining the workforce.
Our world is changing ever more quickly; social and economic pressures are increasing with the tempo. Reflection can often seem like an unaffordable luxury. Missouri State froze the clock for four days and allowed me to see that democracy is an ongoing experiment that functions best when people use today’s tools to renew it from the ground up.
Now if only I could have run into Homer Simpson.
For more on Culture of Connectivity and a Rock & Read show by Larry Kirwan go to http://publicaffairs.missouristate.edu/