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Four Years at the Mount

Good Night and Good Luck

This month, the Four Years at the Mount writers received their first “homework assignment” from their Managing Editor. They were asked to watch the movie Good Night and Good Luck, which highlights the events leading up to a 1958 speech by the award-winning news-journalist Edward R. Murrow.

In his speech, Murrow warned, “there is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference,” and that television, which was just then emerging and replacing newspaper and radio as the primary means by which people got their news, was being squandered for the sake of entertainment.

Their assignment was to reflect upon Murrow’s warning and consider whether his concerns are as relevant today as they were when he issued his speech in 1958. Most importantly, they were to discover what they can do individually to, in Murrow’s words, “exalt the importance of ideas and information.”

(March, 2013)

More than meets the eye

Lydia Olsen
Class of 2016

After watching Good Night and Good Luck and analyzing Edward R. Murrow’s speech, I came away with an understanding that Murrow was, at the time, discouraged with the technology of television. He was fearful of how it would impact society. He was convinced that technology would make people even more complacent about the world around them. Fifty-five years following Murrow’s speech show that he had some insight into the future of the world regarding our use of technology, but in my opinion, the opposite of his prediction can be seen.

In my generation, we are never satisfied with basic information. If there is more to be learned, then we actively seek it. There now is the term, "Google it" because of our constant quest for knowledge, and we are never limited in our pursuit. Murrow believed that technology had the potential to tempt us to sit back and be lazy. Yet, technology has come to yield the reverse outcome in many cases. Technology allows us to have access to more research and more opportunities for knowledge. In seconds, we can access more resources than a life without technology would give us in years.

Murrow is concerned with the idea that technology’s purposes fit in one of two categories. Imagine it like a scale. On one side, the purposes (of television in Murrow’s case and technology in mine) are for entertainment, amusement, and "insulation" from the stresses of the outside world. This is the side that Murrow considered technology to be categorized. The other side of the scale is where technology’s purposes are to teach, illuminate, and "inspire." When considering these purposes of technology, I began to evaluate the technology around me to determine in which side of the scale I would place each item. I began to question into which category something like sports would fit.

My thoughts then turned to the Olympics, the worldwide sporting event that is incredibly competitive. My initial thoughts were that the Olympics would fall onto the side of the scale Murrow thought technology would neglect. The side that teaches, illuminates, and "inspires." The Olympics are a huge source of education. The opening ceremonies reveal cultural history about the host country and also about each country participating. It is educational to hear and see people from over a hundred different countries wearing outfits that represent their culture and having their number of athletes reflective of their population size. The Olympics also teach us that anything is possible and, once again, that determination creates a path to success. The Olympics illuminate the various cultural norms of other societies and even bring light to certain problems or concerns within a country if they are prevalent at the time.

The most noticeable characteristic is that the Olympics are inspirational, to say the least. I find it very hard to believe that anyone could watch the United States’ women’s gymnastics team win gold medals and not get goose bumps and be tempted and inspired that they could successfully land a cartwheel or even a backflip. Likewise, regardless of his first race, I would refuse to believe that any American, and especially a Marylander, would say they were not honored, proud, and inspired by Michael Phelps’ smile and his final splash when he became the most decorated Olympian in history.

The technology of television also allowed me to become even more inspired by Maryland track star, Matthew Centrowitz. Matt and I attended the same high school and at that time, we lived roughly ten minutes away from each other. When it became known that Matt was going to go to the Olympics, signs were made and the term, "Centronation" evolved. Few things are more inspirational than knowing that someone who grew up just like you, will one day (I am convinced) win an Olympic gold medal. Evidently, the Olympics do fill the side Murrow thought television would abandon.

Though, the Olympics also can fit into the entertainment, amusement, and "insulation" side as well. When considering the opening ceremonies, although they can be seen as educational, they are also designed to be fully entertaining and amusing. The host country spends immense amounts of time and money trying to capture the world’s attention. The Olympics also allow for insulation because they create an escape from reality, just like football.

After examining Murrow’s speech, I have decided to refute the idea that society has become complacent and indifferent because of the use of technology. Technology, television in specific, is not just "wires and lights behind a box," as Murrow describes. It is so much more than that. Without technology, we wouldn’t have immediate access to sports. We could not watch the Super Bowl unless we had tickets, and we could not witness triumph in the Olympics either. Technology is an enabler, not an inhibitor. It is the balance of both sides of the scale working together and that is the way it should be. It gives us all of these characteristics that Murrow claimed technology would produce simultaneously, and we are left to decide the fate and influence of technology. It does not decide for us.

