Monday, April 16, 2007

Campus Nightmare

Today's shooting at Virginia Tech, which left at least 33 people dead, was foremost in the minds of my co-workers today. As a university bureaucrat, who has had to -- on at least one occasion -- politely ask a student who described himself as a "loner" and a "gun nut" on his first-day writing diagnostic if there was a weapon in the rifle bag he had brought into the classroom, this story of a failed campus police system is deeply troubling.

It is interesting, however, to note the fact that coverage in The New York Times portrayed students as deeply engaged in the practices of digital culture. One student in the article found out about the tragedy when a neighbor asked, "did you check your email?" Another was unaware because she was "listening to music on her iPod." Still another student used "his cell phone video camera" to capture "grainy dark-clad figures" that were later broadcast on CNN.

After listening to the incoherent news conference with the investigating authorities, I went to the Virginia Tech website, where I listened to the university president's 4:30 podcast and his noon podcast about the crisis. I was also surprised to discover that President Steger was using virtual means of digital communication but had not yet met with any of the families of the slain students face-to-face. The text of the e-mails that the university administration sent to the campus community are here.

Update: The connection between social practices around new technology and the massacre was made even more explicit by The Los Angeles Times in "Students Trace a Tragedy Online," which argues that social networking sites like Facebook served a key informational function during the crisis. Yet The San Jose Mercury News retitled "Digital tools were potential life savers during Va. Tech massacre" to "Va. Tech Massacre another milestone of horror for parents." (Via Jerz's Literacy Weblog)
Many profile pages of Virginia Tech students on Facebook now have the logo shown above. Religious students added Christian elements to the campus logo to represent their Facebook avatars.

I also visited the MySpace page of victim Lauren McCain and was deeply saddened to see her friends and loved ones futilely attempting to communicate with her there.

The day after the shootings, this cell phone camera video was the most viewed film on YouTube.

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