There has been a great deal of concern expressed about mobile media
in particular, and how that affects face-to-face interaction. Being
constantly distracted is obviously a major problem. Eye contact is one
of the most important form of nonverbal communication for regulating
interaction, and obviously that becomes problematic when our attention
is always called away to our devices. Being mindful of the ways in which
we use technology, and understanding that we do not have to be online
and available and instantly receive and respond to messages and alerts
24/7 is essential. Many of the new media mavens who promoted the
internet back in the 90s are now advocating for taking breaks and
turning devices off, and there are movements like that for having a
Technology Shabbat or Sabbath. It is certainly worth considering.
At the same time, new media have extended our ability to connect with
one another, and organize ourselves socially, and that has been
enormously empowering. For example, my wife used email discussion lists
(e.g., Google groups) to connect and organize parents of children with
autism in the northern New Jersey area. Before this kind of connection
was possible, parents in that situation were simply too overwhelmed and
lacking in time and energy to meet face-to-face, and are often lacking
in basic information on services and how to deal with schools and boards
of education to receive what they are entitled to.
Electronically-mediated social interaction has been a great boon for
individuals who would otherwise be isolated.
- Dr. Strate, after so many years of being an expert, and with so much
experience in the communication field, what are some of the most
important advice you could offer to our graduate students? How should
they approach the “real world” that comes after education?
Being an “expert” in communication is quite challenging, because the
state of communication is always changing. Back in the early 90s, there
were many predictions, some relatively accurate, about the future of
communication, regarding the internet, virtual reality, increased access
to information, and the like, but almost no one predicted the mobile
revolution, the almost complete disappearance of telephone booths, or
texting. So our job is harder than folks in many other fields, because
we have so much to keep up with. The most important advice that I can
offer, though, is never to forget that communication is fundamental to
the human condition, that what counts are human beings and human
relationships, and what Martin Buber termed the I-You relationship,
treating others as persons, not as objects.
- How do you feel at Villanova? How is Villanova similar/different to other universities?
Villanova has proven to be a very convivial, congenial, and collegial
environment, and I have very much enjoyed my time here with the
communication faculty. I am very impressed with the quality of students
at Villanova, and especially the graduate students. Coming from Fordham
University, there is a great deal of common ground, although the Jesuits
have their differences from the Augustinians. Fordham is more of an
urban university, which has its advantages, but I very much like the
Villanova area, the relaxed atmosphere, and of course all of the
interesting historical and cultural attractions of the Philadelphia
area. Villanova is also smaller that Fordham, and Fordham is much
smaller than other universities like New York University, where I did my
doctoral work, so Villanova has a very intimate feel.
- How would you describe our Department of Communication here at
Villanova? What are some of our strengths, and how could we, in your
opinion, improve ourwork?
You have a great department here, and I especially like the fact that
it is so well grounded in the discipline of communication. I find that
very refreshing, since that it my background, and it’s something missing
from my department at Fordham. At the same time, I would certainly urge
the faculty to take advantage of the interdisciplinarity of our field,
which is in many ways our strength. Reaching out to and communicating
with the general public is also very important. And I would certainly
stress the need to have faculty with a background in media ecology, that
is very important in my view, really essential, but of course I’m
biased in that regard.
- Why is graduate school is important? Can you tell us how did
graduate education impact your personality and life? What would you
advice to our perspective students who have hard time deciding whether
or not start graduate school?
I know some of my colleagues decided as undergraduates that they
wanted to go to graduate school, maybe even were interested in academia
that early, but that wasn’t the way it worked for me. Simply put, I
really didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was a senior undergraduate
at Cornell University, so I wound up going on for my MA at Queens
College of the City University of New York, where I met some doctoral
students working in the Multimedia Lab there, Ed Wachtel, who I later
became colleagues with at Fordham, and Joshua Meyrowitz, and when they
heard that I was interested in the work of scholars like Marshall
McLuhan, Daniel Boorstin, and Jacques Ellul, urged me to apply for Neil
Postman’s doctoral program in media ecology. So I did, was accepted, and
again, having nothing better to do, started my studies there, but was
not convinced that I wanted to be an academic until many years later.
Somehow, it turned out to be the right thing to do, and I wound up being
fairly good at it. So as far as I’m concerned, this path found me, I
didn’t find it. And I remember Neil Postman saying that he decided to
become a professor because it was in the classroom and with students and
colleagues that he found a universe of discourse that he felt
comfortable with, felt good about, and I guess that’s the same for me.
It just fits. And when I was unsure, he said to me that nobody is
getting rich these days, so you might as well do something that you
love, that makes you find meaningful and fulfilling. He also suggested
that if I didn’t, many years later I would realize my mistake, regret
it, try to come back, and things would never be the same—this was said
in a joking manner, he had a great sense of humor.
But apart from all that, being able to go to graduate school is a
great privilege, it’s when you really know how to learn, what you want
to learn, and can really appreciate the opportunity to do so. There are
so many things in life that can interfere and interrupt the chance to
pursue graduate education that you really ought to go for it if you can.
And while it’s never too late, it certainly is easier when you’re
younger, before life gets increasingly more complicated. And learning
about communication gives you an edge in anything you might pursue in
life. It’s practical in so many ways, but it also goes to the heart of
what makes us human, and helps us in our efforts to retain our humanity
in a technological age.