THE TEACHING ECONOMIST - William A. McEachern                 

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Issue 23, Fall 2002

William A. McEachern, Editor

Finding Common Ground on the Internet

Through timely examples, we try to make our lectures more relevant to students. But connecting with students is easier said than done. For example, our lectures might reference current events, but what if students don't pay attention to current events? According to Peter Francese, founder of American Demographics Magazine, newspaper readership among young adults has dropped more than half in the last 15 years. Young people also watch less TV news than they used to. So how do you find common ground?

The Internet offers a promising tool. Online journals, or diaries, present daily snapshots of what young people think about—their worries, hopes, relationships, studies, jobs, and the other stuff in their daily lives. Now, there are tens of thousands of online diaries. As a start, find the member directory at www.diaryland.com and sample some entries. By searching through the profile of diarists, you can identify some college students to see what they write about day-to-day. For example, many complained about their summer jobs with gripes such as, "My work makes me sick. Literally;" "I feel like I'm working myself to death;" and "I've had it with work." You can learn about diarists' favorite authors (Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and Anne Rice are the top three); favorite music (Linkin Park, Incubus, and Weezer); and favorite movies (Fight Club, The Matrix, and American Beauty). Online diarists are not necessarily representative of the population as a whole (for one thing, most are female), but their ideas may help you close the generation gap.

Another Internet development, the Weblog, offers an additional way to keep up with the zeitgeist, or culture of the times. A Weblog, or "blog" for short, is a site that usually provides the writer's daily observations along with constantly updated links to other sites, often with terse, sometimes sarcastic, commentary about the linked site. This guided tour of the Web frequently includes links to other blogs. Those who write and update the sites are called Webloggers, or "bloggers." A blog is maintained usually by only one blogger. Today, there are tens of thousands of blogs. Some are general; others deal with specific topics, such as politics or economics. (For links to some economic blogs, see the first entry of The Grapevine, and, for some economics of blogging, see the first entry of The Evidence File on the back page.)

How can you use blogs to capture the pulse of the day? You can find links to the more recently updated blogs at www.weblogs.com (the blogs monitored by this site are updated at a rate of about 300 per hour). After a major economic event, you could quickly see what, if anything, bloggers have to say about it.

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