Read other articles by Lydia Olsen

An Ever-Shrinking World

Kyle Ott
MSM Class of 2015

"It’s a Small World After All." It’s strange that the current state of the world in which we live could be summed up by the words of a Disney song. As strange as it may seem, we live in a world that has a plethora of technological innovations that continue to shape our lives, but in many ways these tools are just being used for entertainment. In the movie Good Night and Good Luck, Edward Murrow made a speech warning us of the ways that the technology we love so much can be abused. While living here at Mount St. Mary’s amid all of these new technological innovations, it’s hard not to think back to that prophetic speech and reflect on how technology is working to bring us closer together, but it ironically setting us farther apart at the same time.

On the one hand, the innovations of our time have had some extraordinarily positive effects on the way we live. The optimist in me simply can’t begin observing the negative impacts without looking at the benefits. Perhaps the most amazing gift technology has given us is the gift of accessible communication. Before our time, concepts of things like "the long distance relationship" or a "video conference" were relatively unknown. With our phones, we can call or send a message to any person we have ever known, take film videos or pictures, or access the World Wide Web. Facebook has replaced the old-fashioned idea of a physical photo album with a digital collection that holds every picture we would ever need, sometimes even containing something akin to family movies. Resources like these have been incredible blessings to me and also to many people I know.

Last semester I reaped the benefits of access to online communication. While surfing Facebook and doing my best to put off work for the night, an old friend of mine from high school sent me a message. I had not seen or heard from him in almost a year and half. Our busy schedules made it difficult to keep in touch. My career working with the Office of Residence Life at Mount St. Mary’s University and his budding college career in Pittsburgh kept us apart. Within minutes, we were talking and reminiscing about old times as if we had never lost contact. After a few seconds (that’s the speed of the Internet in action, folks!), we planned a day for the two of us to meet up, watch a movie, and catch up on each other’s lives.

However, despite the ways that technology brings us together, it has done more than its fair share of tearing us apart. Especially here at a college campus, I come face to face with the many ways that we let these innovations that were meant to serve us, conquer us instead. When I am at lunch with my friends, I cannot help but cringe when people bring out their phones during lunch and merely text away while their friends and significant others carry on an entire conversation right next to them, yet worlds away. I walk by the computer lab near Patriot Hall or the library and I see people typing furiously, updating Twitter and Facebook with a devout fervor that can be incredibly unsettling, while at the same time there are piles of books sitting next to them.

Even I have found myself guilty of this technological convenience from time to time. I can’t deny that it is so incredibly nice to communicate with my girlfriend in Virginia while I’m sitting with my friends in Patriot. Or to turn on Facebook and let a 15-minute break run over into an hour long one.

I do not believe by any means that we should overlook the benefits that we have gained through such amazing developments. The ability to talk to anyone anywhere has made life incredibly easier for so many people. However, I can’t help but look around at my friends and fellow students and wonder what we have given up in the exchange. Yes, our ability to communicate has become instantaneous and risen to a global scale, however our proclivity for one on one "face time" seems to have dropped. The ability to push a button and suddenly have access to everyone we know has proven to be amazing in helping everyone from scattered extended families to long distance lovers keep in contact and maintain a presence in each other’s lives.

But gone are the time-honored traditions of our culture like the love-letter or the care package; they are often replaced with emails and text messages that are indeed faster, but feel just a little bit cold. Books, the last remaining bastion of written literature, seem to be displaced by e-readers and tablets, proving that we can now do practically everything with a computer. Even the spoken word is now open for attack by the electronic world. Text phrases like "lol" and "brb" continually find their way into the common lexicon. All this points to a world rapidly changing, a world that favors the fast, convenient and impersonal over the slower but more intimate means of communication.

While the world around us continues to develop, I encourage you to think about the kinds of things you may be leaving behind in favor for your cell phone or laptop. There is an incredibly exciting world out there, and while you may be "plugged in," you may also be missing out. After all, who doesn’t want to sit and read for a while?

Read other articles by Kyle Ott

Facebook vs. Face-to-face

Nicole Jones
Class of 2014

When I sat down with my fellow writers to watch Good Night and Good Luck, I’ll admit that I was initially fairly bored. As I continued to watch, it slowly dawned on me how dedicated Edward Murrow was to his profession. He saw a new development in his journalistic expertise and felt that it wasn’t being used to the best advantage – and he did something about it. To me, that was the most prominent message that this movie portrayed: to stand up for what you believe is right. As Murrow said, we cannot be a people who are afraid "to write, to associate, to speak, and to defend the causes that were for the moment unpopular." If you want to see a change in your world, you have to create it yourself.

For me, this process begins by evaluating how prominent the problem I see in others is in my own life. In this case, how much time is spent using technology to communicate instead of having in-person social interactions?

