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31 Years Ago – Oxford 1982 on video

Fig.1. The author/auteur with his Sony Betamax out. My study, Staircase 11, Balliol College, Trinity Term 1982

31 years ago I was an undergraduate at Oxford University.

In my second year, eager to develop my interest in TV production I managed to get myself a Sony Betamax Camera. It was semi-portable – a backpack and cable. I’ve had the 20 tapes digitized. The pleasure for me and for those featured will be to see themselves and their friends in a way that will have quite escaped them. You are faced with the spatial disjointedness of seeing and hearing yourself as others presumably saw you and the temporal disjointedness of seeing a 19 or 20 year old from the perspective of a fifty-something. There’s some 17 hours of content. I got through it at x18 in a few hours yesterday afternoon.

Fig.2. Rehearsing in the Oxford University Drama Society (OUDS) production of Taming of the Shrew. I played Baptista.

These are the obvious observations:

  • How young we looked. Look at the fashion (hair, clothes) and the cars.
  • Did I really look like and talk like that?
  • Even an idiot could see that I couldn’t grow a beard, so why did I try!
  • Why did I buy that shirt?

The more nuanced thoughts and realisations are:

Fig.3. The Oxford Lightweights Crew, Henley. My purpose had been to video them in training.

How amazing it is that watching a blurry clip of a team of rowers an image no bigger than a pea tells me quite quickly that I know one of these people, a few moments more and I have their name. The ability of the human brain to identify faces is remarkable. (The above is far closer and clearer than the silhouette tat initially gave me the location, purpose and person).

There are events I covered, even moments where I appear, that I simply cannot recollect at all.

Being behind the camera can do this … you’re cut-off from the moment slightly in any case as you should be tending to the camera (on a tripod), lighting and sound. There’s a good deal that I didn’t cover – the camera often went out with others.

Then I see a person, and it does ‘come flooding back’ – this personal emotional tie to a person or event is vital.

Just a few seconds of a person and I feel warmth and longing for a lost love. I know the name, when we met and the times we spent together. But what unintended hurt might I cause even these decades later? Or others who had no inkling of my interest? Or is this just part of being who and what we are at that age? And we have, of course, move on … so far beyond that the past really is a different country. And we are not those people who populated it.

Getting myself back into the head of a 20 year old feels like a kind of lobotomy – it had might as well empty my head of everything that has happened since. The perspective makes you realise just how naive and inexperienced you are even at that age.

There are inevitable technical issues:

  • The tapes, stored for three decades, are damaged.
  • The lighting, anything in doors or when it was dreary, is atrocious.
  • The sound, through the directional mic on the camera is pretty dreadful too.

Fig. 4. In conversation somewhere, with someone – but I don’t know with whom, and can’t even tell what was on our minds.

What next?

Just a screen grab shared with a handful of the participants has produced glee. It is a reminder of how friendships are formed, a bond and trust that slips into place between strangers after they’ve got to know each other and then spend more time together doing things and making fond memories. This is its value if nothing else. None of the video will go online. I’m even reluctant at this stage to store content online and offer a password to people. I know that it is too easy for content to ‘leak’ which at this stage I feel is too unfair to those concerned. I’ll start just by sharing the moments with them.

  • How much do we need or want to remember?
  • Doesn’t the brain, for those of us who are and remain physically and mentally well, do a perfectly adequate job of forgetting?
  • Is it not better to see the past through the prism of narrative, anecdotes and recollections. To feel, either good or bad about people and moments rather than getting this ‘in your face’ absolute?
  • Twice I spotted people who were lovers.
  • Twice I spotted people I ‘fancied’.

Is it not healthier and correct to reinforce my marriage of twenty years with memories of equal strength of her and our children?

Wherein a wedding and some holiday video footage may have served a purpose. On graduation I never, or very rarely, have ‘gathered’ amateur footage like this. Perhaps understandably I want to work with a team of professional broadcasters and filmmakers.

There are fictionalised stories I want to tell about this age group.

This content is an invaluable record and reminder of all that we are at that age. It is also noticeable, even in the streets of Oxford on May Morning, how the student population dominate, while of course cast and audiences of students productions are for the most part students too. For a period, or for some weeks, you live away from your family, without a family – most people around you are your age and possibly, its weakness in the 1980s, amongst those from a white caucasian middle class background. This too would reflect the bias of whoever was behind the camera, and the events covered.

