Archive | December, 2011

Stage 5: The Reactions; Final Project, Disproving the Adage “You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks”

8 Dec

Stage 5, the final stage in my final project, will consist of presenting my project to my class and recording some of the reactions in this post (which I will later consider in more detail and respond to if I feel it necessary).

I had considered having Dad engage in a Skype video chat with the whole class as part of the presentation so that everyone could ask him some questions…but I feel as though I have taken up enough of Dad’s time and patience over the past week.  I’m sure he would have been glad to do it, but I have decided to ‘let him off the hook,’ so to speak.

For my final presentation, I took the class on a visual tour of my most recent blog posts (Stage 1 – Stage 5), explaining the process that my dad and I went through over the past week.  I concluded my presentation by playing the YouTube video I created from my Skype chat with Dad.

I received quite a bit of positive feedback from my classmates, with a majority of the comments sharing a similar theme of appreciation for the provision of a glimpse into my personal relationship with my dad.  I was pleased to have been able to balance this aspect of my final project with my recently acquired knowledge on digital storytelling.  I was also appreciative of having been able to use the digital storytelling format as a means of creating my final project on the same topic.

My professor’s question, following the conclusion of my presentation, was “What did you learn about digital storytelling?”  I responded that I learned how much of a process it is.  Determining what format to use to disseminate the work, when/where to input images, video, audio, etc., and how to translate  the experiences my dad and I shared on the phone into text all required some extensive thought.   It simply is not the same as reading a story in a book, or hearing a story from a person face-to-face.  Additionally, I had to remain constantly aware of how I was using all of the information I was collecting throughout the experience in an effort to avoid exploiting or embarrassing my dad in the process.  While I was initially apprehensive about this, as I went through the process with my dad, I realized how much of a willing participant he was being; and his enthusiasm for what he was gaining from the process soon began to outweigh these apprehensions.  Finally, I was somewhat worried that because my dad and I were both aware of the fact that this project was for school, (and was therefore framed as a serious/professional academic pursuit), both of us would be a bit too aware of the camera’s presence during our Skype conversation and come off as insincere, disingenuous, or inhibited.  As it turned out, we were both very natural once we began our video chat, probably as a result of the first several minutes of our conversation which consisted of us “just shootin’ the s%*t,” as my dad would say.

All in all, I must say that this experience of learning by doing with regards to the digital storytelling process has been the best mode for gaining an understanding of what digital storytelling really is.  I’m quite pleased that I decided to produce a digital story, rather than to comment on digital storytelling as a concept, because I gained a working-knowledge of the process.  Had I written a traditional academic paper on the topic of digital storytelling, I would have missed out on this experience (and I would have felt irresponsible, or lacking in integrity for writing about a process in which I had never participated).  It is certainly obvious that what distinguishes digital storytelling from other forms of storytelling is the use of digital tools, but that understanding is elementary when compared to the intimate understanding of the process that one can gain by participating in the production of these stories.

As a result of my participation in this project, and this class in general, I feel confident that I will not only continue to blog, but that I will utilize my newly acquired skills in editing, production, and visual analysis by producing visual media for future academic, professional and even personal ventures.

In conclusion, I would like to thank my dad for all of his participation, patience, enthusiasm, and openness throughout this process.  I would also like to thank Dr. Juhasz and my classmates for their support, guidance, and input, throughout the semester, on this and other projects and assignments.

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Stage 4: “I Love This!” Skype Changed My Dad’s Perception; Final Project, Disproving the Adage “You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks”

8 Dec

Stage 4 of my final project, as explained in my prior post, consisted of a Skype video chat between my dad and I.

So I should have anticipated this, but my dad loved Skype more than I could have imagined.  He and I, as I’ve said several times, talk on the phone frequently (at least 1-2 times each week).  But being able to see me made a big difference.  I could hear a difference in his voice, and in mine.  There is something about being able to see someone while you talk to them that makes the experience more enjoyable.

Unfortunately, though I recorded our Skype conversation, for some reason my computer did not pick up my voice.  As a result, I created a YouTube movie in which my questions are written out on a black screen and my Dad provides some answers to these questions in his own words:

 

 

I think the best part of this is that my Dad, who never says he’s willing to do something unless he is absolutely sure, will be more of an online presence in the future and has finally reached a point of understanding as to how and why I communicate with so many friends and relatives in the way that I do.  I am excited to see what kinds of ideas he has for a blog and am looking forward to helping him fine tune these new skills when I go home for a visit in January.

