Tag Archives: campus

End of summer and the return of blogging

September 7, 2014

Last week, the summer’s quiet campus was once again flush with students. Detroit Public Schools resumed session. It’s been a weird one — lots of news, lots of strife — but no matter how busy, it was like any summer vacation. Its quick months were a lacuna, a dip into the odd vacuous beach-bound calm between more challenging seasons.

As students return to school, bloggers are suddenly returning to blogs, according to Jason Kottke, veteran collector of great things on his eponymous site. Since the late aughts, the popularity of the humble custom-domain, single-author personal weblog has been dwindling. More bloggers let their individual sites lapse, too overwhelmed with high mandatory daily post counts at their journalism day jobs to share any leftover deep thoughts of their own.

These outlets were superseded by easier and faster ways to express oneself — and to stay in touch with people outside a blogroll or dedicated internet community. Status updates on Facebook, microblogging on Tumblr, and twittering without end allowed users to let all the people they sort of knew in high school see what they ate for lunch. Pictures of such things that once illustrated and beautified blog posts were diverted to Instagram, filtered to look like old polaroids. The context of those images, beyond maybe a brief caption or hashtag, was forfeited with no room for reflection. Of course tweets have to link somewhere sometimes, but for the average person, blogging no longer reigns as the publishing platform of choice, despite the stupid ease of creating one. How many businesses propagate just fine with little more than a Facebook page to announce their newest wares?

Even the subject matter of personal blogs, which had been as predictably diverse as the internet itself, seemed to undergo reduction. Bloggers dove into their niches as the variability in scope of personal, journal-like blogs focused neatly down to single topics that afforded their endeavors a previously unnecessary legitimacy and cohesion. This resulted in a seeming increase in the number of blogs relating to wholesome cookery, the writing life, natural wellness, free-range parenting, and organic gardening, in blogs celebrating other slow and deliberate lifestyles. Like, for goodness’ sake, the simple act of walking.

RSS readers that aggregated all the disparate blog content died, or were euthanized. Google ended the long run of its beloved Reader last summer, perhaps, some speculated, in an effort to direct more traffic toward Google+. While others rushed in to fill the gap, the gesture left naked a general perception of the blog’s outmodedness. Personal blogs were disconnected, narcissistic, self-absorbed — kind of how people felt about the vapid Facebook statuses and tweets that emerged from initial adoption of those services. Maintaining a personal blog has increasingly seemed to be an antiquated means of self-publishing content in hopes of having one’s writing appear on professionally-edited multi-user blogs, or of cataloging these articles published elsewhere.

What link can be found between walking and blogging? It almost comes off as an updated version of the classic question on the connection between walking and writing. In a rapid culture, both blogging and walking have fallen behind the times. Walking is too slow; bicycling is rallied around, romanticized, and even fetishized in bike porn. Blogs are too cumbersome and isolated; social media sharing is the way to make friends and influence people — not to mention gain a readership that pays the bills. Blogging parallels walking as something that is more about process and journey than about product and destination. Blogs provide something other than a static portfolio of finished work, about as interactive and interesting as driving through a neighborhood with the windows up — and just as common.

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As writers return to their individual blogs, they’re doing so in an adventurous manner that has for centuries lent walking some appeal. Without the map of familiar, permissible topics, the mind can meander. Instead of the “usual writerly purview” of tech, media, and finance, Elizabeth Spiers, journalist and founding editor of Gawker, grants herself freedom to write on “Anything I Care About” in a thirty-day experiment to see whether she even likes blogging anymore. As walking lets the mind rest and ramble and redefine neural pathways, this relaxation of publishing rules presages benefits beyond the blogosphere.

Both practices make room for deeper thinking and conveying those thoughts in influential ways. Facebook and Twitter can feel like sprinting through an eternal marathon — euphoric at times, but draining. A body can only refuel on so many half-bananas before it needs a substantial break. As Lockhart Steele, founder of Curbed and Eater, wrote in his return-to-blogging post, “Can blogging — Jesus fuck, blogging! — still open unseen doors? Seems highly unlikely.” But why not?

What’s exciting about this sudden enthusiasm for the return of self-hosted writers and their communities is its implications for the internet in the age of net neutrality. These personal domains will be part of the slow internet, while social media giants will have preferred status — faster to access, faster to use, and faster to consume.

A return to blogging, and to walking, looks less to the past than to the future. If not an intentional and meaningful gesture, breaking away from big media sites is still a timely vote in how we want the internet — and the world — to be. Full of people freely walking, and people freely writing on blogs.

