The Sound of Silence

My office is a very quiet place. But for the mechanical gushes of air conditioning that grace the office airwaves on the half hour (I look a lot like this most days), the only other sounds I hear are the click-clacking of keyboards, the gentle shuffle of someone off for a walk, and the occasional, “So, you want to send me that…?”

I am an introvert. I live alone. I’ve tended to pursue work that requires much solitary time and attention (see: reading, writing, reading about writing), but never has a space so quiet felt so alien to me.

The quiet makes sense, of course: this is a work space. We certainly do not need a myriad of distractions. And within this space, efficiency is valued above all else. After all, we’ve got a product to make here, people! This is serious business!

But the work environments I’ve loved most are those that alternate between this essential solitary space and a vibrant, collaborative dialogue. Working alone, there is only so much I can accomplish. I don’t pretend to think that my Romantic, individual genius will carry me through tasks; if there is anything I learned in both college and graduate school, it is that I produce my best work when I have worked closely with others on formulating and thinking through ideas. I miss that dialogue and wonder whether this solitary space is something endemic to a business environment. Have I just been living in that “academic bubble” where ideas are exchanged freely and without suspicion? Does this… not happen in other places? I mean, are we only supposed to think like:

Or is this kind of solitary energy I’m experiencing something unique to this company?

I’ll admit that I am hesitant to start dialogues. I suppose I could. That’s one solution. But I started out asking a lot of questions. However, one can only see so many beleaguered and/or bewildered expressions on their supervisors’ faces before deciding to figure things out for one’s self. This could have to do with the fact that I am temporary help; there’s very little need to invest in my full understanding or contribution. I’m sure this primarily has to do with the fact that my supervisors are very busy ladies. Granted, I’ll admit that I don’t really know what exactly they do and, when I’ve asked, I’ve received answers I am not sure I understand, interspersed with a lot of rhetoric from a discourse community of which I am clearly not a part. Perhaps this is how others feel when I retreat into that comfortable literary theory space and try to describe my own projects?

If so: yikes. Please let me do a better job of keeping my own work grounded. Will you (whoever you are reading this because you’re most likely someone who knows me in real life) feel free to tell me if/when I say things that are incredibly confusing?

So, I suppose that this is a long way of saying that I’ve been given a lot of time to fend for myself, which inevitably leads me to draw ever inward, and even more inevitably, perhaps gives me just a wee too much time to reflect upon why I am there in the first place and how this compares to my academic experiences.

Oh, and if you’ve made it here, you’ve definitely earned this (because come on, INEVITABLE):

Extra! Extra! On Rhetorical Newspaper Analyses

Have I mentioned here before that I work an additional job as a freelance (ghost) editor for a college and career counselor?

Well, I’m mentioning it now and for one reason in particular: the ubiquitous “newspaper rhetoric” assignment.

You know the one: choose three newspaper articles and analyze whether they “effectively” convey their purpose or not. (Something that follows these kinds of standards).

I’ve always had some trouble accepting this assignment and it primarily hinges upon the word, “effective.” Effective to whom? Effective for what? Effective to what ends? This seems to be a key piece missing in the explication of the assignment.

Anyway, as a freelance (ghost) editor, I basically revise whatever my boss sends me to revise. I’m completely invisible to the student; I make line edits in Microsoft Word, send those line edits and documents back to my boss, and he sends my line edits to the students. I don’t think the students know where these magical edits come from. I don’t think these students care.

All of that background aside, I’ve seen a surprising number of these newspaper rhetoric essays recently and, indeed, students seem to respond to them in roughly the same way, citing “objectivity” and “clarity” as signs of “effectiveness.”

Yet interestingly, they often choose newspaper articles that are neither “objective” nor particularly “clear.” Indeed, it seems that in every rhetoric assignment I’ve read thus far, students have been drawn to assessing articles composed as blogs rather than true-to-form “articles.”

My hunch is that students are not choosing blogs because they enjoy reading them; I imagine the student sits in front of the computer, opens the browser, goes to Google, types in the name of a current event, and voila! Blogs from major newspapers emerge as top hits. Students then go on to assume that these blogs serve the same function as “articles.” Boom, assignment completed.

To me, this is a fascinating phenomena for a few reasons:

1. Blogs are appearing as more frequent hits in search engines.

2. The tone of blogs are seemingly indistinct from those of news stories that high school students and college freshmen are familiar with.

3. On major newspaper websites, blog content seems privileged over regularly circulating news content.

Now, point1 gets us into a discussion of search engine optimization and other stuff I don’t really feel like thinking about. But points 2 and 3? Now those, to me, are worth discussing.

I don’t find it particularly troublesome that blogs themselves are privileged as news content. Indeed, we could get abstract here and assert, “What is objectivity, anyway?”

What troubles me is – well – students’ seeming lack of awareness over the ability to distinguish between these two genres. I could be assuming too much about these students; perhaps they DO recognize the blog is a blog (and not an article), but do not have the motivation to keep digging through the Internet to find an article and figure a blog will fulfill the assignment. Either way, apathy is at play. Isn’t that a touch distressing?

I think the solution to this problem comes with greater critical awareness of what it means to use a search engine, of what it means to find different kinds of articles and, perhaps most importantly, what it means to search carefully and discriminatingly.

Perhaps the most important question I have is: where should this kind of work be done? To me, if instructors are giving out these kinds of assignments, it should probably be done in the writing classroom. But, of course, how do high school teachers, for example, balance these kinds of concerns with those of curricular standards? I imagine that these kinds of rhetoric assignments are part of a common curriculum; how do teachers adapt? How do administrators adapt to make sure students are developing healthy browsing habits?