In late July, I found myself surrounded by other university magazine editors in an auditorium at Stanford University, while on stage, the creator of one of the first CD-ROM magazines gave us an amazing demonstration of his multi-media product. With a jolt, I realized that the magazine business is undergoing a revolution--at a pace faster than I could have imagined even a year ago.
Chances are you've experienced a similar jolt recently. At home, in the workplace, in world affairs, things are changing at a speed that dazzles. Making sense of it all is hardly easy, but with this special issue of Johns Hopkins Magazine, we set out to try.
We began by asking more than a dozen of Hopkins's most renowned alumni writers and poets to make one concrete observation about the present--to pick one "straw," if you will, that might hint which way the winds of change are blowing. "What have you observed that seems significant?" we asked. It could be funny or sad, of global proportions or right in their own backyard.
To our delight, 13 of them--the likes of TIME's Christine Gorman, The New Yorker's Terence Monmaney, and novelist John Barth--accepted the assignment, despite the modesty of the honorarium we could afford.
Then another thought occurred: Why not ask our regular stable of illustrators and photographers to approach the same assignment through their art? To a person, they loved the idea; it's not often that commercial artists get such creative license, they told us.
While we waited excitedly for the essays and poems and photos and illustrations to pour in, we here on the staff got to work interviewing Hopkins thinkers from a wide variety of disciplines and departments. We asked each person (you guessed it) to pick his or her own "straw in the wind" and discuss it with us.
Just as we'd hoped, each essayist, poet, photographer, illustrator, and thinker came at the question from a very different angle. Nevertheless, five themes emerged: Community, Technology, Culture, Sovereignty, and Global Resources. Most of the straws fell into these areas of concern. (I say "most" because there were indeed some faculty interviews--insightful interviews--that didn't fit comfortably into any of the five areas. Chances are they'll lead to future stories. In particular, look for an in-depth feature on health care reform, a subject not touched on here.)
I hope you'll spend some time with the word-collage of essays, pictures, poems, and interviews that comprise this special issue. By taking a realistic look at where the world is now, perhaps we can get a clearer sense of how we ought to be moving ahead.
And please, if you feel moved to share your own "straw," send it in. Your thoughts might well appear in a future issue. --SD
Barber used high-speed, infrared, black-and-white film. This film, he says, "doesn't interpret reality as we see it." Green grass turns white, blue skies turn black. "It's almost voodooish." Once the print was developed, he subtly hand-dyed it.
Barber has been shooting for non-profit publications throughout Maryland since 1971, when he graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art. People are his favorite photographic subject. "The nice thing about people," he explains, "is that you can let the energy flow from them and just interpret it."
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