Monday, January 12, 2009

Vox Populi

With only 8 more days to go before the Inauguration, Slate magazine (in collaboration with MixedInk) has invited us, the people, to help write Obama's inaugural address. The way it works is as follows: when you click on this link, you will be taken to a site where you can begin writing your own speech. But you won't be writing alone, since MixedInk will simultaneously be searching for similar words and phrases from all 55 previous inaugural addresses as well as contributions from other users. If your words and thoughts overlap with others, you can incorporate them into your speech (or just stick with what you have). When you're done, others can read, comment upon and "rate" your speech. Slate promises to publish the speech with the highest rating when everything is said and done, and I suppose the pipe dream here is that maybe, just maybe, Obama's actual address might borrow from the vox populi.

As soon as I get some free time--hrumph!-- I'm definitely going to try this. If I weren't a professional philosopher, my second choice as a career would be to be a speechwriter. (Third choice: soul singer.) Seriously. I briefly entertained my Speechwriter Dream years ago when I fell in love with the television program The West Wing, but I quickly realized that the political speeches delivered on television and in movies are a far cry from the ones delivered in "real" life. (With some obvious exceptions, that is.) I suppose, in a way, being a professor involves a little bit of speechwriting, but the truth is that we can't in good conscience write lectures that involve all of the same rhetorical flair and shameless didacticism as my romaticized notion of real political speeches involve. Or, at least, I can't do that without risking the possibility of making it onto one of Horowitz's lists!

As a side note, I'm also glad that I ran across Slate's little experiment because I had never heard of MixedInk, which is an online collaborative writing tool. I'm interested in trying this with some philosophy... anyone want to join?


anotherpanacea said...

I've actually done some collaborative philosophy using Google Docs, and it's been quite interesting, though sometimes frustrating for purely technical reasons, as when you find you're editing the same sentence as your collaborator. Still, it's really a big improvement on e-mailing the document back and forth.

I'll have to check this out, though I doubt I'll be participating in the composition of the inaugural: I'm more interested in what the President-elect will decide to say than in putting words in his mouth. Hopefully that won't last, but at present, I'm really a little overawed. Living in Memphis, you probably have a similar experience, but the atmosphere here in DC... it's like we're all walking on a cloud or just won the lottery!

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

That sounds fascinating. Will have to check it out when I have that elusive time thing you mentioned.