Back-to-school walking reading from the New Yorker:
“Heaven’s Gaits — What we do when we walk” by Adam Gopnik
“Why Walking Helps Us Think” by Ferris Jabr

SAFEWALK your way around campus

November 6, 2013

Addressing Wayne State after the death last week of a law student whose body was found near the Packard Plant after being transported there from campus, university president M. Roy Wilson said:

Most people feel very safe walking around our campus. However, even if you do not feel threatened, you should still exercise caution, and consider taking advantage of our Safe Walk program, particularly if you are alone after dark. Call 313-577-2222, and officers will either monitor you on camera until you reach your car or your campus destination, or escort you personally.

Who knew? As it turns out, this useful and undoubtedly well-intended program has existed for eight years, the “most underutilized service” offered by the Wayne State police, according to Lieutenant Scott, who monitors crime statistics and sends out the monthly CAMPUSWATCH email.

The program is simple: call the Wayne State police, let them know where you are and where you’re going. Depending on location and availibility, either a cadet will come to escort you on foot, or, if no cadets are available, a uniformed officer in a marked car will come drive very slowly behind you until you arrive safely at your destination. “Official policy is, we’re supposed to watch you walk,” Lieutenant Scott explained, and usually they do. “Unofficial policy is, hop in the car and we’ll take you where you need to go.” With some places on campus “it can take some time, you know, to watch you walk.” That’s why, he said, driving is easier. “It frees us up faster, but it’s basically whatever you want.”

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If nobody knows about the program, who uses it? Since the reminder after the law student’s death last week, pedestrians have requested about seventy SAFEWALKs. To how this compares to averages for the program, Scott responded that they don’t really keep track of numbers for it, or a breakdown of student versus faculty use. “People need us, we’re there for them. That’s what we really care about,” he said candidly. Being there for people is more challenging than it sounds. One of the most frustrating reasons for low awareness is that the police just can’t get the word out. “We used to talk to each incoming freshman class during orientation, but in the past few years they won’t let us. Some upper-level administrator decided that students didn’t have time.” The priorities set for students are questionable if time can’t be made for a quick presentation on campus safety at a university like Wayne State.

Retracing our steps to the means of monitoring pedestrians, the omnipresent cameras mentioned in Wilson’s statement may not be as creepy as they sound. The use of cameras isn’t actually very common, and depends on where you are and where you’re going — and in how much of a hurry you are to get there, another officer added wryly. “In some cases, we can follow with PTZ — pan-tilt-zoom — cameras, but we don’t say we can watch you walk on camera if we can’t see you all the way there, if there is any kind of obstruction.” Due to incomplete visual coverage of campus, most service is rendered in person.

If officers can watch students and faculty walk around campus, can they not also watch those who might be preying on them? Sometimes, but not always, Scott said, sidestepping the matter of the camera feed’s helpfulness in preventing crime or identifying criminals. Whatever their use, the department is vying for more cameras, and perhaps more usefully, more awareness in the university community.

It would be nice to see this program publicized, even just with some information posted on the Wayne State police department site. It would be better yet to have it expanded to something a little less onerous, less stigmatized, less wholly motivated by grim fear. Calling to get a walking buddy on campus is a fine idea, but less so if the buddy pads along behind you on four wheels, weighing a few tons and taking up the entire sidewalk. A volunteer-based campus walking network could help students meet and relate to one another, all while taking a fresh air study break. That, or give criminals an easier way to nab five iPhones at once.

The season

October 21, 2013

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It seemed like maybe a homeless person resting in this improbable spot of sun-soaked fabric. Who sets up a nametag on the sidewalk while they sleep? Inspecting closer, more likely a bake sale gone under. Spilled words, small crumbs.

In your own backyard

January 22, 2013

It’s easy to read stories about bad things happening elsewhere, to other people, and dismiss their purported improbability. Really, the dangers of walking and texting resulting in a disfiguring accident?, you think as you stumble along. Surely not for me.

Here is a courageous and humbling account from Wayne State University professor Geoffrey Nathan of his walking injury earlier this winter. It can happen to you, too, pretty much right in your own backyard. Perhaps even on your own concrete planter.

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“But the ‘take-home’ is very simply–don’t text and walk. It’s dangerous. I could have been badly hurt, not just ‘defaced’.

End of lesson for today.”

Read the rest of “Don’t walk while texting (or emailing or browsing…)” and proceed with caution!