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[sixth blog, travel course, Concordia University-Texas]

State Department Historian Mark Howe brought up something quite interesting in his session with us on Thursday. He discussed how the federal government’s archiving system will have to figure out how to archive new forms of media—specifically email and social media. I’d never considered this before.

People are known to demonize new technologies. They may be rightfully skeptical of how a new technology will take the place of what they have now—if it will improve current technology or fail, and how. Howe said, for example, that historians demonized the telegram when it replaced hand-written letters; they didn’t know if and how to archive messages sent via telegram. Howe also noted that historians later demonized radio, television, and the internet for the same reasons.

Some people in business—as well as historians and society at large—are demonizing email and social media because we haven’t developed a sound, definite, consistent methodology explaining how to communicate/document/archive information. However, the massive shift from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 is something we can no longer speculate about. It’s definite. The shift has already occurred. It’s therefore imperative for businesses of all types to embrace email and social media—after all, this type of shift in communication has happened time after time in history. From the Pony Express to telegrams, from radio to YouTube, it’s clear we’re capable of adjusting the way our businesses and agencies communicate to reflect the latest technology.

For historians, this may include a new software program or email plug-in that automatically archives valuable email threads. Email or comment threads may become valuable archived materials in 50, 30, or even 10 years. Those doing research on Barack Obama’s presidency in 2050 may be reading instant messaging records at the National Archives. We must not consider this “ridiculous” or “inefficient;” it’s a completely logical possibility. Perhaps the technology is too new for us to imagine this—especially since there’s not a traditional system for archiving text messages, chat sessions, emails, and Facebook comments.

It would be foolish for us to, at any point in our lives, become resistant to change and adjustment.

You can view some of my favorite photos from the trip on my photoblog.

[fifth blog, travel course, Concordia University-Texas]

Does the Newseum accomplish its goal to enable visitors to learn the role of media and understand the rights and responsibilities that come with the freedom of expression?

I believe the Newseum accomplishes its goal with ease. The mere subject matter of the Newseum communicated this point.

The gallery of Pulitzer Prize-winning photos reminded me how valuable images and stories from the “ground zero” of a story are to someone learning the truth of what actually happened. For example, one photo showed American soldiers guarding a Vietnamese highway as thick smoke billowed over the road. A naked Vietnamese child ran toward the camera; the photographer recalled her screaming, in Vietnamese, “it’s so hot!” Her clothes were burned off by napalm gas.

While some may deem the photo inappropriate for public media in America, it’s quite obvious that the photo was a valuable educational tool. I stood in front of it imagining myself, standing on that highway, seeing a girl who’d had her clothes burned off by napalm and thought, “God, this is what war is like.”

This is why freedom of the press is important. It (ideally) communicates truth and contributes positively to the collective intelligence of a society. We have the right to know the truth, and the responsibility to communicate it accurately, without bias. This is the message I got from the Newseum in the first ten minutes of my visit.

What Newseum exhibit takes you offguard/doesn’t seem to fit in with communication at first glance?

Actually, the giant piece of the Berlin Wall didn’t seem to fit in at first glance. I soon realized, though, that I was viewing it through a historical lens instead of thinking of how it related to communication. As soon as I began to read the Newseum’s detailed description of communication during the division of Berlin, I understood why it was in the Newseum instead of the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

Freedom of the press is, I think, a completely positive concept for a society. In fact, I have a hard time understanding how anyone could argue against it without glorifying the potential perversion of truth. The truth is what mass media—in the journalistic sector, not in entertainment—is devoted to presenting. Who wishes World News Tonight’s Charles Gibson would let the government review and edit his material before reporting it to the public?

You can view some of my favorite photos from the trip on my photoblog.

West Texas is quite bizarre.

An eclectic blend of sprawling cattle ranches, quirky railroad towns, and wide-open desert, Texas west of the Pecos River is starkly different than every other part of the state.

Particularly bizarre is Loving County, Texas– the least populated county in the entire United States. Loving County is home to roughly 70 people (rounded up from the official 2000 figure of 67), 15 of which populate the county seat of Mentone. There aren’t many people there. Imagining a small community of people living in the blazing Chihuahuan Desert is pretty easy. Imagining the practicalities of running a county here– government, public works, a school system– is a little mind-boggling.

As you may have hypothesized, normal aspects of civilized, American life like buying groceries and, well, taking a hot shower are very different in Loving County. This blog, unfortunately, is mostly reporting facts– but honestly, I find the facts interesting enough to allow them to speak for themselves. Here are some “Lovely” facts about the desolate community:

  • In 1930 the population of Loving County was a bustling 600. In 1950, the number had dwindled to 225. In 1970 the population had fallen to 73, all Caucasian. After a brief peak in 1980 to 100 residents, the number has dropped steadily.
  • The county closed its school system in 1972, when just two students were enrolled. Students were transferred to Winkler County’s school system, a short 35-mile drive away.
  • A survey of the 1980 population discovered that only four county residents were college graduates.
  • In the summer of 1988 Loving County piped drinking water to a 500-gallon tank in Mentone for use by residents– the first time drinkable water was actually piped in.
  • Also in 1988, petroleum gave the small population of Loving County the highest per-capita income of all US counties– $34,173. Not bad for a county whose county seat was abandoned twice.
  • The county seat, Mentone, used to boast a whopping five cafes and five gas stations in its heyday. The small community now comprises of a courthouse, two stop signs, a gas station, a post office, and a cafe. Oh, and that 500-gallon water tank.

Having grown up in a large city, it’s fascinating for me to imagine a county in which sherrifs only thirty years ago didn’t carry a gun since they knew everyone in the county. Also, Loving County doesn’t have a grocery store. Or a medical facility. Or a bank. Or a library. Of course, 75 percent of the world doesn’t have these amenities. But Loving County is in Texas, just six hours from Austin– which changes my perception.

With so many people migrating to urban areas to live and work, you have to wonder what will become of Loving County in the next 50 years. Keep in mind Mentone was abandoned twice in the 1900s. If the oil the county is floating on runs dry, it could happen again. But what would the state do if people abandoned the place, or if it was no longer capable of producing a county-level government? Would they de-activate Loving County and divide its land to the adjacent Reeves County or Winkler County? Counties just don’t lose their people every day. Perhaps Loving County should be put on the “endangered species” list.

I’d like to take a road trip through West Texas soon and visit such bizarre attractions as the Marfa Lights (http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Marfa_lights), Wink Sinks (http://ceed.utpb.edu/the-wink-sinks-project/about-the-wink-sinks/), and the incredibly tiny town of Mentone (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mentone,_Texas).

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