It really is amazing, that two people across the country from one another can communicate in so many ways at the same time and actually accomplish something of substance.  I would like to thank my Dad for his patience and enthusiasm throughout this project and look forward to hearing reactions from followers.

Stage 3: To Facebook Or Not To Facebook; Final Project, Disproving the Adage “You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks”

6 Dec

Day 3 of my final project began with my decision to focus only on facebook for today, and to move the Skype video-call ‘postmortem discussion’ to tomorrow.

As I stated in my previous post, Dad thinks facebook is suspect.  He thinks his private, personal life should remain private.  He does not like the idea of sharing any part of this with people who don’t already know it.  My goal is to warm him up to this social network by allowing him to log on to my facebook account while I log onto a friend’s, so that he can send me instant messages, poke me, like something, explore the wall of random friends I have and what they’re up to, etc… I anticipate that he may enjoy the experience enough to begin to think about facebook differently.  However, I do not necessarily think he will be ready to create his own account.

I will also be walking my Dad through the process of downloading Skype and creating a username.  We will save the process of video-calling until tomorrow.

So Dad logged onto my facebook account and I took him on a guided tour.  First we used facebook chat, so he could see how instant messaging works on the site.  I had him search through my friend list and visit my siblings’ pages and check out a few of my friends Dad has not had a chance to meet (though he has heard about them during our many phone conversations).  I had him look at my photos and my siblings’ photos.  He was pretty into this part of the site.  But, as I expected, he did bring up issues of privacy.  So I decided I would push him a little bit further and had him go into my privacy settings.  We went over all the aspects that you can customize, so that you can remain hidden and maintain privacy, but still have access to those people you decide to add as your friends.  By the time we had finished this, Dad seemed to have warmed up a bit more, but not entirely.

We went through the process of downloading Skype, which was a bit more difficult since Dad was operating a PC and I have been using Macs for at least the past 6 years.  We were able to talk through all the tiny bumps in the road and Dad was successful in downloading Skype and creating a username.  He didn’t seem very excited, but that all changed when he realized how amazing it was that we were going to  be able to video chat for free.

Stage 2: Digital Vocabulary, YouTube and Blogging; Final Project, Disproving the Adage “You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks”

6 Dec

So today I spent two hours on the phone with my dad talking about digital jargon, YouTube and blogging.  While I had intended to go right into giving my dad instructions on how to navigate YouTube, I realized that I had to start from scratch by going over some basic vocabulary starting with “web address line.”  Because we were not screen-sharing and we were unable to physically be in the same room, I had to rely on my ability to describe the online visual images we were viewing simultaneously. (I had my laptop out and was relaying every key stroke to my dad so that we were somewhat in sync with each other)  He had a good sense of what some common online actions were, such as uploading and downloading, but was still new to some of the jargon I was using. I was able to help my dad understand more clearly what the following terms referred to: web address line, search engine, search box, link, cache, views/hits, website/web page, and application. I had anticipated, based on some interactions in the relatively recent past, that this process would take much more time than it did.  My dad acknowledged that because the interactive process required him to learn by doing, he was able to “get the hang of this” very quickly.  I found this to be an interesting coincidence considering that I am pretty much doing the same thing (learning about digital storytelling and using the digital storytelling method to do my final project on digital storytelling).  He also acknowledged that acquiring this new vocabulary helped him to understand what he was doing, “Even though I was doing this stuff before, now I know what to call it.”

Having established these linguistic necessities, we moved onto navigating YouTube.  I decided that the best way to expose my dad to YouTube would be to pick out some clips/videos that he would enjoy (and that I have enjoyed in the past).  First, I had him type “angry tennis player” into the search box.  Before he finished typing, he exclaimed, “Hey, I don’t even have to finish typing it! It popped right up there underneath.” The video I wanted to share with him was not the first video to pop up, so I had him scroll down the page and look for “the one that’s 48 seconds long.” There was a slight pause at this point, and just as I was about to ask if he saw the video length on the bottom right of the thumbnails, he read the account user’s name next to the video. Success!  So I had him click the video and watch it:

 

 

As you can see, the tennis player in the above video slams a tennis ball into the court.  I decided this video had something my dad would find intriguing, since it is an extreme moment in the world of sports and my dad is definitely a sports fan. Knowing that Dad has always been a fan of Irish music and culture (which entails occasionally poking fun at Scottish people), and wanting to show him that music was a large part of YouTube, I decided to have Dad listen to the Scottish Kilt Song, also known as Scotsman’s Kilt:

 

 

I had Dad move on to the next videos which were animal-themed (who doesn’t love a great animal clip?).  First we watched a cat’s epic fail in leaping, followed by a sleepwalking dog.

