Podcast Notes: on Facebook and Personal Reality

My Dad, who has quit Facebook (almost), recently posted a link to a podcast on his Facebook page and it is one of the most interesting podcasts I’ve encountered lately. From the ABC program Conversations came the episode:
Facebook and the last days of reality: futurist Mark Pesce

I listened to the episode while knitting, then a few days later grabbed a notebook and took some sketch notes while I listened again. Here are some of my main takeaways:

  • The Facebook Algorithm  acts as a Cognitive Bias Amplifier because showing us what we want to see keeps us on the platform and the more we use Facebook, the more Facebook knows about us, and has a chance to advertise at us. This has trapped Facebook in a destructive cycle with its users, where users get what they want, not what might be socially good for them. If Facebook tires to change its algorithms to distribute socially necessary information rather than a personalised experience, users will move on to another platform that gives them what they want.
  • Emotional Contagion is spread through Facebook because it is a powerful social network. An example of this is the scientific experiment that Facebook did showing users more positive or negative news stories to find out how it would influence them. There is a related RadioLab podcast about this experiment that goes into more detail about how researchers are able to create experiments on a mass scale now thanks to the data that Facebook collects and talks about the ethics of doing so. The RadioLab podcast The Trust Engineers was published at the beginning of 2015.
  • Facebook has become a Reality Trap; it is now a primary news source for many users, and this is affected by the algorithms that show users what they want to see. In turn, this affects how the media both receives and distributes their messages. The Facebook newsfeed essentially curates a custom reality for each of its users and now communicating across realities has language barriers. According to Mark, this is ruining democracy; “Democracy is a social agreement” and Facebook has become “corrosive of consensus”.
  • Data Sets are everywhere, and being collected and sold by everyone. If you buy a couple of complimentary data sets and line them up, although you won’t have a person’s name and exact date of birth, you will have an incredibly rich profile that will tell you what you need to know about a person, or type of person, in order to effectively advertise (commercially or politically) at them. “We live in a knowledge civilisation now,” says Mark and explains that although it used to be difficult and expensive to weaponize  information, now almost anybody can do it because it has become so cheap.
  • Digital Natives use Facebook differently to Gen Xers (thankfully, I’m in between). Where Gen Xers might rely on Facebook as a main way of accessing the internet, connecting with friends and family, and sharing what’s important to them, Digital Natives take a much more formal approach to the platform. Digital Natives tend to use private sharing systems, sharing with a few people in unobserved ecosystems. They approach Facebook as a formal online space, putting up carefully curated content and using it to engage with older generations who aren’t part of the private ecosystems that Digital Natives favour. They aren’t invested in Facebook emotionally, perhaps intuitively recognising the mess that previous generations have made of the social network, and choosing instead to spend their online time in other environments.

    I personally feel that I’m part of the in-between generation. I didn’t grow up with a smart phone in my hand, but I wasn’t part of the generation that built the web either. Sometimes my generation (Gen Y) gets lumped in with millennials, sometimes we get forgotten. I think generally we are also in-between in terms of our relationship to Facebook. At first we were emotionally invested in the platform, treating it like a grown-up version of MySpace, but in the last few years I’ve seen less and less posts in my newsfeed because we are migrating to other platforms, or posting less on social media generally.  The exception to the rule of course is when Gen Yers start having kids, then I have to unfollow friends to avoid a plague of baby photos in my feed!

There was a lot of information in the podcast that I’m still working on unpacking. The podcast was a result of Mark Pesce writing an article for Meanjin with the same title The Last Days of Reality and I have only skimmed it, but it is on my reading list. Wired also wrote an article this month about the past two years at Facebook and how it’s faced backlash for the proliferation of fake news and curated newsfeeds and has had to navigating coming to terms with the fact that it is both a platform and a publisher. Wired’s article is called Inside the Two Years That Shook Facebook—and the World.

