An Occasional Bowler’s Lament

by Vince Durnan

So last Friday our annual faculty tenpin outing ventured to hipster haven Pinewood Social. My modest contribution to the event cast a longer shadow than I can justify. But it’s a sign of the times.
The whole thing started pleasantly enough. Our math-teaching bowling coach Jason Shuster, really the godfather of our bowling program, had meticulously organized this year’s get together, and without a hint of irony. He’s a topnotch kegler and he prefers the game played well. Still, his tolerance for novices runs deep, and his invite drew dozens of colleagues to this high-profile venue launched by our high-profile alumni Ben and Max Goldberg. When I arrived from a River Campus lacrosse game, every lane was active, with 30 year+ veteran comptroller Norma Miller drawing most of the cheers.
 
Then someone took a call and needed to leave, opening a chance for me, sport coat and tie still in place, to try my luck. I got to roll maybe five balls total toward their vintage targets, over a total of maybe fifteen minutes. To call the performance unremarkable would be to overstate its significance. On at least one occasion, though, I noticed someone had captured the moment for posterity via cell phone camera. At least it was not a karaoke performance of "Wrecking Ball" being recorded. (Editor's note: this happened, per request of Class of 2004 alumni, the price they exacted for their Annual Fund gifts.)
 
Fast forward two days to Monday, and to the comments: “Hey, I saw you on Instagram,” “You looked good on the lanes,” “Were you wearing a suit?” Unable to resist asking, I found out that a five second excerpt of my exploits had already generated about 800 views on Facebook and another 400 on Instagram, both of which my millennial daughters have forsworn my using. Here I am thinking that our postmodern schedule treadmills permit no time for such mindless viewing, and once more I am in error. There’s a deeper realization in play too.
 
Not two weeks ago, in this very newsletter, my earnest, timely (to me anyway), and thoughtfully crafted essay on our Centennial campaign reached, as near as we can tell, fewer than 300 readers. And we don’t know how much they even read—just that they looked at the document. There was I, pouring every effort into getting the word out, and it functioned just slightly better than a note tied to a weather balloon or a bottle thrown in the Cumberland to be carried downstream. But the video of my hitting eight out of the available ten on that lane got to a thousand viewers.
 
What's a writer to do? My first instinct was abandon this bi-weekly column and go back to the video option full time, as was the case with my Construction Buddy series during the big renovation a couple years back. Or maybe I could switch to stained glass or interpretive dance or another non-written vehicle. Are we witnessing the transition to a post-literate culture, where recent estimates point to our fellow citizens watching 3-5 hours of screen pabulum daily? Not good news for a guy with a face for the keyboard and not the camera.
 
Maybe there’s another way—maybe the medium, if wisely chosen, can still support the message. Maybe this weekly digital print digest, itself once a great leap forward from our earlier version mailed monthly, is about to evolve again. And maybe its next incarnation, though potentially fragmented and multi-directional, could serve a unifying purpose. That, it strikes me, is the just in time, just for me, just when I want it, even if I didn’t know I wanted it challenge of contemporary media.
 
So my promise is to keep writing but to look harder for ways to better disseminate content—and not to dismiss the potential of visual images to also carry a deeper message. This one takes our best thinking—as does school reform itself—we need to keep doing what we know has worked without assuming that it will stay relevant and meet the definition of best practice.
 
Suggestions welcome. Thanks more than ever for actually reading this.
 
From the dinosaur desk,
Vince
vdurnan@usn.org
 
 
 
 
 
 
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