 

 

 

 

As we watched the videos and laughed and talked about them, I informed my dad that each video had a view-count.  He did not seem too interested in this, but once we moved on to the next video it seemed to matter to him quite a bit more.  I decided to expose my dad to the “Charlie Bit My Finger” cult:

 

 

When we got to the page, my dad exclaimed, “Holy s*%#! 394 million people!” With his only YouTube exposure having occured in the past hour, Dad was already getting a grasp on how not only to use and navigate YouTube, but how to understand it.  He recognized that there had been differences between the videos we had watched and the viewcounts for each of them. He understood that the options that popped up in the search bar as you begin to type refer to the most popular search trends on the site.  He became really interested and began to ask questions like, “What’s this YouTube account thing? I mean, if it’s free to just go on, why would I get an account?”  I explained that most people have accounts to either save their favorite videos or upload their own videos.  I explained that registering for an account was free, but Dad was content to just “check things out on my own for a bit.” I told him that was fine, and I suggested we move on to blogging.

I had my dad type the URL for my blog into the web-address line.  When the page loaded, he asked, “So where’s the blog?”  I told him, “That’s it.  The page you just loaded is my blog’s main page.”  He replied, “The thing with the red shoe?”  “Yeah Dad, that’s it. That’s my blog,” I said.  I explained what a blog was, why people had blogs, how it’s a way to publish your work for free, etc…  Dad was still kind of focused on YouTube at this point.  But once he settled in on the page he went rogue on me for a minute and asked me “What’s this blog roll thing here on the right?”  I told him those were my classmate’s blogs and that if he clicked on any of them they would take him to those blogs.  “So they’re links, then,” he stated.

I told him that I wanted him to interact with my blog by posting a comment.  I told him to post a comment to my latest post, at which point some confusion set in.  I explained that each individual post is distinguished by its own title and the dates represented the days I first published the posts.  I walked him through the basic steps and told him I wanted his comment to be his reaction(s) to what we had worked on all day.  I was prepared to reassure him that providing his e-mail was necessary to post a comment and would not result in more inbox spam or identity theft when Dad surprised me by saying, “Okay. I got my e-mail all in there and now what? I just type in the box what I want?”  “Yup. That’s it,” I said.  So he posted his comment on my first post in this process (Stage 1).

Before getting off the phone, I asked my Dad, “So what do you think?”  He said he thought that most of what we had looked at on YouTube was “pretty neat.”  He also commented on the issue of privacy, finding it strange that people, like the parents of the “Charlie Bit My Finger” kids, are just sharing their private family moments with the world.  He asked if everything uploaded to YouTube was like that.  I explained that some videos were more professional, some were home movies, some were educational how-to videos, etc… I also explained that people with YouTube accounts could opt to keep their videos private if they wanted.

Our next step will entail exploring facebook and hopefully a successful use of Skype’s video calling option.  My dad has been relatively adamant over the past several years that he will never have a facebook account, feeling that his privacy is sacred.  He has trouble understanding why anyone would want to share so much from their personal lives with such a vast network of strangers all over the world.  I explained that most of the people that are considered “facebook friends” are people that we have already met and would like/wouldn’t mind keeping in touch with.  I also informed Dad that my siblings and I all have facebook accounts and that it’s a nice way to have access to people who, for whatever reasons, we might have difficulty staying in touch with outside of this forum.  My dad surprised me yet again when he said, “Who knows.  Maybe you’ll change my mind tomorrow when you show me all the stuff.  We’ll see.”

Stage 1: The Set-Up; Final Project, Disproving the Adage, “You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks”

5 Dec

I had intended to utilize my final project on digital storytelling to explore the growing acceptance of tattoo culture in this country.  But the day before class I had another idea that involved more of my personal life. It had an appealing quality in light of some of the class discussions about digital storytelling and other emergent forums for publishing. As a class, we have consistently made an effort to acknowledge that access to the tools of production is by no means universal. We had emphasized financial and cultural capital as determining factors for access to computers, the internet, etc…, but rarely thought to incorporate age. I hadn’t realized how important age was to these discussions, at least not until I thought about the language I was using to convey several of my original final project ideas to my peers.