I think that all these podcasts and readings are going to link in nicely to my week one reading for COMU2140, another Wired article titled The Web Is Dead. Long Live The Internet which after a quick skim seems to be about how most people access the internet through closed systems like apps rather than through the wide open spaces that occur when using a web browser. The article was written eight years ago but still seems unnervingly relevant.


APA reference:
Ransom-Hughes, M. (Producer), Fidler, R. (Presenter), & Pesce, M. (Guest). (2018, January 30) Facebook and the last days of reality: futurist Mark Pesce [Audio Podcast]. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/conversations/conversations-mark-pesce/9354558

Narrative in Still Photography

I recently came across this article about narrative in photography that I think has interesting implications for new media makers.

Why is narrative such a difficult concept for young photographers to master?

The author, Grant Scott, speculates that perhaps young adults who are new to photography aren’t very good at creating narratives in their images because the formal school system through which we progress enforces reading like a chore and therefore we tend to reject “all forms of reading and, as a result, of the narrative” (para 2).

Scott goes on to discuss how short form social media (like 140 character tweets and single image Instagram posts) “reduce both attention span and the opportunity to develop complex and nuanced storytelling” (para 5) and although the platforms can be used to create narrative the photographer needs to have a thorough understanding of how narrative can work on those platforms in order to take the fullest advantage of them. He mentions that young photographers often only see their work on back-lit screens and emphasises the importance of printing out a body of work to analyse it physically in order to learn good editing skills and to make connections between images that might be missed if the images were confined only to the screen.

I think it is important to not only develop an understanding of how narrative works, and how you can showcase it through different mediums (photography, audio, video, anything really) but to also develop an understanding of why narrative is important, of why narrative touches humans on such an emotional level where facts and figures can’t always reach. Once you understand why something is important and that we are using it every day in all kinds of situations, you gain a real sense of exactly why you must prioritise being intentional about it within your own work.

How am I going to work on this in my creative endeavours and professional career? I am going to keep narrative in my mind during the creating and editing process. I’m going to seek out ways to learn more about how to incorporate narrative in my work. I am going to deconstruct the work of others to learn from their creations. What are you going to do?


APA reference:
Scott, G. (2016) Why is narrative such a difficult concept for young photographers to master? Retrieved from: https://witness.worldpressphoto.org/why-is-narrative-such-a-difficult-concept-for-young-photographers-to-master-ccef10fb1064

Starting Again

Round two. Well, technically this is round 3 of university for me, but it’s round two in a communications degree. Why am I here? Because I want to finish this. I want the structure of learning new shit. I want to graduate this time!

So! I’ll be using this blog again as my student blog and writing posts that have notes on my readings and lectures. I’ll be discussing interesting questions that I encounter and creating mini projects based on things I want to explore.

I’ve had three years off from studying and I’m feeling a bit rusty getting back into it, trying to figure out what technologies (both digital and non) I’ll be using and which system of note taking and file organising is going to work best for me. I completely forgot I even had this blog as a system that I could use! I’m juggling dropbox and evernote and whether to use a lined or art notebook. Do I buy a new laptop? Borrow an old iPad? Just rely on my phone and notebook? I guess I’ll figure it out as the semester begins.

Radio Reflections

I’ve been pretty shocking at keeping this blog updated this semester (this year?!), but I have been making lots of notes in my notebooks and during lectures etc. So I thought instead of trying to figure out when I wrote those and back-dating a bunch of blog posts, I’d just write everything all up in one post with headings and notes and see if putting everything all in the one place leads me to make connections I might have otherwise missed. Here goes.

Lectures

The week two lecture was about interviewing and I wrote down a lot of useful tips that week. Apart from the tips though, there was some interesting  ideas about interview that I hadn’t previously though of. These two tips really stood out for me:

Ask questions that are designed to get useful information on an interesting topic.

And also:

The interviewers knowledge of the subject matter should be good enough not to use the question list as a crutch.

