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Communication in the age of conformity

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Communication in the age of conformity

Aedan Hannon

4.3.17

Last Thursday night I had the pleasure of sitting in Love Auditorium for a lecture by Joel Sartore, a world renowned professional photographer for National Geographic. He came here to Duke as a result of Kate Baxter’s persistence and belief in environmental and scientific education. As a young girl, Baxter constantly visited Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. There she became enamored with the animals she saw and found an inadvertent passion for conservation. This passion followed her here to Duke, where she became the chair for Duke University Union’s Speakers and Stage. While her academic career remains focused on history and political science, it had always been her dream to bring another Omaha local, Joel Sartore, to Duke to discuss biodiversity and conservation.
Sartore’s lecture had been in the works for more than a year and shows the commitment that DUU’s Speakers and Stage is making to the diversity of thought. While Speakers and Stage has focused on entertainment in the past, Baxter’s belief in the communication of, and engagement with, diverse ideas has led to a broadening of scope. “It’s all well and good to talk, but unless you are engaging ideas on a personal level you’re not taking anything away,” Baxter explained. This personal engagement with diverse ideas is slowly being lost, even in educational settings. In an age of hyper-specialization, the loss of personal engagement with opposing views is bound to occur. But this trend speaks to something greater: we are losing the ability to communicate effectively at an unprecedented rate.
Social media and the current education system play a significant role in this loss. Social media has allowed us to stay within the bubble of our own beliefs. We can now find any news or information without ever being exposed to opposing viewpoints. Even in the current educational system we can stay within the comfort of our bubble. We can graduate from college with a degree having never taken a class that exposes us to drastically different and diverse ideas. These are just two of the hundreds of examples of how we are conforming our ideas.
As we lose our exposure to different opinions and theories, the rift between people and their belief systems becomes greater. This is why organizations like DUU’s Speakers and Stage are so important. They seek to decrease the communication gap and increase the discourse of the contentious issues in our world. They introduce new ideas that open our minds, challenge our beliefs, and reconnect us with others.
This is especially important in an age where science, particularly environmental science, is increasingly ignored. Kate Baxter’s initiative to bring Joel Sartore to campus speaks to the need for greater science communication. “When it comes down to it, we are all surrounded by Earth. We have to protect it. It really can’t just be something that people are thinking about when they’re on Facebook,” she said. Baxter accurately captures the necessity for communicating science effectively. While many think they can simply ignore problems such as climate change or threats to biodiversity, these scientific understandings affect each of us every day. There need to be opportunities, through lectures, photography or other mediums, for everyone to be exposed to the latest scientific research.
I can claim that we need more scientific communication, but the burden should not lie on the public. Rather it should lie on academia. While research is incredibly important, its usefulness lies in its ability to educate the public and change perceptions. Climate change research for the sake of research is not nearly as significant as getting the message out and showing the public that climate change is a serious issue. Right now we have more than enough research. The problem we need to be solving is that of communication. If we don’t follow in Kate Baxter’s footsteps we will never be able to truly tackle the issues we are all so passionate about.