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Ted Koppel Remarks at UMass commencement

Ted Koppel Remarks at UMass commencement

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Published by Patrick Johnson
Newsman Ted Koppel's prepared remarks to graduates at the University of Massachusetts - Amherst on May 11, 2012
Newsman Ted Koppel's prepared remarks to graduates at the University of Massachusetts - Amherst on May 11, 2012

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Published by: Patrick Johnson on May 11, 2012
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05/23/2012

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UMass Amherst Commencement remarks by Ted Koppel
May 11, 2012
It’s a rather quaint tradition, isn’t it?
We all dress up in medieval scholastic robes withtheir ecclesiastical overtones. The speaker struggles to say something memorable.Everyone else struggles to stay awake. The simultaneous attainment of these twogoals is pathetically rare.Why even bother?The University could certainly have emailed your diplomas; and those of younostalgic for crowds could have assembled as a flash mob. As for your families:
Think of the money they could have saved on travel expenses if you’d simpl
y
“friended” them on Facebook.
Ah yes, your commencement address: If scleroticdictators can be overthrown by messages of 140 characters or fewer, surely I shouldhave been able to Tweet something adequate your way.
But I won’t. It will surprise few if any of you to learn that I don’t Tweet and that Ihave, thus far, resisted all efforts to “friend” or be “friended.”
Indeed, some events still need to be celebrated in person; with all the outdated
 pageantry, the tedious speeches, and even the unnecessary expense. What you’ve
done
 – 
all of you
 – 
 
those of you who’ve earned degrees, those who taught and
mentored you, and those who encouraged, supported and in many instances paid foryou to attend this great university; the accretion of hundreds of singular moments of achievement deserves this communal celebration. It should still be experienced in realtime, without being accelerated, freeze dried and miniaturized.Even over the relatively brief span of my life-time, I have seen the telephone evolvetechnologically from a rotary dial system, on which long-distance phone calls had tobe placed through an operator, to this
 – 
(HOLD UP Iphone). (I am not, as you mightimagine, big on Apps.) Still, I get it. You cannot spend a lifetime in radio andtelevision, and not appreciate the value of instant, near-universal communication.But it is both the blessing and curse of our time that media have never been equippedfor greater speed and universal reach than now. Speed, you see, is often the enemy of accuracy and clarity.I suppose that what disturbs my 20
th
century ethos most is the noise; the sheer bulk of occasionally meaningful but mostly meaningless messages that constitute the life-blood of these proliferating social media. Billions upon billions of Tweets and textmessages, most so lacking in substance that it is difficult to imagine any impact if they were all vaporized tomorrow.The new media clearly enable information to be transmitted more widely andefficiently than ever before. But all media are either validated or trivialized by thecontent of the messages they convey. Media are, after all, only tools for conveyinginformation. Whether or not a chimpanzee, endlessly pounding on a typewriter, willeventually produce
Macbeth, is beside the point. The typewriter doesn’t care.
Pen and
 
paper are indifferent to the words that are inscribed by one on the other. Twitter is notcapable of formulating an agenda.But here it is: the democratization of journalism. And somewhat belatedly, some of us
are recalling that the Founding Fathers weren’t all that enamored of pure democracy,
when they were crafting what would become our system of government.We would, after all, elect people to represent us in
doing the nation’s business.
Andthen, of course, there was the judiciary; and what came to be called the Fourth Estate
 – 
the press. Checks and balances! Representational government!
 – 
not democracy, forhea
ven’s sake!
The American public, it was feared, was too likely to be swayed bypassions of the moment.And that, of course, was long before our time; when the American public is keptinformed, round the clock, of the votes
 – 
sometimes even the intentions of theircongressperson. Now we are exposed, round the clock, to a partisan haranguedesigned to inflame our pre-existing biases. Now the voters can instantlycommunicate their displeasure directly to the office of their elected representative.What would have been unimaginable in the 18
th
century has become commonplace inthe 21
st
. More than ever before, we live today in a world of instant reaction, constant judgment and corrosive partisanship.Political debate is a wonderful thing; but partisan shrieking is corrosive anddestructive. If we are to find solutions to the challenges we face, we have to re-learnthe virtues of compromise.If we are going to deal intelligently with the problems we confront, we need time topause, to consider and reflect. But our media, news and social, are intolerant of anything but an instant response. We are making and receiving endless observationsabout the trivial, and believe that we are communicating. I am left with a feeling of not just great opportunities missed, but with a sense of actual danger to our republic.Much of our journalism is a catalogue of what just happened, without any regard to itsimpact or importance. We have a greater capacity to communicate more, further andfaster than ever before. Rather than using information to illuminate the world, though,we consume it like fuel. The more we burn, the faster we go. The faster we go, theless we see and understand. We slow down only for the accidents along the side of theroad; and the biggest accident still lies ahead.Only, I fear, when that occurs
 – 
only when the combined impact of too manyunemployed, too many foreclosures, too much debt, exacerbated by two undeclaredand unfunded wars; only when the human and social costs of a crumbling educationsystem and a flawed health care system, leave us wondering where and why we lostour footing as a nation, will we come to realize that WHAT is communicated to us isvastly more important than the medium by which it is conveyed.Some are already posing the question; but one day, most Americans will point at us inthe news media and
say: “Why didn’t you tell us?
Why did you encourage all that bileand venom? Why did you feed us all that trivial crap, when so many terrible thingswere converging?

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Robert Dobson added this note
Incredibly thought provoking and timely, given the state of the economy, the world today and the presidential election.

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