The first tip I liked because it is a good way of simplifying the interview and really making you think about why this interview will be a good one for your audience. It asks you to consider what kinds of information will be useful, and why the topic will be interesting, and in thinking about these two things and where they intersect, your questions practically form themselves. The second tip relates to this, because if you think long, hard, and deep enough about the why’s and what’s behind your interview, it’s usually because you’ve been doing the research behind the topic and interviewee.

I have found that when I do interviews for RWAV, the more prepared I am, the more conversational it sounds. This is because I’m able to respond to answers as if I know what’s being discussed (because I do!) and to transition into new questions easily, because I can make better links between past answers and upcoming questions. Being prepared also makes me feel more confident, which comes across in my voice during interviews.

The week 4 lecture must have been about our audio arts assignments, because although I didn’t take a lot of notes, what I wrote down is pretty powerful.

Think about how to tell stories differently. Think outside the box, and play the what if game. Show don’t tell applies to sound too.

Even as a writer I struggle with show don’t tell, and it comes across in my audio pieces too. When I’m brainstorming what sounds should be added, I always start with literal sounds. What is literally going on in the story that I’m telling? I try to expand out from there, but I’ve had varied success with my attempts to do so. An example of this would be the package Sam and I produced for first semester, he recorded the audio, I did the first edit (so we could get the show to air on time) and filled it with some fairly literal interpretations of sound effects. Sam did the second edit and removed a lot of these and replaced them with music for a more metaphorical piece. It occurred again when working with Ajeet on our Audio Arts assessment. I didn’t edit this piece, however all my suggestions for sound effects were literal translations of the text. Ajeet added music and non-literal sound effects that made the whole piece sound a lot better.

I’ve been thinking about how I can work on this aspect of show don’t tell in audio and I think I’m going to experiment with sound projects over the summer. Practice making short clips with no narration, so that I have to show, and I can’t tell. I’ll start off with soundscapes, kind of literal, then see if I can push myself to make metaphors and incite feelings through audio. I’ll post results to Soundcloud and this blog.

I wrote a lot more helpful tips for presenting on radio during the week 8 lecture. My top two from this week would be:

Don’t be boring.

The first sentence must interest, the second must inform.

I like “don’t be boring” as not just a tip for radio, but a tip for life. What is the point of a boring interview? If it’s not interesting, don’t do it. I can think of two boring interviews that I’ve witnessed/been a part of through the course of doing RWAV shows this year. The first one is the interview we did about chocolate. The topic was kind of interesting, but we picked the wrong person to talk to about it, and the wrong length of time for such an interview. There was maybe 4-5 minutes of good content available if we talked to an economics or fair trade expert. With an importer, there was literally 10 seconds of content (see the first question where we asked him if the rising price of cocoa would affect Australian consumers and he just answered with “yes”).

The other interview would be the one I lined up for a more recent show about bike cabs coming to Melbourne. Bike cabs was running a pozzible campaign at the time, and although I knew Elizabeth’s stance on crowd funding, I though there would be enough other subject matter to talk about that a small mention at the end would be okay. However, Tim and Steve didn’t have the knowledge to talk to us about long periods of time about the social stuff around bike cabs, why they are popular in other cities and not Melbourne. Because they were running a fundraising campaign, they took every opportunity to promote that and the interview turned very boring very quickly. Elizabeth said it just sounded like we were interviewing two guys about their business (which we essentially were, even though that wasn’t our aim).

Ways to avoid these kinds of interviews happening in the future:

  1. Think about the topic of the interview in terms of the time you plan to give it. Topics that work well for 4 minute segments might not have enough meat left over to stretch out to an 8-10 minute segment.
  2. Really consider who to approach to talk about the topic. Who has the best knowledge on the topic, and doesn’t have a conflicting agenda. Who is passionate about the topic, and can talk about it easily.
  3. Consider what questions to ask. How will you phrase questions to get better responses from the interviewee. What sub topics will you focus on, and what will you avoid.
  4. Don’t be afraid to turn down interview ideas or interviewees. There’s plenty more fish in the sea.

