Old-fashioned interviewing, please stay.

30 09 2009

At this point in the semester, we are all well under way in our major individual research projects pertaining to interactive communications. Part of the process of researching and garnering accurate insight to the greater field of interactivity is interviewing.

Interviewing? Yes, you read correctly, interviewing.

Part of our lecture notes today was about the proper and professional means by which to approach such a topic. This got me thinking. Will interviewing continue as a honed skill among humans? Think about it. As more people migrate into the digital world, where increasing reliance upon instantaneous communications reign, how will the art of interviewing continue? Part of what makes interviews such powerful vehicles of information and emotion are the real, gritty and many times unexpected turns that unfold before the interviewer’s very eyes. Asking a pointed question may cause a powerful world leader to squirm in their seat. I ask you this, how can the authenticity of such an experience be replicated in new media where the interviewer and interviewee may never physically meet? For me, at least, that is an important factor that should not be stripped away from the interview process whenever possible.

If you are curious about whom some of the famed interviewers of modern times are, read on. The Poynter Institute Online hosts a great piece discussing this very topic. Poynter reporter Matt Thompson put his interviewing skills to work by asking some of the brightest interviewers out there about their insights in asking the right questions. Among one of my favorites is Bob Schieffer, a career newsman of “Face the Nation” fame on CBS. While reading the accounts that Mr. Schieffer provided in the course of his interview with Thompson, I realized that the interview was conducted via telephone. The physical presence of one person asking another questions and noting their answers was absent. I found that very ironic.

To capture my perspective precisely, I was encouraged by some of the words that Jim Short of the Press-Enterprise provided in his interview. He reflected that an interviewer should “Listen to the changes in his/her vocal patterns; watch the eyes; be cognizant of changes in demeanor.” Bingo, this is exactly the essence of an in-person interview. Sure, people can be interviewed by telephone and through social media tools such as Twitter. However, I am afraid this is missing something. There is not the full effect, the actual intimacy that, even if for a fleeting moment, exists when people are in each other’s physical presence. I am glad that I can conduct some of my research interviews in person, looking and speaking to a fellow human being as opposed to a computer screen. Time will tell if the practicality of maintaining that possibility should remain in the years to come.

Before my whole life goes online, who’s calling the shots here??!?

28 09 2009

People are social creatures. Sure, there are varying degrees of truth to this but underlying our existence as life forms is our reliance on others for a wide variety of reasons. As babies we rely upon parents or caregivers to supply food, we interact with our peers as we mature, we turn to others for advice on a plethora of topics and most of us appreciate a good laugh or two among friends.

With that in mind, social networks are increasingly becoming hotbeds of activity as we move more of our daily lives online. We seek out answers to questions online; we socialize via Twitter, Facebook and instant messaging programs. Greater reliance upon online resources presents dependability issues. Will the tools we rely upon continually be there? Can we trust the tools we are using to help us or will they hurt us? Furthermore, who is control of these tools we use? A much more significant question is who is calling the shots throughout the Internet? Control is becoming one of those topics people approach with great care, skittishly poking and nervously prodding without an idea of what to expect. Internet control is the metaphorical gorilla in the room, a gargantuan one at that. More superficial examples of this struggle are exemplified today in countries such as China and North Korea where government factions hold reign over public Internet access. Is this a proper course of action? If you ask anyone who has experienced the freedom of open Internet access and the ability to speak their mind, the answer would most likely be a resounding no. Democracy extends its advantages to the online space as well in this regard. However, even democratic societies will have to tackle the issue of Internet control soon because the over exertion of control by single-minded individuals or groups could present tremendous problems by silencing perspectives that free populations appreciate. In turn, a worldwide domino effect can result as different sides vie for the ability to have the last word. That last word could be laying the potential groundwork for the Internet’s future.

Who is really in control?

Who is really in control?

To muddle the topic of Internet control even further, the concept of a lifelog is becoming gradually closer to reality. The term if in reference to a person essentially having every record of their existence placed online, accessible through the Internet. I like to think of this as an electronic Social Security card, passport and birth certificate combined into one while vulnerable to electronic eavesdropping. Call me pessimistic but I see tremendous problems with putting people’s lives online to such an extent that privacy becomes a foreign concept. Granted, I may be presenting my perspective on these topics through the view of someone living in the year 2009. Perhaps, over the next few years, people will realize and believe in a shift towards greater trust in the Internet to such a degree that becoming a “person” online is comforting. I can assure you of one thing though; I want to know who is in control of the Internet before I will be translating my real life into an all-encompassing electronic existence.

