I’m back—not that I ever went away. Summer was too short, as always. I took a few breaks from the routine for my mental and physical health. I still ended up with pneumonia, but the commonplace is that you tend to get sick after letting go a little. Apparently, that’s when the body gives permission to stop stressing. Pausing on this blog was one of those temporarily relaxed activities.
A few weeks ago, a colleague asked me if I was going to return to writing the blog. She said she always liked hearing what was “happening from Fort Knox.” Amusing. I suppose it must look like Fort Knox from beyond my office walls, although often it feels more like the Alamo. But her remarks underscore the persistent importance of communication. It’s a tired observation, I know, but you can’t ever say, explain, or be transparent enough. It’s always true when you’re teaching, but the truism also extends to colleagues, staff, and faculty. It’s too easy to think people know what you’re thinking or have a clue about where you’re coming from, but here, inside the Fort, it is also easy to forget that they don’t. Things are not as bad as they were for the poor, hapless J. Alfred Prufrock who lamented about it being impossible to say just what he meant. But one should be mindful of the need to communicate about what’s on the go as often as possible. A blogspace is one such opportunity to do so.
On the subject of communication, I wish to boast that Memorial has become a founding partner of a non-profit journalism site, TheConversation.com. Check it out. Last year, a couple of enterprising faculty members at UBC pitched the idea of national media outlet for scholars and academics to the funding agency, SSHRC, and happily received $200,000 and a green light. They then pitched, in turn, to Canadian universities to sign up as major supporting partners of this initiative. This was an offer about which I had no hesitation. The Conversation, as the platform is called, speaks directly to my personal commitment to the value of knowledge translation. I had already been following notices from the UK site, pursuing items of interest written by UK-based academics as they fell across my screen. The Conversation actually began as a network in Australia in 2011, and has been spreading to national sites across the globe ever since. It was time Canada stepped up.
It’s a hugely attractive model. The published pieces span the whole spectrum of research topics and appear on each country’s website, but a Creative Commons license makes them available at no cost for anyone to read or reproduce. The creators of the site claim that in other countries where the site has been in operation for a few years almost 80% of the audience is actually non-academic. There’s a deep hunger in our society for clear, articulate communication of complex issues. Perhaps no further proof of this was evident just last week when homeboy and well-known author and journalist Gwynn Dyer came to town to deliver the J.K. Galbraith Lecture. Organizers had initially booked a modestly sized recital hall in the music building, but when tickets started flying off the screen they realized they had to increase the capacity. Dyer ultimately delivered his spiel to over 900 people at the St. John’s Convention Centre, surely a sign of the public’s insatiable appetite for digestible insight and commentary on our sorry world’s state of affairs.
The Conversation is surely a project for 21st century educators. If you are working on a theme or subject you think the public should know about, this “exploratory journalism” site offers the fastest, most elegant way of disseminating your findings. If you go to the site right now you will see a feature article on the fabulous new HBO show, The Deuce, titled “Porn, Nostalgia, and Late Capitalism.” You don’t have to be a film studies scholar to follow the essay, and you will be deliciously tempted to watch the show if you haven’t already done so. Just scroll down the list of contemporary topics all written by Canadian academics. For me, the whole concept is a dream come true. And bravo to SSHRC for supporting this project. It’s exactly what they’ve been urging scholars in Canada to do: communicate widely and clearly with the Canadian reading public.
As the founding directors make clear, the timing of The Conversation could not be better. Print media is struggling to survive, the public broadcaster is working through its own contradictions as both a source of enlightened commentary and a destination for entertainment, and the public is starved for intelligent conversation. The Conversation covers every possible discipline and topic on the intelligence spectrum, and so there’s no excuse for not participating, as a reader or as a contributor. I would really love it if Memorial students and staff started to populate the site with articles on whatever they are passionate about and actively working on.
Please take a few seconds and go directly to TheConversation.com and sign up. It costs you nothing and you will get a useful, daily update on what’s new on the site. There is almost always something I want to follow up on. Getting those daily alerts is so much more satisfying than the ones that keep annoying me from booking.com. Memorial helped make The Conversation happen. Now we have to ensure it thrives.