 

Radiothon

Before the show I was nervous about representing RRR as I’m not as big a listener as I should be.I was glad I had my stoyr about being a Queenslander to use on air. I used the “otherness” of Melbourne when I first moved down as my “lostness” and RRR as my compass/guide as to what made Melbourne, well, Melbourne. I was very proud of our 26 sign-ups during the show, and that we doubled last year’s record! Yay! There was one opportunity that I missed though and that was when my Dad subscribed and I got to read his name out on air. I wanted to say something like “Thanks daddy!” but wasn’t sure how to work it in. In retrospect, I wish I had just said that, would have worked just fine. One other thing I think we missed during the show was using the “Local and vocal” catch-phrase for the campaign. Overall I’m pretty pleased with the show. The atmosphere at the station was pretty cool, very community-like, very friendly. I was very happy with our 26 subscribers, I remember the phone room volunteers congratulating us, but not feeling like we deserved so much credit for it. Elizabeth was also very happy with the show, and didn’t really have much feedback for us, we didn’t really need it I suppose. My annotations of the show are here.

Producing

Producing was the role that I started with and the role I was fairly comfortable with in general. I found that the biggest challenge of this role for me was to push myself outside my comfort zone in order to really lock in the interviews that we wanted for the show. I’m way more comfortable giving up if someone doesn’t reply to an email, rather than seeking out their number and giving them a call. But comfort never made good radio.

The online producing role was one that I felt didn’t present any particular challenges to me, as I consider myself very web-savvy. I guess the biggest challenge of this position was not to get annoyed at how other people ran the twitter account (really? You’re going to mention our own handle? And #rrr instead of tagging their account? okay then…) and to correct groups who edited the program description rather than the episode description on the RRR website. I feel like this was glossed over in class because it was assumed that media students would be fairly web-literate. Not so. You know what they say about assuming…

Presenting

Presenting a show was surprisingly good fun. After presenting my first show I was hooked and as long as I’m prepared for a show, I feel like presenting is one of the less stressful in-studio jobs. You don’t have to worry about the time or the tech side or if you’re sending out the right amount of tweets, you just have to be present, be prepared, and be a good listener.

Paneling

Here’s an excerpt from the tips document that I added after my first show:

  • Familiarise yourself with how novation works, its pretty simple. When Novation fails, check that the buttons say “Ready 1” and not anything else. Reset your selections if it’s wrong. Otherwise, if it’s a bigger fail, reset the computer as per the instruction sheet in the studio, or get your producer to grab Archie in a song break and ask for help.
  • Don’t Panic! Keep your cool even if you hit the wrong button, it happens, just anaylse and fix it. If something really goes wrong, and you need to cut back to the studio, make sure your presenters know what’s happening, so that they can tell the listener (Something as simple as “we’re having some technical difficulties with the cd player, just trying to get that fixed up now… and we’re ready to try again, this track is x by y, you’re listening to Triple R”, or “It seems our phone line has dropped out, we were talking to Guest about Topic, we’re going to go to a song now while we see if we can get a hold of them again, This is Track by Artist on 3RRRFM”) but if it’s a minor glitch, don’t mention it on air

Paneling a show is very, very different from presenting one. There’s a higher level of stress, and afterwards a dull sense of relief instead of a high from running a good show. I wish I’d gotten more than one chance at paneling, it’s not as scary as it seems, and yet it’s also scarier. I wish I’d volunteered myself to do an earlier show as well.