Mapping the indoors

25 09 2009

I am a map kind of guy. Two-dimensional? Nope, try three. I have always enjoyed scanning a map and making sense of the symbols, colors, lines and names. With that being said, technology contributes to maps in a significant manner. Think of Google Maps. That single application made it possible for people all over the world to access satellite images that previously were scattered, rather tucked away, within websites all over the Internet. Once again, Google proved to be a tremendous innovator by bringing such capabilities to the online public.

This post is not meant to sing the praises of Google Maps. Rather, another application from a small start-up company in California deserves some praise. So here I am to present to you….Micello. Micello is currently an iPhone application, though plans are in the works to expand to other media platforms, in which you can view detailed maps of major indoor spaces. Remember me praising Google Maps above? Well, big problem, Google Maps can’t help you when you are lost inside a government building, or a major mall or an indoor arena. Micello, however, can do just that. The program also runs a search feature so users can type in an item to search for, such as coffee, and the results shown on screen are all the retailers say in the mall that sell coffee. Building off of this, Micello also allows crowd sourcing of information. So, for instance, if a coffee store that had been located on the third floor of the mall on the east wing moved last weekend, a user can post a note indicating the coffee retailer’s new location in the mall before the map data is updated by Micello.

This application touches upon a bigger point regarding mapping in a digital age. We utilize maps almost daily in the form of MapQuest, Google Maps or GPS. But, the great limitation for each of those tools is that when a roof is involved, they are useless. Micello changes the game by refocusing on areas that are most intimate to humans, the inside spaces. I suspect this technology will gain significant interest as people become more accustomed to being able to find direction assistance in digital formats since they have adopted the outdoor usage as if it is second nature. All in all, the Micello application could prove tremendously valuable.

Passing through “Elsewhere”

24 09 2009

Wednesday’s class was unique. For the first time in, I have to really jog my memory here, years where I went on a fieldtrip. Yes, reread that last sentence to make sure it sunk in. A graduate student going on a field trip, has a comical ring to it doesn’t it?

The trip was one that broke the mold of what class is like within a classroom. It was planned that way on multiple levels. The field trip was to an institution of sorts in Greensboro, North Carolina called Elsewhere. The former retail space is literally a living time capsule, frozen in time. Think of it this way, the camera shutter opened in 1939 (when the store opened) and snapped closed in 1997 (when the original owner passed away). Throughout that time, items was collected and stored. Item after item brought into the space, never to leave. It was within this foundation that our class was to identify our memories through physical objects contained inside the building.

View from inside Elsewhere, looking towards the front

View from inside Elsewhere, looking towards the front

Trying to make sense of the plethora of items ranging from toys and books to clothes and luggage was challenging. I kept asking myself, how can I identify myself, my family, memories I can recall, from all of this stuff? Searching amongst everything did eventually provide me traction in advancing my memories to seemingly random physical objects. This was the underlying point of the exercise. Port keys are a name for an object, a representation that leads to a deeper meaning, in this case memories. In essence, I was looking for my port keys. Tasked with identifying objects for categories such as family, community, entertainment, ancestry, nature and discipline/career required me to look beyond their mere physical presence. Instead, looking at meaning, applying this physical object to something much more significant than in its singular form. Although I was wary of this approach on first inspection, it grew on me. At this point, I am not sure the pictures I did capture do an accurate job visually articulating meaning to the life experiences of my family and myself. Moving forward, I am hoping that I can hone in on the most expressive links between physical space, Elsewhere, and the expression of who I am as a person through memory triggers.

Who knew….all those objects do have stories to tell!

We communicate, through models.

23 09 2009

How do YOU model communications? That was the question essentially that our group had to take on today. Sure, there are theories about communications but are they correct? Do they always apply, without fail, in describing the communication process between humans?

We attempted to answer these questions not by agreeing with existing communication models, rather crafting our own. What we ended up with was the “Me”dia Model: The Interactive Wheel of Message Processing. Sounds intriguing, doesn’t it? Basically, we approached the task by noting there are differing degrees of audience participation in message delivery. We took into consideration the McHulan’s Hot and Cool Media theory when crafting our model. Therefore, if the “Hot” pie slice in our corresponding diagram represents messages that are devoid of audience influence, “Cold” is totally dependent on that participation. The middle grounds are represented by pink and light blue, respectively. Having established the differing forms of messages, what about the audience, how do we factor in the users? Are they seen as one homogeneous group? The answer is no. However, the audience in our model is emphasizing the singular “ME” hence our model’s title. As a result of the power vested within the individual we had to acknowledge variation in our model. To do this, the model is constructed so that the outer ring is able to rotate. This outer ring consists of four categories: inactive audience, lurkers, creators and responders. The four groupings represents the differing levels of involvement, more specifically interactivity, by the user in relation to the media content itself. This makes sense when looking at the diagram and the “Inactive Media” portion of the outer ring largely encompasses the “Hot” diagram segments. At the same time, the “Cold” media message pie slice lies within the “Creators” section of the outer ring. Whenever the outer ring is spun and stops, the result represents the interconnected relationships among the message types and their levels of interactivity. Is our model perfect? That depends on one’s definition of perfection. Is the model viable in representing communication processes? The answer is yes. Who knows, maybe we are on to something…

One Web Day: Do you know your Web?