As I mentioned, I had fully intended to focus on tattoo culture.  As I was explaining my idea to a peer,(and asking if he would let me record him being tattooed) I heard myself utter the following: “This is a visual research methods course and my final project is on digital storytelling.  I want to find stills of tattoos using Google images, then record the process of an individual being tattooed, but I could just use Snapz movie on a YouTube clip of LA Ink or something.”  A few months ago, I would have had a difficult time understanding what that all meant (mostly the Snapz reference).  And that’s when it hit me.  I could talk to a number of people about what I was working on for this class without having to explain myself too much.  But I could not as easily share the experiences with my dad.

Why not?  It had nothing to do with our relationship. I talk with my dad all the time. The real issue is the language difference.  Because of my early and continued exposure to computers and the internet, I have a working technological vocabulary that many older generations do not.  So when I talk about a YouTube clip I saw that hat more than 2 million hits, when I talk about writing a new blog post and publishing it to my blog, when I discuss how Snapz was central to my video essay and documentary, etc., I am speaking to a large, but also largely limited audience because many people in my life have had limited exposure to online interactions.

None of this is intended to suggest that my dad is internet or computer challenged.  He hasn’t been living under a rock for the past 20 years. He’s online regularly, participating in sports fantasy leagues, checking e-mails, booking flights, using Google Earth and various search engines. So he certainly has a working knowledge of how to navigate the internet. But some of what I have come to understand as basic terminology is still not part of his everyday language (web-address line, flash drive, tabs, links, cookies, etc…) Things like YouTube, blogs, Skype, iTunes and even Facebook remain unexplored territory for him.

So, in an effort to bridge the generation gap, I have decided to utilize my final project as a means by which I can expose my dad to some of these online resources/tools while simultaneously recording our mutual experiences and sharing them with others through various blog posts. I received quite a bit of positive feedback for this idea from my classmates when we presented final project ideas last week.  I have already asked my dad if he would be willing to participate since that point, and he has assured me that he is.  We have set up several times to talk on the phone this week (since he lives across the country), and I plan to take him on a verbally guided tour of YouTube and Facebook, have him explore my blog and comment on a post, and to have him download Skype, create an account and call me.  Our Skype chat will serve as a post-mortem discussion on the entire process and I will record and post it in my final blog entry for this project.

I will be including my own reflections on and reactions to this process, as well as my dad’s, as we progress.  I will attempt to incorporate multiple forms of media in the posts that follow this one. By the time this process is over, I anticipate that we (my dad and I) will have a greater understanding and appreciation of one another, that my dad will have an improved understanding of these online resources, and that we will have created an interesting, insightful, and educational digital story together.

Seeing Is Believing: A Non-believer in a World of Believers

4 Dec

In attempting to answer a question posed by a peer, I inadvertently insulted him [according to others at the time, but not by his own admission–later he acknowledged that he had taken no offense to the issue].  But as I considered the question and my answer again, I could not force myself to feel at all wrong for saying what I said.  The “insult” was perceived, and therefore not on my conscience as a wrong I had committed.  As a matter of fact, I found this interpretation of my peer’s ‘insulted’ reaction, itself, to be insulting and manipulative (at least after thinking about the exchange).

As an irreligious/non-believer/atheist-agnostic, I find that my absence of faith seems to inflame the faiths of those around me. When I officially left the Church, it was considered quite the scandal (since I grew up in a small town).  My own family acted as though I should feel some shame for the (what they perceived as negative) attention I had drawn to them.  But I felt quite strongly that I had been indoctrinated into a system of faith at an age that did not allow me to fully understand what I was doing.  I was told what to think/believe. (That always bothered me: whatever religion one’s family identifies with becomes your own religion when you are born into that family–seemed a bit suspect that religious affiliation was inherited in the same way that eye color was). But even when I have done nothing more than to explain to someone spouting religious jargon at me that I am not a believer, the initial reactive facial expressions of shock and dismay are most common.

Here’s what happened (roughly) between peer (X) and I:

X: “Well, you were raised Catholic, so didn’t you believe (in “God” ) when you were younger.”

Me: “No more than I believed in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.  Childhood was a period of my own ‘willing suspension of disbelief.’ You always know your parents are behind the scenes, right? But you like the idea of these complete strangers giving you stuff for no other reason than you’ve been a decently behaved kid, so you buy into the story. It’s like ‘believing’ in magic.”