Here’s what I wrote in my notebook shortly after my paneling experience.
“Paneling was a hell of a lot harder than I thought it would be. There’s a lot of things you have to keep your eye on, and a lot of distractions in the studio. During our show on Monday, there’s a few seconds of dead air because I got distracted greeting the interviewees who’d just been shown into the studio. My two other mistakes also occurred because of lapses in attention. It’s a very demanding job and you don’t get the same exhilaration after the show as when you present, it’s more a sense of relief. I’m very glad that we went in early, as I discovered that half of the songs that I’d burnt to CD didn’t play on the CD players, so the extra two hours before the show gave me enough time to download the missing songs from my back-up on dropbox (the best $11/month investment I’ve made for uni) and work out how my phone interacted with the desk to play the songs out of there. Paneling is kind of like a combination of the other jobs. It’s like producing in that you’re in charge of what’s happening in the studio and you need an intimate knowledge of the run sheet. And it’s like presenting because without you at the top of your game, the show doesn’t go to air in it’s best possible version.”

Audio Arts

Audio Arts was probably the assignment I was most excited about right from the start of the semester. I already had an inkling of an idea in the back of my mind, and was excited to see how I could push it and make it into something interesting. I paired up with Ajeet because I admire his editing style, and while I’m okay at editing, my strength lies in producing content for the web, so we made a good combo for an assessment that required equal parts of awesome audio and awesome web content.

My idea from the beginning was to use my step-mum’s sand art projections to illustrate a story. The recorded story would become our audio and the images and videos taken of the art process would become out online content. We talked about what stories we could tell using this medium. There was an opportunity to tell stories out of a nursing home that Anke sometimes did art at, but timing issues and privacy issues soon made this idea waaaaayyyyy too complicated. We then talked about telling an already established story, like a fairy tale. We thought of tales like The Sandman, because of it’s connection to sand. We tried to think of beach or desert related stories, and we eventually landed on The Snow Queen. Not because of it’s connection to sand (we figured that bit out later) but because we figured snow was a bit like sand, and then we remembered about the mirror and figured that glass was made of sand and we could build out from there.

Our initial attempts at condensing the whole story of The Snow Queen into something short enough to use fell through. Trying to condense a 12,000 word story into 5 minutes just left out too much, or skipped the good parts, or felt rushed. Eventually we decided to just use the First Story (as the tale is split into 7 stories in total) as the first story was the one about the mirror.

After deciding this, we analysed the story for what sound effects we should add in. As I have a lot of empty wine bottles in my garage (awaiting a garden edging project!) I volunteered to record some glass breaking sound effects. Who doesn’t want an excuse to smash stuff? I also thought I could manage recording some sand sound effects while I was at it. We decided to record the narration in the multi-track studio, to get nice clean audio. The other sound effects and music track were sourced online.

Recording the breaking glass was a lot of fun, but I was also quite concerned about my safety. I made sure to wear jeans and a long sleeved jacket, safety shoes with steel caps, and clear glasses to protect my eyes. I also wore gardening gloves when handling the broken glass.

Another consideration that I had to make when recording the glass was where to do it. I knew it would sound more authentic if I smashed them outside, on my driveway, but the clean-up, as well as extra ambient noise meant that I ultimately decided to do it inside my garage where the sounds of cars and birds were muffled and wind wouldn’t be able to blow glass splinters into my lawn. To compensate for the weird echo of the garage, I turned the gain on the zoom down very low, and mounted it on a tripod close to the ground, so it could pick up the glass smashing without too much interference. This worked really well.

The sand was harder to record, as it’s a much quieter medium. I recorded that in a room inside my house, with the gain turned up quite high. I tried pouring, sifting, scraping, and rubbing the sand. Each action produced a different sound, but I think in the end the pouring noise best suited our piece.