22 09 2009

Today marked an occasion to celebrate something that you likely use everyday. As a matter of fact, the odds are favorable that you are using it right now, as you read these words.

Any ideas?

September 22 is One Web Day, a celebration of the World Wide Web’s creation. To mark the occasion, students from the Elon University’s Interactive Media masters degree program set out to randomly survey attendees of a weekly event on campus called College Coffee. This event brings together students, faculty and staff for a period of conversation, socializing and eating! Taking advantage of this opportunity, we (I was one of the surveyors) set out to ask a series of questions regarding people’s perceptions and opinions regarding the World Wide Web.

The majority of answers to one of the survey questions caught me by surprise. The question reads as follows, “In what year was the Web proposed by Tim Berners-Lee?” Possible answer choices included 1970, 1980, 1990 or 2000. Of all those answer choices, the most respondents believed 1980 to be the correct answer. In actuality, 1990 was the correct choice. Why did most of the people surveyed choose 1980?

Although I have no scientific evidence towards the reasoning behind the answer choices people made, I do have a suspicion. As a result of the Web being ingrained into many of our daily lives to such a degree that people literally would not be able to function without it, I suspect that many people have grown so accustomed to its presence that they have lost sight –if they even had it to begin with—of how much the Web has advanced. In relative time frames, the Web has grown by leaps and bounds in a short period of time. As an entire infrastructure, I use that term loosely here mind you, it has continued to expand into new directions, among new populations, within new geographic areas rapidly, so as to lose sight of what life was like before public Web access was possible.

Perhaps a case could be made in support of the 1980 answer choice because of the introduction of personal computers within that decade. In turn, people automatically pair personal computing with the Web. In this sense, maybe 1980 works well as a comfortable and seemingly sensible answer within the guise of computer usage today. Interestingly, the age spectrum of those surveyed ranged approximately from 18 years to those in their 60s as a rough estimate. Clearly, several generational perspectives were represented within the framework by which respondents decided upon their answers.

Whatever the reasoning may be for those surveyed to answer at they did, I find it surprising that the majority consider the Web to be more antiquated than it really is. Once the correct answer was announced, several respondents commented that they were surprised. One Web Day may only be one day each year but perhaps people left College Coffee with a new realization, a moment of pause, to reevaluate a resource they rely upon everyday.

A confluence of words and a concept

18 09 2009

Earlier today while sitting down and thinking over class thus far in the semester, my mind started connecting words on a page — which I will explain below — to words delivered via Skype in class. The parallel brought life to a concept that was initially introduced to me as ink on a piece of paper.

The words on a page, ink on paper references are to the material covered in the enlightening book “Groundswell” by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. While reading through sections of the book and understanding how the power of people can turn a traditional business operation upside down among other things, I could not shake, nor did I want to, a fundamental message found on page 18. That message reads as follows: “…concentrate on the relationships, not the technologies.” These words carry significant weight in light of the breakneck speed of online expansion. However, these words also carried a personal significance. To elaborate on this, I should reference a class discussion with Mark Luckie.

The opportunity for our class to hold a Skype discussion with Mr. Luckie was a great means of personalizing concepts relating to the online landscape. One of the difficulties I have found myself having in the online world is with blogs. Now that I am blogging for several classes, I have found myself being stumped what to write about or how to write about a topic. I have asked myself why write about Topic A when it seems multitudes of other people out there have been writing about Topic A for months or years before I entered the blogging scene. I am not looking to beat a dead horse. The discussion with Mr. Luckie provided perspective though. While struggling to find my “voice” online and write as I feel comfortable expressing myself, Mr. Luckie made a very worthwhile comment. He noticed that since he started blogging on a regular basis it is almost always the blog posts of his that are last minute that garner the greatest interest and reader response. This was a valuable realization for me. This casual comment showed what happens when a blogger, a rather good one at that, find their voice. Mr. Luckie has found his voice and has virtually run with it ever since. He seems comfortable in what he writes about and how he frames his message. Due to this, people enjoy what he discusses and they are drawn to participate in what he has to say. I hope that through the “Groundswell” message and Mr. Luckie’s lessons I can harness my voice online in the near future