X: “So when did you get to the point when you stopped believing [in God] completely?

Me: “I don’t think I ever really did ‘believe’ in the first place.  That’s my point.  I never saw Santa and kind of suspected all along that he was make-believe.  And I don’t think, prior to being able to understand what it was to “believe,” that I can be said to have believed in him because I was not entirely sure what that meant. I guess the same is true of ‘God’ for me.  I was told stories, but never saw or heard him.  It just didn’t make sense, you know?”

At this point, we were interrupted by others who were present and moved on.  Later, some of the others informed me that comparing ‘God’ to ‘Santa’ was a bit drastic.  It was not, apparently, appropriate to equate ‘God’ to a fictional character because of how it could have made my peer feel; it belittled his God, and therefore, his faith.  I had not, however, been concerned with this, as I was attempting to explain my experience as a non-believer.  It was as honest an answer as I could provide.

But after this exchange, and considering the input of others who were present, I began to think about why concern over his faith outweighed concern for my absence of faith.  On a larger scale, I began thinking about how frequently I am confronted with religious symbols, jargon, ideals, etc…, and how I am expected to comply with the social norms of graciously accepting others’ expressions of faith when, at the time, I am generally expected to suppress my own beliefs (well, lack thereof) to preserve social pleasantries.  Because, as a non-believer, I rarely utilize religious jargon, when I am confronted with it in everyday interactions, I feel immediately obligated to ‘just go along with it,’ never letting the people who say things like “By the grace of God,” or “I’ll keep that in my prayers,” etc…, know how uncomfortable and awkward I feel as a result.

I began thinking about how overwhelming it is to see crosses and stars of David around people’s necks, jesus fish on cars, people wearing the hijab or burkas, nativity scenes at Christmas, crucifixions or crosses on church lawns, Biblical passages on cups at In and Out, etc… I thought of how many times I had been approached by religious individuals attempting to evangelize me, save me, share the good word with me.  And after years of being inundated with overt expressions of faith, I have realized how unfair this all seems. If seeing is believing, I certainly believe that the majority of individuals are believers.  But all of the symbols I see have been created by the hands of men, just like the Bible.  I have never seen any evidence of ‘God,’ and anticipate no such evidence to be introduced to me in the future.  I do understand the idea of ‘God’ to be similar to the idea of ‘Santa,’ a character created to provide hope, joy, and to establish some level of behavioral regulation to the masses with consequences should any misbehave (Santa gives you coal, God smites you).  But I intentionally do not share such irreligious convictions with too many people unless I am specifically asked.  I do not have a symbol to mark myself as a non-believer so that others can see it and recognize my lack of faith (and if I did have one available I would not wear it like a badge of pride).  I don’t laugh at believers or become enraged when they impose their beliefs upon me in everyday interactions. But believers seem entitled to do all of these.  I find this to be quite an impolite and presumptuous mindset.

So, going back to my interaction with peer ‘X,’ I am a tad put-off that my response, an attempt to explain my absence of faith to an individual who inquired, was interpreted by any of those present as ‘insulting,’ or inconsiderate in light of my peer’s religious affiliation.  I recalled seeing Bill Maher’s film, Religulous and how it felt to see a film that acknowledged the atheist/agnostic perspective as legitimate.  While I do think Maher went out of his way to highlight some of the more ridiculous religious notions and practices in this country, I found comfort in feeling less like an outcast by default. Others found the phenomenon of compulsory religiosity to be similarly jarring.

But what should/could I do about this?  The first amendment allows for the free exercise of religion, and I fully support that.  But I still find it irritating to be confronted so frequently with religious symbols and jargon in the public realm on a daily basis.  And I have no intention of adopting similar tactics in some vain attempt to convert believers into non-believers. It seems tawdry and pathetic, in my opinion, to require the support of others in formulating a system of beliefs.  I wish I could experience the same respect from believers that I try, as a non-believer, to show them.  I feel that if people were able to understand their religious convictions as their own, their faith in God as a personal thing that need not be shared so openly with strangers, then the prevalence of an assumed religiosity would wane.  But for some reason, more believers than non-believers (in my experience) want to share their faiths with total strangers, without asking if this stranger shares a similar system of beliefs or would appreciate/mind being forced into a religiously motivated discussion.

What’s a non-believer to do (especially when I do not want to impose my ‘beliefs’ on others)?