Old and Improved

Old and Improved

I pray none of my college teachers read this.  I went to school in a time that valued citations and footnotes – not so much original thought.  I learned this the hard way but over time figured out how to game the system.  Here’s the part I hope they don’t read.  If I had something to say for which I did not have another source, I would make up a source and create a footnote.  I knew the professor was far more likely to give credence to a “published” source than a student.  I also knew the teaching assistant was not likely to check the source.  I was very creative at inventing authorities.  Sort of reverse plagiarism.
I’ve been following hashtags from a few conferences and am interested in the ideas that have currency with participants.  Now and then I read something and recognize it as having been said by another speaker years ago or a modified version of a whole passage from an author long dead.  Of course, some authors or speakers are so connected to particular expressions that it would be impossible to separate them.  For instance, imagine using “Ask not what your country can do for you” without attributing it to John F. Kennedy or attempting to make it your own.  While you could not get away with that you could rephrase G.K. Chesterton, Ovid or George MacDonald and feel certain very few people would know.
I think I am seeing a reversal of what I experienced in college.  Audiences want to believe the speaker is the original source and, to quote St. Matthew, “he taught as one who had authority and not as their scribes.”  My professors wanted scribes and this generation wants authorities.  They do not value quotes and footnotes as much as they do someone speaking with the authority of insight or new idea – even if it is a paraphrase.  We had to prove our sources and the speakers today are encouraged to be the source.  Some speakers I have heard actually improve the original and make it even more memorable.
Of course, there is an obvious downside to this.  It can be dishonest or become outright theft. It is one step beyond doing a “cover album” or reinterpreting an artist.  Still, I know these participants are scribbling and texting these ideas as if they have been spoken for the very first time and, more important, perhaps they are listening in a way they would not to the original.

1 Comment

  1. Learnnig a ton from these neat articles.


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