Recording the narration was an interesting experience too. The first time we booked the studio to use, we booked it after hours, and there was a problem with the desk that we couldn’t figure out, so we couldn’t get anything useful done. The second time we made sure to book during the office hours of the Techs, so we’d have help on hand if we needed it (which, it turns out we did! Just to get us started!). We set up the mics and did a read through of the first paragraph to get the levels right. Then we recorded one whole take. Upon listening back, we decided that my voice was kind of stiff and that I was talking very fast. In order to fix this, and to leave gaps for editing the sound effects in, we decided to record it again, this time with a pause after each sentence. This made me really slow down and think about how I was delivering the lines. We also recorded Ajeet reading the script, but decided that my voice sounded more like a children’s story teller, and that we’d just use Ajeet’s voice to do the part where the sprite talks. Another thing we recorded was us laughing, and some of those laughs were then distorted to be used as sound effects as well.

Recording in the studio taught me that time spent listening back to what’s been recorded is not time wasted. It’s time wisely spent, as reviewing material can show flaws and suggest improvements, as well as allow you time to record again immediately, while those revisions are fresh in your head.

I wasn’t involved in the main phases of editing, my role with that was to listen to drafts, suggest improvements and changes, and help source sound effects. I was quite surprised with what Ajeet first made me listen to, the dark music added a dimension to the piece that I hadn’t thought of before. If we’d had time, we could have re-recorded the narration, to give it a darker edge. We tried warping it within the editing software, but it ended up sounding fake and not at all what we were thinking of, so we left it as is.

The online content came together like a puzzle or a web, finding lots of little things that connected to each other. While I was recording the session with Anke, we were talking about webs and trying to think of a glass or sand-like metaphor. We came to fractals, which made me think of snowflakes, and that’s how the theme of the website that hosts the online content was born.

Actually, the recording session with Anke was unlike any regular interview I’ve recorded before. To start with, the set-up was decidedly un-interview-like as I just popped the zoom to the side and hit record, while we were working on other things. And I found it more difficult not to interrupt Anke. We often have conversations about art and life and we talk until we can find the connections in things. I had to be a less active participant in these conversations, because I wanted Anke’s voice to be the main thing I recorded. One trick that I’d heard about during our lectures worked really well here, and that’s the just staying silent trick. When you think someone has something more to say, just stay silent and they will feel compelled to fill the gaps. This worked quite well with Anke, as with this format of conversation, those pauses are often necessary to help gather and form thoughts.

How to Start Your Own Cult in 7 Easy Steps- Response

The following blog post is my response to an article How to Start Your Own Cult in 7 Easy Steps, which was written by Steve Mason for Huffington Post. Due to copyright on the original post, only small excerpts have been included here for context. Excerpts are in italics and 72 out of 839 words were used, less than 10% . To fully understand my responses, please read the whole article, and importantly the seven steps at the bottom of the article.

Here are Steve’s seven steps to start your own cult, and my responses to them in regards to our own cult-like social media campaign and event.

1) Begin by creating your own reality.

We can easily create our own reality (Fuji the wise tells us that bananas are the key to greatness) but we can’t reasonably keep our members away from outsiders. We could impose a self-censorship such as avoiding oranges or pears (any fruit that’s not a banana).

2) Next set the leader and his/her inner circle up as the only link to paradise… only they hold the keys to the kingdom.

Too easy. Fuji is the leader, his word is law. We six are the inner circle, his trusted advisors and the only link members have to the great Fuji himself. Only we can pass on Fuji’s wisdom for a great life. More practically, only we can organise and give the information on how to set the world record that we intend to set.

3) …Make increasing demands.

Increasing demands? Yes! Start small, asking people to submit photos of stuff #withabanana and increase it slowly to include following the manifesto (eg. members must eat bananas for breakfast, members must take a banana on a walk, etc), more than just taking a photo with a banana. Leads up to #7- dangling the carrot, read below.

4) Keep turning out stories about the greatness of the leader.

I imagine we’ll be doing this mostly on the blog, with excerpts and links posting to our other accounts such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. Photoshop and creative writing will be our main friends here. We can tell stories of adventures the Fuji went on what what enlightenment he gained from said adventures.

5) Remember to use your converts to bring in still more converts.

