Thursday, October 12, 2006

Picture: Less than or equal to 1000 words

The Master's I'm pursuing is in Information Design, which is the compact way of saying, "technical and professional communication, recognizing that this can no longer be limited to writing for print, and therefore encompassing the informed utilization of multimedia, including the Internet and World Wide Web." It's a mouthful, isn't it? You can see why we professional communicators prefer "Information Design."

What this actually means to my studies is that every time I turn around, somebody is talking to me about how writing for the web is different from writing for print.

For example, the first paragraph of this blog post is too long for online readers. Sorry. You gave up halfway through, and have already clicked elsewhere.

This morning, I was on my way to work, driving my little car and thinking about what a perfect day it is, crystal blue sky, crisply cool air, warming sunshine, low traffic during fall break for local schools; and I passed the scene of an accident, SUV and sedan, the sedan all spun around and facing the wrong way on the shoulder of the fast lane, ambulance in attendance, cop lights spinning. I thought about how easily someone can jerk a wheel, startled by another vehicle coming by too closely, dance a little too far into the next lane, and strike another car. At freeway speeds, no impact is small, and you're the best kind of driver and can see 360 degrees at all times, having had just enough coffee and not too much hangover, and you still can't guarantee yours won't be the car that's hit. You can't avoid every accident.

According to the CDC, "More than 41,000 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes each year, and crash injuries result in about 500,000 hospitalizations and four million emergency department visits annually" (, accessed Oct. 12, 2006).

And yet, people drive longer and longer distances to work and home each day. People spend more and more time in their cars, in traffic, than ever before. And why? Mostly because it's cheaper for businesses and homebuilders to build on open, undeveloped land than to rebuild on developed land, and where your future boss puts his business doesn't relate in any concrete way to where your builder decides to offer your future home. It's all completely meaningless, except for the fact that you need a place to live, and you need money to pay for it. For that, you put your teensy little car on the road with giant tractor-trailers at 80 miles per hour each morning, and you swear to your heart's content at the people on cell phones with electric razors and makeup kits and bowls of cereal at the wheel, and you try to see 360 degrees around at all times, even through that B-pillar that blocks your view and makes you blind.

I tell myself it's worth it, and I get to work safely, and it's a gorgeous day, and I start thinking about writing a blog entry, but I can't decide which to write about: car accidents, my car, the beautiful day, the way I woke up this morning to the sound of a neighborhood-wide broadcast of a high-pitched tone and the electronically-spoken words, "FIRE! FIRE! LEAVE IMMEDIATELY!" And I think about the letters I used to write to my friend Luther.

In 1999, my friend Luther spent six months in Kuwait. I had only recently "met" him, playing an online game with him and several other people in various locations at odd ours of the day and night. He was a Master Sergeant in the United States Air Force, married, with two children he clearly adored. I didn't know how to spell "sergeant," and I didn't know where Georgia was.

Luther was smart, and he had very traditional manners of a type that seemed old-fashioned to me, but he was also coarse and flirtatious and funny, and just plain foreign to this Canadian hippy-raised forever-single forever-childless city girl. I liked him and decided we would always be friends. And when he was sent to Kuwait and asked for mail, I sent mail, about anything and everything. On the streetcar, at work in the middle of a long take of another boring shot of some show or another, at home waiting for the pizza and pasta delivery from Ciccio's, at Ted's Collision bar drinking with friends, I scribbled notes about my world onto scraps of paper, and then I'd put them together into long, rambling letters that wound up painting a picture that was far more of me than of the city I'd been trying to explain.

They were good letters. I enjoyed writing them. I saw more of my city and my life, in those six months, than I'd been seeing for a long while.

This blogging thing, this is a little attempt at that awareness. Of that joy in who I am and what I love (and hate) about the world around me. And most of the blogs I visit regularly are something of the same, whether the entries are short or long, business or personal.

It's like the whole blogging thing defies the conventions. This paragraph is too long. I've used too many descriptive words. Punctuation is harder to see on-screen. I need to use headings and subheadings. People find it too difficult to read long blocks of text off a computer monitor. The resolution is too low, and the light is harsh. I'm sure it's true: It says so, right here in all three text books for this semester's class. I know it's true.

But I found the car accident interesting. And it's a gorgeous day. I liked writing long letters to my friend Luther, and letting him decide whether or not to make the effort to read them.


jason evans said...

I didn't find the paragraphs too long or too descriptive over over-punctuated. But I suppose I'm just weird that way. When you said:

This blogging thing, this is a little attempt at that awareness. Of that joy in who I am and what I love (and hate) about the world around me. And most of the blogs I visit regularly are something of the same, whether the entries are short or long, business or personal.

you were so very right. A blog can be a window into a person unlike any other, and I enjoyed this glimpse into your mind. With each post, we understand each other a little more.

bekbek said...

Jason, thanks. I figured I wasn't alone! It's wonderful to feel the flavor of others' lives. The thing that is often missed in studies about online versus print writing is this: If the medium is more immediate, the writing can also be so.

And can touch us, more immediately.

That has to be worth noting, though it may also be fleeting by nature.

jason evans said...

There is link to "Following My Fish" on my blogroll. One of the authors of the site was Jenn See. She died a few months ago of an aneurysm. Completely unforeseen. She was very young (I want to say 24 or 26).

Although I did not know her well, it hit me pretty hard. One person I was sharing this with went to the blog and remarked how it seemed like it was still breathing. We don't realize, I think, just how dynamic these blogs are. Even though we knew she was gone, there was an immediacy (and permanence) to the posts which only became clear when we realized she would never speak again.

We record lives here, and I learned that the assumption that I am sitting here, a real person, and will post on my blog again, isn't why the posts seem so personal. That element is recorded for all to experience whether I'm here tomorrow or not.