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The Longest Day

"Blogs, online newspapers and Web sites all use more typed language than images when distributing news media. This puts a hole in Postman's argument," wrote one.

A student put it thoughtfully.

"I think we have over-media medicated ourselves," she said. But "I don't feel ashamed at all. It's part of our culture. And, I am completely addicted to it. I mean, the media fast was pretty much impossible for me. As long as our generation maintains a level of personable skills and we remain responsible, I think that we're okay. It's fine. It's not an epidemic. It's okay. It's okay."

PARTWAY THROUGH THE SEMESTER THE STUDENTS seemed to be getting defensive about their media habits. A little earlier, some of them took my lecture on David Mindich's book Tuned Out: Why Americans Under 40 Don't Follow the News to mean I thought less of them for not reading the newspaper or even knowing that traditional network news still exists. I don't, necessarily.

There are a number of reasons why the age of the average newspaper reader and network news viewer is over 50, not the least of which include trends that began when I was my students' age. Many of the reasons lie with the failures of the media themselves. But I sense my students want to shout: We're not frivolous just because we like to IM and go on Facebook! Or, even if we are frivolous, we don't care because we're college students!

I'm not from the we're-all-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket school of media thought. I use most of the electronic gadgets my students do. E-media keep us up to the minute on information, facilitate relationships without geographic constraint, make logistics easier and sometimes help us relax and fight boredom.

But I do know of a world my students haven't inhabited -- a world in which we may have had less ready access to information but had more power to turn it off and reflect. I hold on to the hope that we're not too far gone in our media stupor to recapture the idealistic vision of the era of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, meaningful discourse and human-to-human interaction in the public sphere.

Perhaps my students don't totally disagree with me. They would say there is a town square of the 21st century. It's just that it's a rectangle -- a glowing LCD screen in their pockets, on their desks or dominating an entire room. And while they may have enjoyed some parts of their journey to a bygone era during the e-media fast, they couldn't wait to press the power button and get back to the present.

Danna L. Walker is the James B. Simpson Fellow in the School of Communication at American University. She can be reached at

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