To you, does the word "Paris" conjure visions of the storied city in France, the little town in Ontario, or the ill-mannered, naughty Hilton hotel heiress?
The answer to that question is really between you, your Internet service provider, and your Google search engine. But Michael Bugeja, head of the journalism and communication school at Iowa State University, is making it his business now, as he strives to keep an eye on how communications technology and the media are affecting rural America. And he doesn't like what he sees.
Bugeja, author of the book "Living Ethics: Across Media Platforms," blames technology for destroying, or at least compromising, certain rural American values — mainly, politeness. He thinks technology is mainlining the worst of urban degradation — a la Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and others — straight into rural America's veins, and in the process, destroying the moral, aw-shucks fabric of the place.
Bugeja explained himself as best he could in a 50-minute seminar, at the ninth annual Agricultural Media Summit recently in Louisville, Ky. Guelph agricultural journalists and communications professionals were among the 40 or so people who attended his address, entitled "Interpersonal Intelligence: Technology and Culture," and were reminded of days gone by when the media took the lead on moral rather than social positions.
Journalism, a profession that prides itself in being a bastion of objectivity — outside of opinion columns, like this one — advocates for a civil society, but usually adapts to modern times.
In Louisville, though, Bugeja was preaching fire and brimstone. He contends it is not in the best interests of the agricultural communications sector to let the Paris Hiltons of the world make their way into rural communities. If urbanized lingo and attitudes spread, he says rural America — and Canada, presumably — is sunk, along with the media that serve it.
Here's his beef. Much of urban America, he says, is rude. It's like Paris Hilton — spoiled. It's not mindful of its manners. It's impolite. It does not have a down-home feel, like rural America.
It spends its time immersed in technology, staring at computer screens, addicted to the Internet, incessantly sending text messages, relying on electronic social networks for contact with other humans, and never really learning some basic etiquette, developing a voice that goes beyond a monotone and a few grunts, or engaging in in-depth communication techniques.
That disgusts Bugeja. He flips at the thought of someone showing disrespect by answering a cellphone when engaged in a face-to-face to conversation, for example. And he doesn't think agriculture, with its foundation in science, can be adequately explained in brief information bytes popularized by electronic communications.
However, he says, those who are most comfortable with that medium are now becoming America's new journalists, bringing their ill-mannered attitudes and unformed communication styles to the masses.
He underlines this by noting one of the major wire services, which provides news to media across the world, is starting to instruct reporters to write six-word opening paragraphs — if you call them paragraphs — so they are easily searched by Google. To me, reducing stories to six-word leads is an interesting exercise for journalism students learning to focus on a story angle. And maybe that's the way the profession will go. It seems brief.
Bugeja accepts that change is inevitable, but is cautious about it in today's society because, he says, never before have we seen technology as such a powerful and instantaneous media tool.
So he's calling on rural media to help keep the sky from falling in the face of encroaching urban values. He suggests this movement start in the workplace, and in fact, he's laid out a 12-point plan for office workers that will remind some readers of "Father Knows Best" and The Cleavers.
Not that they're bad — smile and greet everyone at work whether or not they smile back, don't waste company time browsing social networks, don't complain about being asked to pitch in when needed, etc.
But seeing them laid out on paper seems like a corporate manifesto from the '50s.
Balance your life is the final point in his plan. But if your life evolves around electronic communication, and that's always been your life, who's to say it's out of balance?
Bugeja, that's who.