I got confused about half way through the reading for this week.
At first, I had no idea how Robert Pirsig’s excerpt had anything to do with online journalism as we know it. But then I started to come around once he started talking about technology more obviously. But then I got confused again. I couldn’t get the car and motorcycle comparison straight in my head. I thought that his motorcycle vacation represented the classic media we’ve all grown up with – television, radio and print. My logic? People stuck in the cars were unhappy. Sylvia said they all looked “so sad. And then the next one looked exactly the same way, and then the next one and the next one, they were all the same.” I thought, She has to be referring to online journalism. Who’s happy working with that medium when you can work with a real printing press, the one that leaves black ink all over your finger tips.
But then Pirsig started talking about motorcycle maintenance: “They want not to understand it,” he said. But wait, don’t we already understand newspapers? And that’s when it hit me. Those people who were slugging along “bumper to bumper” in their cars, the ones that looked “so lost…like they were all dead,” those were people like me. The people who want to hold on to something so old and restraining. Now, I’m not saying that Pirsig’s preachings on motorcycle maintenance have changed my solid beliefs, but they did make me wonder: Why don’t I want to learn “the practical value and worth of motorcycle maintenance?
I think technology is scary for a lot of people – even those my age. Some of us romanticize the past and forget that there is a future. Pirsig’s right when he says technologists speak “an inhuman language when describing what they do.” Just because we’ve all grown up with computers and other advanced products, it doesn’t make us “technologists.” Or maybe that’s the problem.
As a journalist, I just don’t think about technology – and very few people do. That’s why newspapers have web editors – so someone can specifically focus on something that many people try to avoid. As news editor for The Aquinian, I never really thought that I had to think that much about my online content. It’s a campus paper. People usually pick it up right off the news stands. But what Pirsig is trying to demonstrate – and what The Aquinian’s recent online stats show – is that many people have moved to the online world. Content is expected to be there – sometimes, content that is different from your print newspaper. It’s just reality. And what I think Pirsig is trying to demonstrate is that we – perhaps, journalists specifically – have to embrace that.
In the end, Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance may be the perfect analogy of how the internet affects – or doesn’t affect – the journalists of today. We all have the opportunity to become our own motorcycle mechanics, or technologists. And we should. Because it’s coming our way: “There is no one place or sharp line where the Central Plains end and the Great Plains begin. It’s a gradual change…”