"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Monday, August 2, 2010

"Futurism" is really faux academic discipline

Back in my high school years I heard that St. Cloud was projected to be on the western edge of "megalopolis." I haven't heard that term in years. Perhaps it has gone the way of "quadraphonic."
I gather that "megalopolis" sprang from futurism, a discipline that I don't think ever made it into the mainstream of academia. It has always sort of hovered out there. There are teachers who I'm sure have made a gig out of it. But it's arguably not about science because by definition it involves guesswork.
We're all futurists in a sense. We need to try to anticipate the future in order to adapt to it. But if we really knew where the future was taking us, we'd be there now! We were mesmerized by computers 20 years ago but those seem like caveman times now.
"Megalopolis" was the idea of a basically uninterrupted chain of development from the Midwest to the east coast. A continuous city.
We out here in Morris would be beyond its reach, and for that we could probably be thankful. UMM would continue to be known as that small "jewel in the crown" that gives young people a safe, quiet and relatively distraction-free setting in which to develop themselves.
Many people in metropolitan environs find Morris so refreshing. They send their children to UMM with peace of mind and they trumpet the strengths of our liberal arts institution.
I remember hearing about a visiting clinician for the UMM Jazz Festival who chose to walk back to his motel from a post-concert house party. Rides were readily available. He turned them down and just wanted to walk. He was from Houston, if I remember right, and he told people that where he lived, you could never take a leisurely stroll at night with a feeling of safety. He relished the idea of doing it here.
It's a classic story that should be filed away with Morris attributes.
The concept of "crime" in Morris goes littler further than being caught without your seat belt on. That's being turned into a real racket, I should note, but it will probably dissipate as the public gets steadily pissed. Which reminds me of how "public urination" used to be a charge frequently reported.
The urination annoyance goes back to when drinking in public was much more socially approved of than today. The beating down of social drinking has been one of the most significant phenomena of the last 40 years.
A social scientist appeared on C-Span once who did his research by watching old "Match Game" episodes. This was a daytime game show hosted through much of its heyday by the late Gene Rayburn, one of whose trademarks was the long microphone holder (like a long wand).
Rayburn engaged in vapid banter with contestants. It was typical TV fare in the 1970s like the Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson - TV fare you could consume without ever learning anything. But the social scientist found old episodes of The Match Game quite instructive.
The idea in this show, in case you're too young to remember, was to fill in the blank in a phrase and hope for matches from a panel. The manner in which people filled in the blanks said much about our culture, values and priorities at the time.
The scientist gave a fascinating example. Rayburn challenged his contestants with "half (blank)."
How would you fill that in? A contestant suggested "half drunk." Of course there was a smattering of laughter from the studio audience. Getting drunk was funny back then. Comedian Ray Stevens once put out an album called "Shriners Convention" that poked fun at what was probably the epitome of the alcohol-friendly culture. Not that Shriners weren't doing some wonderful things at the same time.
"Half (blank)". . .
The social scientist, upon hearing the "drunk" offering, was skeptical of how this contestant would fare.
"My reaction was, oh, that's a little odd, and I don't think anyone will match that."
His words were from a present-day perspective. But through the lens of the 1970s, "drunk" was quite the fashionable response. The contestant did well matching the panel.
Today the idea of finding entertainment by consuming alcohol has lost so much ground, it's stigmatized. I'm not sure the futurists could ever have predicted this direction.
I'm not sure futurists can ever really help us with their forecasts. What became of "megalopolis?"
Anyone familiar with St. Cloud knows that city has been through boom times. I don't think anything can stop it, not a bridge replacement (which they've been through) or a severe recession. I attended college there when the pocket calculator was considered the epitome of tech advancement.
The campus had what I thought was a wonderful library (called the Learning Resources Center or LRC), but it has since been replaced by what I would call The Mother of all Libraries. I observed it when I was back for Homecoming in 2006.
I don't think SCSU promotes Homecoming too vigorously because they practically have to call out the National Guard the way it is, such is the reputation for ebullience shown by the student body for that annual calendar highlight.
I learned that the old library (or LRC) had been remodeled to house the business school.
The irony is that college libraries, once considered a prime reason why we needed so many educational institutions dotting the landscape, are headed to obsolescence. The online world is taking over. We would all benefit by just stepping aside and letting it take over to fulfill its obvious destiny, and to benefit society and our economy.
But there are legacy interests that are going to stand in the way for a long time. What will become of these college libraries if they fade into obsolescence? Perhaps they could be converted into indoor miniature golf courses.
But seriously, there will be advocates for the old legacy models, people with a vested financial interest in trying to perpetuate those models, who are going to cause trouble, like a dog tugging at your pants legs.
Our established body of copyright law is like that. Copyright law isn't suited at all for the new era we're into. "Copyright" should be pretty well restricted to works that have true creative merit and not spread around to basic information sharing.
Of course, lawyers have to make a living. The young digital generation of today will likely insist on a loosening of those laws, if you'll permit me to be a futurist.
St. Cloud State is the opposite of UMM in so many respects. It has no reservations about striving to be big. Or about trying, really, to be all things to all people.
Whereas, UMM has seen its confined size as a virtue, giving students a greater sense of identity and likely greater attention.
I remember a retiring UMM professor who spoke at commencement and seemed to me to take a slap at state colleges (or universities), not with naming them but by (to me) clear implication. His theme was that UMM put quality over quantity.
I don't doubt that the University of Minnesota-Morris does that, and it's something to trumpet, no doubt. But St. Cloud State would argue that it provides "opportunity." You venture into a discipline and the door is open for the proper enrichment and a degree that can hopefully open doors, but the initiative is largely up to you. You have to take the reins. Go ahead and be a self-starter.
St. Cloud State has produced countless grads who have exemplary resumes from their adult lives. But there is a popular put-down of that school as being lowbrow and party-oriented. I remember a former UMM chancellor who voiced that stereotype. I don't blame him because he's an advocate for UMM.
But stereotypes are just that - superficial and sometimes harsh.
I'm sure there are far fewer bars within easy walking distance of the SCSU campus today (than when I was there, and how would I be so knowledgeable about this topic?).
Our culture has changed but SCSU students, I'm sure, are still fun-loving.
What shape will our colleges and youth culture have in the future as the digital frontier advances? I truly suspect that the changes would be massive, even threatening the very existence of campuses as we've known them.
But I can't be sure. Futurism is never exact. It's like throwing darts. Especially at the end of celebrating an SCSU Homecoming.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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