Dan Charles, who works for National Public Radio as a food and agriculture correspondent, will deliver the commencement address at Goshen College’s 115th graduation ceremony on Sunday, April 28.
His speech, “Searching for what’s real in the digital world,” will encourage graduates to discover authentic communication in spite of modern technology.
“In this world of mass communication, the technology is great,” Charles said, “but you do lose something along the way.”
For Charles, there are two sides to what is considered “real” communication: there is the “true” side and the “authentic” side. While most college graduates are trained to look for facts and evidence, authentic communication, he says, is becoming harder to come by.
“Don’t agree with just anything anyone sends your way,” he said. Searching for what is authentic, according to Charles, requires curiosity, skepticism and a critical approach to a topic.
“There’s real communication, and communication that is less real or authentic,” Charles said. “How ‘real’ is Facebook communication?” Social media resources and other Internet based forms of communication, he says, run the risk of dominating authenticity.
And for someone like Charles, authenticity in relationships is a key factor in his decision to give the commencement address.
Charles said that even though he didn’t attend Goshen College, the college has been an important part of his life, due to his connections and friendships.
Growing up near Lancaster, Penn., he first came into contact with journalism as editor-in-chief for his high school newspaper, working alongside Goshen College’s communication department chair, Duane Stoltzfus.
Charles’ interests, however, led him to study economics and international affairs at American College. Nevertheless, he quickly found himself working as a reporter again.
“A couple of decades ago,” said Charles, “I fell almost by accident into writing about science and technology.” As a freelance writer, Charles’ paying customers tended to be science magazines.
“Freelancing is a free, but isolating and precarious existence,” he said. In time, Charles gained stability through radio broadcasting and correspondence.
From 1993 to 1999, Charles served as NPR’s technology correspondent. Charles writes on his website that “the discoveries and gizmos were entertaining enough in their own right, but I grew more fascinated by what produced them: human dreams, cultural obsessions and political power.”
Following these fascinations, Charles published two books: "Master Mind: The Rise and Fall of Fritz Haber, The Nobel Laureate Who Launched the Age of Chemical Warfare," published in 2005, and "Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money and the Future of Food," in 2001.
In 2011, Charles returned to NPR for his current position as food and agriculture correspondent. “The bread and butter of the beat,” he said, “is telling the story of how food gets to your plate.”
Charles has covered agriculture’s environmental implications, community gardens and the food industry at large. Recently, he has been working on a story about the proper methods of making Greek yogurt, as well as possible changes to certain food aid programs.
Despite the recent focus on agriculture and food, Charles enjoys reporting on environmental issues, energy issues, history, technology and economics. However, technology, food and agriculture have been the most engaging for him.
“From popular food crops to modern digital maps,” Charles said, “our machines reflect our culture and our politics.”
“Searching for what’s real in the digital world” is a topic that Charles finds “interesting and potentially useful” for graduates. As a father of two teenage girls, he sees the effects of technology on his children.
Charles, who grew up well before the massive integration of the Internet with daily life, hopes to impart upon graduates the importance of “being conscious of the influence of technology around us.”
Dan Charles will be presenting his commencement address on Sunday, April 28 at 3 p.m. in the Roman Gingerich Recreation-Fitness Center.