In a rough estimate that includes all my writing for the arts and opinion sections of The Michigan Daily, I have written approximately 330,000 words for this paper — the length of three-and-a-half average novels. That is a whole lot of words. In fact, it’s too many. No one who talks that much could possibly listen enough. So, I guess it’s good that this is my last column. After this I can finally shut up and listen.
I began as a freshman at the University in the fall of 2004. In my seven years as a student here, I witnessed the nationwide expansion of Facebook, release of YouTube and Gmail, the launch of Android and the iPhone and the explosion of blogging and texting.
In terms of expanding the voice of humanity to encompass more fully the everyday, average person, these have been perhaps the most eventful seven years in history. Time magazine (somewhat belatedly) recognized the momentous shift that had begun in naming “You” the Person of the Year for 2006: Everyone can now have a say; the field is more level than it has ever been in history.
And we certainly have taken advantage of this information revolution. Count how many friends you have that tweet, blog or vlog (video blog, for you social technology philistines). If that number is anything greater than zero, then congratulations: You have powerful friends who can and have changed social and political discourse by speaking what they see and hear about in platforms that enable immediate worldwide dissemination.
In the time I’ve been writing 750-word columns for this page, countless people have made their voices heard globally in tweets and blog posts just a few words long. The beauty of this, the ultimate information age, is that we need not even write a word to direct countless national and international conversations — a photo on Flickr showing Michael Phelps with a bong or a video on YouTube catching Senate candidate George Allen using a racial slur are definitely worth more than all my 330,000 words.
As I write now from this official platform for the last time, I am pleased to underscore that one does not need to have a newspaper column to be heard. However, I’d like to point out that listening is a very important second component of infinite information dissemination in this amazing new world that goes easily ignored. We are all better able to propagate our own opinions, but what good is that if no one chooses to listen to what is being said?
We are all focused on getting our own voices out there. Campus activist groups, and indeed political groups across the country, feel the need to take a stand on every issue and then let their voice be heard. Such political speech is their eternal right, and it has recently become a right easily exercised via the Internet. And random individuals, suddenly finding it so easy to blog or tweet, also feel the need to speak out (UCLA student Alexandra Wallace, for example). All of us can and do speak more these days, but the tragedy is that there just isn’t enough listening going on.
As a columnist for so many years, I suppose I am guilty of speaking too much and not listening enough. I learned the hard way that one need not always have an opinion and be outspoken about it: It is sometimes better to listen, understand and move on without an uttered word. In a culture that prizes opinionated rants as brave spurts of the democratic ideal, it is important to point out that recently, we’ve all been doing a little too much talking. There simply has not been enough listening, thinking and reflecting.
With these last words, my speaking stint on this page finally comes to an end, and I move happily into the other, equally important stage of intelligent discourse: listening. Much will be said about issues I think I understand on this page and the hundreds of others like it across America. Like all of you, I will listen, question, support and act.
But just in case I get antsy, I did sign up for a Twitter account the other day. It’s the next big thing, I hear.
Imran Syed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.