Fascinating New York Times piece on college student blogs — and how colleges and universities are flaunting these blogs on their websites (with MIT in the lead), even if the students don’t always say favorable things about the schools.
Why is this happening? Because high school students trust these blogs. They want to know what various colleges are really like. That’s how they decide where they want to go. And who better to tell them, than students already there?
Some schools resist this, though. They want to control their message. They want prospective students to have the school’s own official view of itself. This, the piece seems to say, is a losing strategy. The students see through the official message, and want something more authentic, something that feels more like the truth.
So here’s a question. Do we file this story under technology, or culture? I’d say both, and that the two subject headings are largely inseparable. New technologies have helped create a new culture. With information so widely available, and with so many chances for any of us — all of us — to put ourselves, in the most personal way, out there for anyone to see, people now look for a personal view of things. That’s how, increasingly, we decide on purchases, by reading user reviews of products we’re considering. And that, says the Times, is how students are deciding where to go to college.
What does this mean for classical music?
It means that you can’t use new technologies — or at least not use them to their full potential — without embracing the new culture. If you’re on Twitter, you can’t (as I’ve said before) just send out tiny press releases, as so many classical music organizations do. Your tweets can’t be anonymous. And it’s not enough to give them a tiny bit of ersatz sparkle, by saying things (“Hey, today is Mahler’s birthday!”) that you’ve manufactured because you think they might be fetching, even though you yourself don’t even care about them much. Your tweets need to come from an actual person, and say things that this person cares about.
And what’s the lesson from the students’ blogs? Maybe classical music groups — even major institutions — should let their staff, musicians, board, and audience start talking on their websites. With critiques of performances! “Last night just wasn’t our best. The performance — from what I heard in the oboe section — just plodded along.” Disputes might develop. “Plodded along? The trombones were irresistible.”
Do that for a while, and word will spread. (Especially if you work to spread it virally.) People you’ve never heard of will start checking in, because they know that something real is going on.
Does anybody dare to try this? (Or maybe someone already has. Please let me know!)