Tuesday, September 02, 2008

First Day of Class

Classes began today at NYU. Another graduate semester. I'm taking Languages of Communication: From Cave Painting to the Printing Press. My professor is Terrence Moran, a contemporary of Neil Postman (who started my department at NYU) and Marshall McLuhan (whose work I love). Here's my thoughts on the first day:

- We started off by talking about the very beginning of communication, the time when "humanity" began. The theory is that we need to go back to the history of our species to understand the evolution of language itself. I love the big picture view.
- He asked if anyone knew how old the universe is. Being the geek that I am, I raised my hand, "About 14 billion years old." "Yes, about 13.6 billion." I am going to like this class.
- History is measured from the beginning of written language, which only goes back 5,000 years. Anything before written language is considered pre-historic.
- Experiments were done in the 1920's to see if apes could talk. They did experiments to move apes' larynxes into the right position. The apes first words were "mama" and "cup." Today, it would be "Dora." It's cruel and didn't work.
- One theory is that humans are immature apes. We're small, weak, and are very fragile when born.
- All of the bones that tell us about the evolution of humanity can fit within a 12' x 15' room. There's a lot of guesswork in how we came to be.
- The oldest continuing language today is Chinese, which is about 5,000 years old.
- In the Caucuses, there are over 120 languages spoken.
- Israel chose Hebrew as its national language. They had to revive an old and dying language used only in ceremonies for an entire country. They even had to make up words for new items (they don't have 'wristwatches' in the bible). It would be like having the Egyptians suddenly decide to write in hieroglyphics. But it happened and the language thrived. One of the little-known but amazing feats of the 20th century.
- All of the students I started the program with 2 years ago are gone, all graduated. This new group seems much more savvy, smarter, less timid. I like it.
- College girls dress sluttier every year. It made me wish I was 20 again, until I saw how awkward the 20 year old guys are. I was no better. I'm happy with 30-ish.
- The liquor stores are way cheaper by NYU. The volume must be higher. I left with a new bottle of vodka. I promise to give it a good home.
- Neil Postman wrote about "the surrender of culture to technology." We focus our lives on what works better, not what is better. Culture is people-based and cannot be changed by anything other than people. But this explains how companies like Apple can be called "cultural leaders."
- Samuel Morse invented the electronic telegraph and Morse code in the very spot my class is in. He was working for the University of the City of NY (the institution which became NYU) and was on the 4th floor (my class is on the 8th floor, though the building has changed). He wanted to create instantaneous communication, to "transfer lightning." Cool.
- One quote I heard today was that the greatest invention of the 19th century was the idea of the invention. That you could start creating things (sewing machines, internal combustion engine, telegraph) and have them do something useful was revolutionary.
- Helen Keller wrote about the moment she understood what language was. It's the famous scene in the movie, where she suddenly realizes that the shapes her hands were making represent the stuff that comes out of the faucet. That chapter in her autobiography is called "Everything Has a Name." I now need to read that book.
- It is so good to be back in class. Something about being that environment, doing the readings and discussing these deep, grand issues makes me so excited. One phrase came to mind: "worth every penny."
- Aren't you happy that this post isn't about some package design change?!?!?!?


your sil said...

I guess both you and your brother whether in that "boring post" mood last night. ;-)

Don't Be So Dramatical said...

If the class makes you this happy, my love, it is worth every drachma!

Boywonderesq said...

I liked this post a lot. Too bad you didn't like school as much when you were actually in college. But if the apes were able to say words, didn't it work?

corey said...

Dude, these are really interesting little snippets of intellectual stimulation. I love experiencing grad school vicariously...my ladyfriend Sarah's taking really interesting classes on augmentative and alternative communication (comm sciences and disorders program) and one on the brain and adult language disorders. It's freaking fascinating.

TheMediaDude said...

Corey, always a pleasure to hear from you! I'll try and keep you up to speed with my academic tid bits. Hopefully this will annoy Nilda in the process. **swish** Two points!

Brian, I think about that every time I go to class. As for the ape experiment, they were able to say words and have those sounds mean something. But that's a far cry from actually adopting language.

They should have gone to see those chimps from the movie Project X. Those apes were smart!

your sil said...

You will be happy to know I have been appropriately disciplined by my wonderful husband and I now find all of your tidbit posts fascinating. =)