Like most modern young people, I am guilty of owning a computer, television, cell phone, and mp3 player. In between classes and homework I respond to emails, check my Facebook, call home, text friends, listen to music, or watch a TV show. While I see no harm in spending time to relax like this in the midst of my otherwise busy day, I know I am just as guilty of overindulging in these things, especially during the weekends.

How many times in the week have you seen, "How r u 2day?" on your cell phone or computer screen? Naturally some of these messages are from people you may not be able to easily visit, but how often are they from a friend you could easily spend some time with in person? Every time we choose cyber messaging over social interaction, we gain the speed and efficiency of modern technology, but we may be losing much more in our personal relationships.

This is proven true in my own life. My best friend is notorious for being glued to her iPhone’s screen. It doesn’t matter if she actually needs to call someone or not. I have held entire one-sided conversations with her as she scrolls down her Facebook wall; this often results in my having to repeat my entire conversation. I’ve often pointed this problem out to her, explaining that she’s being rude and inconsiderate, but her behavior has inexplicably remained the same. Is what I’m telling her really less interesting or important than the cat picture in her news feed?

This is not to say that technology does not have its place in the world of communication and socialization. Blogs, social-networking sites, emails, text messages – all of these things are beneficial to keeping in touch with friends and family that may be too far away to visit and are conducive to fast business practices. But when you truly want to get to know someone, emails and Facebook profiles just don’t cut it. I say this not only as a sociable individual, but also as a journalist.

More and more often I am finding writers for the campus paper, The Mountain Echo, relying upon email to not only contact, but also complete entire interviews with their sources. Perhaps even more disconcerting is the fact that I, the managing editor for the Echo, am just as guilty of this.

Ideally, a journalist is able to sit down with a source and have a quick interview, even if it is only a quote or two in passing. When these interviews become predominantly via email, the journalist begins to sacrifice to quality of his or her work.

While the convenience of email is undeniable – being able to answer in one’s own time and having a hard copy of the original quotes – it lacks the interaction a live interview allows. Responses in email often become more academic and calculated in form. While it is nice to have a precise response, it removes a significant amount of the emotion from the equation. As journalists, emotion is exactly what we want to capture, as it helps the audience relate and understand our message and how it is affecting the world around them. Email also removes the potential for follow-up questions by breaking the natural flow of a conversation and replacing it with a stiff question-and-answer format that requires no improvisation from the journalist or the source.

The same is true when using technology to interact with friends.

Technology has diminished the natural desire for face-to-face interaction. Socializing has been reduced to a watered-down version of the real thing because our computers and cell phones are more convenient than a lunch date during our busy week. As a result, we lose those subtle nuances that technology fails to convey – facial expressions, gestures and movement, pitch, tone, inflection, sarcasm – the list goes on. We’ve tried to compensate for this through the use of emoticons, but does a little yellow smiley-face really compare to the actual person’s smile? In my opinion, no, it doesn’t. Every time an emoticon is used, someone has failed to see the whiteness of the other person’s teeth, the way his or her eyes crinkle, lips curl and large dimples appear on his or her cheeks. Someone has failed to hear the high-pitched squeal of his or her friend’s "LOL" or been unable to enjoy the humor of actually watching someone "ROTFL." Human interaction is more than just acronyms; it stimulates all five of our senses while a text message only engages one.

As a journalist, these are the kinds of interactions and emotions that we look for in our sources. Unfortunately, it is now also everything Echo writers are losing through their email interviews. As the editor, I feel that it is my responsibility to combat this, but I’ve found that encouragement is not enough to motivate my writers to get off their email accounts and out the door. My next step is investing in digital voice recorders for the staff – a happy compromise. Writers must still meet face-to-face for an interview, but will have a reliable record or what was said in order to maintain accurate quotes.

As for my social life, I’m making a point of taking trips off of campus every weekend with my friends, even if it’s just to go grocery shopping together. I may also implement a new rule for some of my text-loving buddies – leave your cell phone on the table. First person to answer their phone has to buy dinner. Perhaps a little conniving, but it’s a way of making my point while still having fun.

Edward Murrow understood that technology was only as great as man made it; otherwise it became "merely wires and lights in a box." So as we enjoy our iPads, Kindles, HPs, and BlackBerrys, let us not forget that there is no real substitution for a proper conversation. Just because you can keep in touch entirely with technology, doesn’t mean you should. I encourage you to take some time this week and share a cup of coffee with a friend; you may just learn more about them in those 30-minutes than their Facebook profile has told you all year.

Read other articles by Nicole Jones

Instruct and Inspire

Samantha Strub
Class of 2013

After watching Good Night and Good Luck, I was saddened by Murrow’s startling words about the direction our nation is going if we do not challenge the intellectual minds of the public. I was shocked that Murrow was so adamant that if our nation continues to allow distraction and pleasure to govern our time, our comfortable and complacent lifestyle will collapse upon itself. I could not bring myself to believe Murrow’s words because it seemed depressing to me.

