Posted by: nickgerlich | April 22, 2008

Sunrise, Sunset

On stage and screen, Tevye proclaimed in heavily-accented English, “Without tradition we are as shaky as…a fiddler on the roof.” The setting was tsarist Russia in 1905, and Tevye was about to face challenges to the traditions of his people.

Today, we would rephrase this to say, “With tradition, we are as shaky as…an IBM 486 on dial-up.”

If anything, E-Society really has only one tradition: and that is we have no traditions. Nothing sticks long enough to have real staying power. Just ask the makers of fax machines: 80s marvel, 90s necessity, 21C dumpster toss.

CD-ROMI remember back to 1999. It was the fall semester, and I was teaching the Principles of Marketing course “on the ground,” an euphemism we use for traditional classroom. It came time for everyone to submit their group projects. The groups came forward at the end of class, with each bringing their neat and tidy little binders full of laser-printed documents. Except for one group.

They proudly submitted a CD-ROM. And with that, they became the first students to ever submit their work on CD in any of my classes. I still have that CD somewhere. And I know that the lead person in that group went on to start a web design business.

With that one innocent act, the owls of Oregon heaved another sigh of relief. It was Earth Day writ large, and their trees were safe for a while longer.

So here we are, almost nine years later, and we seldom if ever refer to it as a “term paper” because there is no paper involved. Furthermore, fewer and fewer of my students are turning in their projects on CDs, opting instead to just email it or upload into the Drop Box. Who needs the physical deliverable, when a digital copy will suffice?

I have to agree, although I still wince when I recall paying $600 for my first external CD burner in 1999. They are now a cheap component included in every new computer…except the Mac Book Air, which looks like it may be reinforcing this trend away from discs.

In E- Society, there is no time to have traditions, for to do so signifies you are sitting back. Pulled off at the rest stop of life. A spectator to the fast lane.

Tevye would have a hard time living 103 years later. It was bad enough that he had a lame horse, and had to man-haul his cart through the mud. Delivering the milk was an unenviable job for a poor Russian Jew, but it was certainly made worse because his “technology” didn’t work and he couldn’t afford anything else.

So while that fiddler was a metaphor of survival and tradition, I think he would be playing a very different tune today. And, of course, we would just download it for 99 cents at iTunes and tell our one-man-band to go back to school. The revolution is already happening.

Dr “To Life!” Gerlich


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