Social Literacy


Basketball plays a huge roll in my life. Over the years I have traveled the country to attend events as insignificant as a mid-season game in Milwaukee and as grand as the NCAA Final Four. I have held season tickets at Georgetown, University of Hartford and University of Wisconsin. I was even a minority owner of a CBA franchise, the Hartford Hellcats (an experiment that lasted a mere three weeks before the team folded under financial pressure).

This year, for the first time, I hold an NBA season ticket. With it comes an increased engagement with the team. Being able to watch the warm-ups each night, and see how the players interact with each other, as well as the slow and steady development of the rookies, all fantastic. A season ticket affords some other activity as well, an opportunity to view and digest the various attempts made by the league to interact with fans and provide a full “Sports and Entertainment” package. By spring, I will endure hours of bad music, will see hundreds of horrendous dance routines by season end, and watch 41 virtual races between a bagel, donut and cup of coffee. Fan appreciation is the name of the game; the benefit is to a slew of corporate sponsors.

Accepting that many in attendance are more excited by the prospect of a free burrito than a well drawn play has been difficult. Yet, my love of the game has not diminished, and I’m able to cast a blind eye to the lame attempts at filling downtime in the arena. A new scoreboard has brought with it new methods of engaging fans, a sort of web 2.0 for the sports patron.

Encouraged by a flashing “snd ur txt,” attendees can offer fellow fans good wishes and spur on the team by punching a few keys their mobile phones. The majority of the takers are obviously youths. Last night I learned that more than a few boys are interested in a girl named Alicia. Apparently she is SEXY, and most of Prince George’s and Montgomery counties want to holler at her.     

This type of user (or fan) generated content is not surprising. Why not use a massive scoreboard to reveal a High school crush? What’s wrong with minimizing the sense of community the franchise has so generously granted?

What fascinates me most is how the encouragement of txt language works in opposition to the leagues chief philanthropic concerns – literacy and education. Britain reels in fear over how texting denigrates English. Reading emails from my cousins who live in London worries me. My spelling was bad enough in primary school without having to learn two written tongues. 

In some respects, it is both interesting and affirming to see how people react to user interaction outside the auspicious of the net. Affirming in that, well, it seems exactly the same — one more massive platform on which to advertise private and inane thoughts and conversations. Interesting, because people are obviously convinced that is what these opportunities are for.

Really, I am in no position to complain. Since owning a blackberry, I converse with my brother solely via BB MESSENGER. I probably waste time typing in full sentences. TXT life is really unavoidable. Researching Ph. D programs over the last year I have noticed a growing interest in Web communities and internet language among the people that populate culture programs. This was somewhat validating, as I didn’t realize that my obsession with such things could be transferred to a field of study. I find it very exciting when things that some deem “a waste of time” (like looking at Niketalk) can be passed of as legitimate study.

But still, there is a tension. If it is fine for the hallowed halls of higher education to discuss txt language and community, shouldn’t it be ok to encourage kids to share their slang with the world? Is there a risk of promoting a basically bilingual writing style (at least we hope that the youth can also pen prose in proper English). Where does responsibility rest?  

In the wake of some really good conversation about web 2.0 (check Vogel’s comments on black lodges), I thought mentioning other ways that people are interacting via technology at a large scale may be of interest. Though I am tempted to rail against the NBA for the text thing, I suppose my real concern is not the messages, but how they can be incorporated positively. No doubt, visitor interaction is the cool, hip, fresh thing to have… the only doubt is whether the higher ups take the time to think about the ramifications.

About this entry