As I reflected on this, I was shocked that I was falling victim to the world of entertainment—not necessarily turning on the television, but turning on the radio or Pandora. I use the music as background sound to distract myself from the things around me. It is a distraction to have my headphones in and my attention focused on the screen in front of me. I hardly ever turn on the radio for an educational program; it’s all for a distraction. The screen in front of me goes with me everywhere. I always have an assignment to do, but more than likely, another tab will be up with Facebook or Twitter beckoning my attention, tempting me with the lure of pleasure, distraction and entertainment.

Then I got to thinking about Murrow’s words, "history is what we make of it." Take a moment and reflect on these powerful words. They made me think of the saying, "Life is what we make of it." People have goals for their lives. They know where they want to be and the wise ones plan and take actions to achieve those goals. They are making their life meaningful. Everyone will pursue a different approach to attain the end that they desire, but each approach involves action in order to succeed. No matter the profession, it involves action to achieve the desired end. If someone wants to become a nurse, they know they have to become a Clinical Medical Assistant, get a degree, complete practicums, and pass the final test. The same principle can be applied to someone who wants to be a teacher. Those who are studying education know they have to get a degree, complete internships and portfolios, and pass the final test. They know that it will be demanding and challenging, but they are willing to dedicate themselves to this course of action because of the desired end result.

Murrow wanted to inspire a nation into action. It might make people uncomfortable, but in order to create real change you have to encourage others and engage their intellectual abilities in order to motivate and inspire them to act. History is what we make of it—it is a call to action. What are you going to do? How will you change?

My response to this call was "ideas and information," a phrase which struck me numerous times in Murrow’s speech as he highlighted the importance of challenging the public with these concepts. My reflecting brought me to thinking about the profession that I have been pursuing for the past four years: teaching. I have been working toward attaining my degree in order to educate the minds of the youth. I have been striving for the education that will enable me to challenge the youth with "ideas and information." I was amazed with the connection between Murrow’s quest and my own. I want to instruct and inspire students. I want to instruct them in the wonders of English. I want to give them information. I want to challenge their thinking and push them onto higher-level thinking. I want to empower them to pursue their greatest potential. I want to inspire them into believing that they can do anything that they put their minds to. I want to inspire ideas in them and in turn, have their ideas inspire me.

I have felt the call to action that Murrow stressed without realizing it. I want to make people think and reflect. I want to call on the intellectual side of youth in the same way that Murrow called on the intellectual side of broadcasters and the general public. I want to challenge the youth with literature. I want to teach them life lessons through literature that will instruct and inspire them. I want to make the future generations think about the meaning of that literature and why it is important to them. I want to make literature practical and come alive for each and every student.

There is more to it than just feeling the call to action; it’s about following through. I was able to put this calling to challenge the minds of the youth into action through my internship. Hopefully this fall I will be able to put it into action even further with a full-time teaching job. As I assigned tests and quizzes to my student, I could tell that they were beginning to absorb the material I was teaching. It made my heart melt to grade my students’ work and have them complete it flawlessly. While it was important to see the positive results of my efforts, when my students fell short I felt a passionate desire to assist them in any way possible for them to succeed.

I know I challenged them because I would have deep intellectual conversations with my students about the literature topics discussed in class as well as topics that we never discussed in class. It was wonderful and reassuring to me to listen to the future of America think and reflect critically. There were always the students I had difficulty connecting with, and I felt the deep need to find a way to challenge them to reflect deeper on the concepts presented. That continual push to challenge my students intellectually is a constant challenge for me.

I know I inspired them because I would have long conversations about literature with certain students who wanted to read everything that they could get their hands on. If I recommended a book, they would return soon after with the book in their hands, wanting to discuss the first two chapters with me. Students were asking me for advice about situations both inside and outside of school. They came to me as a confidant. I know I made a positive impression on them because I have received emails from my students telling me how school is going, asking me about my classes, updating me on the topics they asked me for advice about and telling me how much they miss me. It is incredibly touching and a sign to me that I’m truly living out my calling to instruct and inspire.

It is wonderful and reassuring to know that I’m beginning my teaching career on a positive note; however, I’m nowhere close to being the perfect teacher. There is always something that I need to work on. I will continue to improve myself in order to better challenge, instruct and inspire my students to live up to their fullest potential and to, in the words of Murrow go out and "instruct and inspire with ideas and information."

Murrow’s analysis of technology is reflective of my aspirations to be a teacher; if we challenge ourselves and others by inspiring thought and knowledge, we can use the tools we are given to make a positive impact on the world.

Read other articles by Samantha Strub

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