This will be key for us, encouraging our followers to share our pages and get us more followers. I think the silliness of our theme will help bring people on board this particular crazy train.

6) Keep everybody busy.

We intend on keeping everybody busy, not with hard labour, but with silly tasks. Taking banana selfies, eating bananas, talking to bananas, sharing our pages, encouraging more fans and followers of Fuji #withabanana. We could incorporate singing, in the form of the ba-na-na-na-na-naaaa song (make your body sing!) but we’d have to be careful of copyright infringement here. We could possibly invent our own song.

7) And finally, keep your flock fixated on the carrot.

The carrot here being Breaking A World Record, not Heaven or an Afterlife. And in a literal sense, only our followers will benefit from breaking this world record, they will literally be the ones doing it and getting the recognition. Speaking of recognition, perhaps we should think about setting up a page on the cult website after the event and list the names of everyone who participated? As a sort of Great Thank-you from Fuji Himself.

IM2.2

Integrated Media 2.2 ie. the second time I attempt to complete this course. I found it quite enjoyable last year, and only failed because I didn’t actually complete the report. The only thing that’s changed from last year to this is that the report part of the assessment is now also group and not individual.  So I’m not likely to fail again, considering how seriously I take group assessment. Yay!

When I say that it’s the only thing that’s changed, I’m not kidding though. The lecture content and assessment so far are all exactly the same (to the point where the introductory blog post about the lecture still states that the report is individual assessment… copy-paste). It’s okay though, the reason I didn’t complete the report last year is because I got to the end of the semester and realised that it would be very difficult to write a report when I hadn’t been keeping up with the theory all semester. So I made myself retake the course so I could actually learn the things I was supposed to be learning last year.

I realised that I needed something to remind me of that, a motto or a phrase, so that when I find myself tuning out because I’ve heard it before, I can remind myself to tune back in and learn. I noticed that in the job descriptions of SMPs (Social Media Producers) that Seth showed us in the lecture, a lot of them required evidence or proof that you actually know your way around a social media network. So I’m going to think of this course as helping me build some portfolio appropriate content. I’ll work out how to turn that into a motto if I need it later…

I’ve started brainstorming ideas for the event assessment already. I feel like having done this part of the course before is a huge advantage, and won’t bore me because we’ll be planning and executing a different event. It might even be more interesting this time around to make comparisons etc.

On unexpected wins

I think that the best, most successful part of our IRL 2013 event was the picnic and talking games part. Initially, I expected this to be a difficult part to pull off, afraid that participants would find it lame or boring. On the day however, it turned out to be the best part. I think the reason for this was because we had a good size group, only nine people, which turned out to be just about the perfect number for the games we played.

Two truths and a lie would have been a bit too short if there were less people, and way too long if there were many more. This game was also successful because we didn’t know each other very well and it was a silly fun way to get to know some weird facts about each other. One of my favourite three facts came from Chattrin who said

  1. I’m afraid of heights
  2. I love rollercoasters
  3. and I never want to go bungee jumping

we were trying to figure out the lie based on logic, but in the end found out that number 3 was the lie, and he does want to go bungee jumping! I thought this was a very clever combination of facts and also taught us a bit more about Chattrin that just his fear of heights, we also know that his fear doesn’t stop him from doing what he wants. Isn’t that an awesome way to get to know someone new?

The other game we played also went way better than expected. We had originally planned to do only one round of the spy game, but the first round we used more to get the hang of the game and understand the rules, as a group. I was the odd item out for the first game and I had no idea! The second game was run by one of our attendees, Steve, who’d come up with a very good combination- apple juice and apple cider. All the apple juice people thought that the odd one out would be orange juice. I was the odd one out (again!) with the cider and it took me quite a long time to figure that out too! On the third round, the combination was iPhone and iPad. Again, all of us with iPhone thought the odd one out would be Samsung Galaxy or HTC, but this time Pete had the odd one out and pretty much from the start he knew it, so he played a very good strategy to keep it a secret.

