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Wires and Lights

Lydia Olsen
Class of 2016

(8/2015) Becca sat in bed and stared at the screen of her laptop as it rested on her legs. She clicked between her blank Word Document and her school’s Blackboard website, hoping that some inspiration would come to her.

"What to write…what to write…," she thought to herself, though it offered no assistance. After another minute or so, she gave up and opened a new tab on her browser to see what was going on in the Facebook realm.

She scrolled through endless posts of pictures from people she barely knew anymore and what seemed like hundreds of shared videos. The pictures highlighted events in other peoples’ lives and the videos encompassed everything that could be imagined.

Becca quickly scrolled away from some, like viral videos of teenagers fighting over nothing, while others she could not help but watch multiple times, like the golden retriever getting a bubble bath. Before she knew it, an hour had gone by and though she had made progress on her Facebook Newsfeed, she had not made any progress on her homework.

The next morning, Becca woke up early, checked to see if she had any new followers on Twitter or Instagram, and then got ready for school. Though cellphones were technically not allowed in the classrooms, all of the students had discovered ways to keep up with the latest gossip by using their phones under their desks or in between their books so that they were hidden from teachers. It was this behavior, a week ago that gave Becca’s English teacher, Mr. Ryland, an idea.

He was so thrilled about this idea that he brought it up as soon as Becca made it into his third period class.

"So, class, how are your papers coming along?" he asked, hoping for some excitement. Tumbleweeds practically rolled across the room in response. "Nothing?" he said, disappointed. "Becca, how about yours?"

Becca’s eyes fell to the floor.

"Ugh," she thought, "Why does he always seem to call on me when I have nothing to say?" "I..uh..I haven’t gotten very far, Mr. Ryland," Becca managed to mumble, "It seems like I’m having a difficult time knowing where to start."

To Becca’s relief, this answer satisfied Mr. Ryland and he began to discuss various starting points. The class sat there quietly.

"You guys aren’t getting the point, are you?" Mr. Ryland asked quietly, "Well, let’s try another approach."

"The whole assignment here is to evaluate the role that technology plays in your life. You probably aren’t even aware how much it influences you. Some of this influence is positive and some of it is harmful. But the important thing to realize is that, whether you believe it affects you or not, it is still sinking in. Take commercials for example; you watch an hour long TV show, but the show itself is only 40-45 minutes and the rest is filled with commercials from companies trying to sell you something or simply trying to get you to believe in what they are pitching you."

A boy in the back of the classroom raised his hand. Mr. Ryland called on him, "Yes, Kyle?"

"No offense, Mr. Ryland, but all you adults are always talking about is how TV and social media have brained washed us, but I honestly don’t see it that way," Kyle stated, confidently.

"Is that so? You believe that all of these ads you see on a daily basis aren’t sinking in and altering the way you think? Let me show you…"

Mr. Ryland picked up a marker and drew a slanted check mark on the white board behind him. "What company?" he turned to the class and asked. Without missing a beat they all responded with the correct answer, "Nike."

"Alright, let me think of other examples. I am going to say a slogan and you are going to say what company it is for, got it?" The class nodded. "I’m loving it," Mr. Ryland said, and quickly, the class responded with the name "McDonald’s."

Mr. Ryland continued, "Alright, this time you finish the phrase, ‘Subway: Eat……." Quickly the class responded, "Fresh."

"You see," Mr. Ryland said, "You are all aware of what these companies are trying to convince you of and you have heard and seen it all so many times that it is second nature to you. These companies have taught you their slogans and their images, whether you wanted them to or not. But have they taught you anything else? What if there weren’t any commercials? Or what if one day all of the companies decided that they weren’t going to show you their product that day but that instead they were going to fill you in on a worldwide problem or concern? How would that change our society and us? Those are the questions I am proposing by having you write this paper because those are the questions that Edward R. Murrow was proposing in his ‘Good Night and Good Luck Address."

With that, the bell rang and the class was dismissed. Later that night, Becca resumed her position on her bed with her laptop in front of her and her phone beside her. She watched the movie her teacher had assigned and pondered over how true Murrow’s predictions and fears had become. Becca thought about the statements that Murrow was making such as how TV and, nowadays, social media amplify one’s word to a broader population than it would normally be able to reach. She could not help but realize how accurate this was.

On her own social media accounts she was able to keep up with friends who have moved to other states and even other countries in simpler ways than ever before. She also thought about people who had become social media famous for the strangest reasons, and how their tiny voices get amplified, which then gives them a lot of influence over society.

Murrow’s fear of the obsession of increasing audience size at the time of the speech was in reference to TV and radio, however, Becca realized that it could be applied to all forms of social media today. Even she found herself seeking more followers on social media so that she could have a larger audience to project her ideas and experiences and to ultimately amplify her voice. This is what social media has become; essentially a megaphone if you can figure out how to appeal to the public.

Becca also thought about how Murrow believed that, since the only shows on television during prime times were not specifically informative, that the population was experiencing a separation from reality. Becca laughed to herself and wondered if this was what gave producers the idea of reality television shows and then laughed again thinking about how staged ‘reality’ had actually become.

As she continued to evaluate the claims in his speech, Becca thought about whether or not the media played a role in addressing controversial topics. If Murrow were here today, she would be curious to see what he would say.

Becca came to her own conclusion that, since there is generally more information available to individuals in today’s society that they are more likely to be able to access information from multiple stand points. Becca started to believe that the news does bring to light controversial issues, while also doing its best to remain objective.

The next day at school, all of the students eagerly turned in their papers to Mr. Ryland. "Well?" he asked, after they were all in his hands. Nearly every hand in the class shot up into the air. "Wow. Today we have a lot to talk about, don’t we?" he stated.

Becca sat at her desk and intently listened to the discussion. "Was Murrow entirely right?" she thought, "He was right that TV, radio, and the development of social media have had the ability to teach, illuminate, and inspire. But is that really all that it is good for?" she continued to question, "Maybe the whole point is that Murrow was one of the few who actually saw the potential of technology and the betterment it could have on social if it was used to educate and debate rather than merely to entertain. How frequently we overlook the potential of these wires and lights!"

Becca took her phone out of her pocket and Tweeted about her realization.

Read other articles by Lydia Olsen