The American tradition of new tradition

Posted on March 16, 2009

What constitutes an American tradition? It probably depends on who you ask. When I think of traditions of this country, I think of baseball, apple pie, and freedom (not necessarily in that order ... ). Holiday traditions in the U.S. are a little easier to define, only because they are recognized by a large number of people who live here. Religious traditions can be seen in the same vain, although few religions were actually created in this country. Tradition can be defined as "an inherited pattern of thought or action." But let's take a step back and ask: Does tradition, especially when it comes to daily activities and technology, even exist in America?

Our buddy Neil Postman believes that technology, by and large, ruins American tradition. He believes that computers, etc., erodes societal thought and communication for various reasons. As Bill mentioned in class, it makes sense for a newspaper journalist to consider the computers-taking-over-the-world mentality and be somewhat worried that if real-time information is available online, that could cause issues. But what is this "tradition" he speaks of?

Back in the 1700s, guys would sit around a bar and discuss life, liberty, and the pursuit of girls, I mean, happiness. Times were different then, of course, and males in general had to keep up with local news, in case the Brits decided to search their abodes for no apparent reason. The outrage among our colonists eventually led to a united front against the motherland, but it's important to remember that society was seen more community- or family-based because it was difficult to communicate with people more than a few miles away. Sure, you could mail a letter or take a voyage or trek to the other part of the territory, but most people were relegated to conversing with people they were physically standing or living next to, not the entire country or world.

As the years have progressed, we have seen numerous changes to this, and the result has become a more global society. This does not mean that an average American knows all world events, but a person has almost an equal opportunity to find out about events in China as he/she does to find out about a yard sale in his neighborhood. While I hesitate to believe this automatically creates a global society, it does lend itself in allowing for one. But with the amount of information, culture, and sheer population, can everyone ultimately be a part of one big society?

Specifically with respect to computers, I think this is where Postman and Roszak are a little off with their conclusions. I completely agree with Postman's postulate that no arguments are really finished, and it would be ideal for students to be able to pursue some of the "master" ideas with the same passion as those who founded our country (Postman, p. 134). What is in dispute, though, is the wherewithal to accomplish these quests for knowledge, because oftentimes, the answers lie outside of the range of a local knowledge base. Wouldn't it make more sense for students who want to obtain opinions about major issues to be able to do so over boundaries of distance? If this is true, and the students can communicate and research via the Internet, they would need the capabilities to do this, not just a teacher blindly turning on a computer and saying "have at it."

Roszak makes mention in his introduction that some people have a problem being able to distinguish between culture and computer (Roszak, p. xxi). But isn't it possible for these things to be the same, under certain circumstances? Some people snail mail birthday cards to friends and family, but with the advent of social networking sites, more people are substituting paper for online communication. Therefore, the long-standing tradition of celebrating each other's birthdays has changed a bit, whether good or bad.

If I had to define one aspect of American tradition, it would be that people want the latest and greatest ... not whatever existed in the past. I think Postman would agree with this, especially considering his slogan for the god of Consumership: "Whoever dies with the most toys wins" (Postman, p. 33). It is rather sad to me that people would prefer to throw away something that might still have a reasonable function in favor of a gadget that has a handful of new tricks. The Apple iPhone is great example of this. What does a cell phone need to do besides make phone calls? It is nice to be able to look up nearby restaurants and receive directions instantaneously. Am I losing a part of my life because the cell phone I have is three years old?

Computers, software, and websites in general are the same way. Five years ago, hardly anyone knew about Facebook. Five years from now, I assume it will still exist, but it won't be the "new" thing. Google has survived essentially because the company has thrown so much money into staying well in front of its competition. Will it always stay that way? Right now, Google has exactly what people want: information as fast as possible. But Rosak eludes to a future dilemma; can there be too much information? I suppose I should wait until the next post to explore this further.



Do you think that Google also survives because it's one of the easiest (and probably most used) ways to find out about the latest and greatest? Not to mention if you're interested in what has just come out you can find out a lot more info about it (I guess this is similar to the piece Bill posted about the guy waiting for issues of MacWorld to hit the stands).

As for the iPhone, I don't think a cell phone needs to serve functions other than being able to receive and make calls. However, if you're someone who has a GPS, laptop, cell phone, camera, and iPod with you most of the time, the iPhone is a multitasking tool that allows you to carry one thing and gives you the (albeit limited) ability of five things.

Wed, 03/25/2009 - 18:49 Permalink