 

On switching off

My dad has this question that he rhetorically throws around whenever he’s with company and someone ask a Google question (for example, what’s the third flavour in a B52 shot?). He says “Oh gee, if only one of us had a small computer like device that we could carry around in our pockets that has access to all of the answers in the world…” and then inevitably pulls out his phone and Googles the question.

What I’m trying to say is that sometimes phones are great devices that can help out in certain social situations. For example a trivia question argument between two friends, or letting someone know you’re lost or running late.

Sometimes though, phones and friends don’t mix. I’ve heard that some people have a rule when they go out to eat with friends, that everybody places their phone face-down on the end of the table and the first person to pick up their phone to check it, also picks up the entire bill. Not a bad rule, but the fact that it exists surely reflects something about our society.

For our IRL 2013 event, we thought it might be difficult to ask people to actually switch off their phones for an hour and a half. I framed that time by suggestion to the planning team that it’s the same length as a short movie, and most people can go that long without checking their phone (although I know I am guilty of taking a phone call mid-movie, only once and I left the theatre, but still…). We were so worried about having to control the no-mobile-phone rule during the event that we even considered making one person the anti-phone police for the event.

Thankfully it didn’t come to that. In fact, we actually forgot to get everyone to turn their phones off at the beginning of the event! The switching phones off video that you can see here is totally staged. It happened right at the end of the event, and if you look closely, you can even tell that some of the phones weren’t actually turned off, just the screens switched to blank!

What I thought was amazing was that even though we all had out phones in our bags or pockets, not one person even peeked at their screen during the event. Nobody was tempted to check what was happening online because we were all too busy enjoy ourselves in the moment.

I think it helped that we didn’t all know each other too well. It’s easy to be rude in front of friend you know well, as you’d expect their forgiveness and even their understanding. With strangers you don’t know what to expect. I also think it helped that we had a lot of activities planned, and there was no down-time where people were wandering around wondering what to do. Boredom very quickly leads to checking your phone, seeing if maybe there’s something better happening somewhere else.

On not sticking to the timetable

Oh plans, how I love to make plans. I often don’t stick to them though, and in the heat of the moment, plans that don’t have flexibility will break or crack. Thankfully our plan for the IRL event was super flexible. We allocated one person to be the “MC” so to speak, to run the show, ne person to record audio, one person to record video and still images and the others to help the games and activities run smoothly. We had a timetable planned out:

 

But on the day, we went with an order that made more sense to us. I was the “MC” in charge on the day (a role I always seem to snatch up) so I just went with my gut on what we should do. We started with the pledges, partly as a mini ice-breaker, and mostly so that we wouldn’t forget to do them at the end of the day. After that we went straight into the egg and spoon race, because everyone was a little chilly and we needed to warm up and get a bit sill with each other. We then moved on to the picnic and talking games part of the day, dropping the act and react game completely.

What surprised me about the ice-breakers and word games was how much everyone enjoyed them, even though some of them were super cheesy. We ended up playing three rounds of the spy game (aka the pen and pencil game) and even had suggestions for items from our attendees, it wasn’t all just initiated by us, which I thought was really good.

We also got so carried away by actually participating in the event, that we forgot to ask participants to switch off their phone until the end!

I felt like having the flexibility to alter our timetable in this way made the whole day much more enjoyable. If we’d stuck to the timetable, it would have felt a lot more forced, instead the event flowed quite naturally.

Cell Phone Symphony – Improv Everywhere

I’ve been a fan of Improv Everywhere for a long time, and this is still one of my favourite flash mobs that they’ve ever performed. It’s called the Cell Phone Symphony because they managed to orchestrate 60 cell phones with different ringtones to go off simultaneously and in groups according to their ringtones while the cell phones sat in bags in the cloak room of a bookstore in New York. The manager wasn’t too happy about the stunt, but no-one was hurt and a lot of the other employees found it quite amusing.