The wrong side of the chasm

chasm Daniel Burka
Photo courtesy of Daniel Burka

I’m looking forward to a visit with my nephew. He graduates from high school in two weeks and will be headed to Michigan Tech in the fall. I’ll help him set up and customize a blog to which he can upload the videos for which he’s becoming well known. It’s delightful to imagine where he might take his new project. He’ll catch on quickly, and soon I’ll be hounding him for advice about adding features to my blog.

The ease with which the under-forty crowd can discuss all things Web-related contrasts forlornly with the arguments that ensue when I reveal to my peers any enthusiasm for new technology and ways of doing business. It’s not just that people closer to my age are sometimes unwilling to face the economic facts; it often seems they’re completely oblivious to the facts. “How can that be?” I keep asking myself. These are intelligent individuals.

It feels as though I lost my old friends when I crossed the digital divide. It didn’t happen suddenly. The gap widened, not imperceptibly but gradually, over the past decade. Now, it’s a chasm I can’t seem to get back across.

In my younger days, it was sensible to perfect a skill in the expectation that you could profit from expertise. Today, it’s impossible to predict how long a particular aptitude will be of service to anyone.

A dazzling amount of information (and entertainment) is readily available to any person with access to the Internet and the willingness to search for it. To turn away from the gift out of frustration, apathy, fear, or pride is to become voluntarily impoverished. Learning how to learn is the only knowledge destined to retain value. My professors taught me so…

…and then they seemed to forget.

Une infinité du couleurs

Photo: “Busy Hands Selling” by chauromano is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Americans are as fascinated by exotic foreign fashions as people of other nationalities are by American style trends. We adopt each other’s clothing, but we rarely go beyond the superficial to discover the aspirations we share or our mutual frustrations and heartaches.

Earlier this year, Columbus poet and university professor Douglas Gray published on his Downtown Writers website a call for submissions to Jewish Family Services’ ongoing civic journalism project. The local social service agency is celebrating its 100th anniversary by asking for volunteers to interview and write about some of its clients, many of whom are immigrants, who have benefitted from career and family assistance.

Shortly after offering to participate in the project, I was paired with a Senegalese woman raising two small daughters here in Columbus. She enthusiastically described the successful clothing design and manufacturing business she once owned in Dakar, and she lamented her inability to resume the work she loved after moving to the U.S. We shared a pleasant two-hour conversation that occasionally challenged her English and my rudimentary knowledge of French. Her story was captivating.

Jewish Family Services is encouraging writers of all ages, cultures, and skill levels to participate in its civic journalism project. Articles produced by volunteers will be published on the agency’s website or in its brochures in an ambitious and creative endeavor that combines public relations with community building.

Contributing writers are provided with a small amount of biographical data on their interview subjects and background information about Jewish Family Services to help them prepare questions. Interested volunteers can contact Jewish Family Services at 614-231-1890.