Fig.5. Oxford Theatre Group (OTG) rehearsals for the Oxford Review. I have several hours of footage of setting up, the hall and rehearsals for three out of the five productions: Titus Alone, Edward II and the Review.

Best of all, and the fullest record, is the Oxford Theatre Group on the Edinburgh Fringe in August and early September 1982. As well as our edited highlights from this, behind the scenes, rehearsals and productions, there are several hours of ‘rushes’. There is also coverage of an Eight’s Week (College Rowing Event), the Oxford & Cambridge Ski Trip to Wengen, one May Morning (May 1st, 1982 I presume) and Lightweights and Woman’s Eights at Henley … and some ‘Student News’ from a single edition of ‘Oxford Television News’. I didn’t need three tapes of rushes for an English Language School for Japanese Students.

In a world where such images are so easily gathered are we even more inclined to bin or wipe them?

Do most young people live in a world of image overload where the recording and broadcast of content is instantaneous so little thought needs to be given to what is recorded, how it is stored, how it is shared and who sees it? In thirty years time will my children be able to look at content the way I can?

At my mother’s funeral my God Father presented me with a couple of DVDs containing digitized 16mm footage of my mothers age 17 from the late 1940s. Would this have lasted sixty years on tape? In sixty years time will people want to or need to see clips of themselves in their youth? Isn’t it too easy, even expected to dip back and forth through your timeline?

Fig. 6 I know the people in the line and the person who recorded the footage – rain damage put the camera out of action for several months, perhaps worth it for several minutes of frivolity during May Day celebrations, May 1st 1983 (or 82?)

How will people change if they cannot forget and are not allowed to forget?

I’m sure we’ll become more accepting of the human condition – that politicians who ‘had a life’ may be preferred over those who did not? That we will be accepting of a good deal more of what we do and how we were and how we change, that we have different personas in different settings and at different times.

Fig. 7 My study – second year, a study with separate bedroom. In College. The key to this era, should I wish to explore it, is the diary on the shelf in the background. Whilst the video record is selective and patchy, the daily journal is complete.

What though the value of keeping a diary? I understand the academic value of reflection, but a record of what you did, what you read and maybe who you saw and most especially what you thought back then? Digitised, a process I started patchily two decades ago, others insights – some best left in the past. Devices that capture your day, sensecams and wearable devices … how much more are these a record if the data they provide can be analysed for you or does a memory need and deserve the filter and effort of being recorded as you experienced  and felt it?

Several edits into the above I realise I have failed to sate the obvious – after a part-time Masters Degree in Distance and E-Learning (MAODE) I am now applying to undertake doctoral research. The youth of these images didn’t have postgraduate study on his mind largely because he didn’t understand who he was – deeply curious about people and learning. If an education is wasted on youth, then I’d say this is even more the case with postgraduate study.

There is such thing as ‘The Google Generation’ – True or False?

Information behaviour of the researcher of the future. Written in 2007 (published 11 January 2008). Reviewed in 2011.

Part of the Week 1 jollies for H800.

(This picks up where I left off in the Forum Thread)

After a year of MAODE, a decade blogging and longer keeping journals (and old course work from both school and uni I might add) I feel I can tap into my own first, second, third or fourth take on a topic.

Increasingly, where this is digitised my preferred learning approach is to add to this information/knowledge, often turning my ideas inside out.

We are yet to have a ‘generation,’ (a spurious and loose term in this context) that has passed through primary, secondary and tertiary education ‘wired up’ to any consistent degree from which to gather empirical research. Indeed, I wonder when things will bottom out, when we’ve gone the equivalent journey of the first horseless-carriage on the Turnpikes of England to the 8 lanes in both directions on the M1 south of Leicester – or from the Wright Brothers to men on the moon.

I’d like to encourage learners to move on from copying, or cutting and pasting in any form, to generating drafts, and better drafts of their take on a topic, even if this is just a doodle, a podcast or cryptic set of messages in a synchronous or asynchronous discussion i.e. to originate.

I lapped up expressions such as Digital Natives, an expression/metaphor only that has been debunked as lacking any basis in fact.

I fear this is the same when it comes to talking about ‘Generation X, Y or Z.’ It isn’t generational, it is down to education, which is down to socio-economic background, wealth, access (technical, physical, geographic, as well as mental), culture, even your parent’s job and attitude.

My 85 year old Father-in-law is Mac ready and has been wired to the Internet its entire life; does this make him of this ‘Generation?’

If x billion struggle to find clean drinking water and a meal a day, where do they stand?

They’ve not been born on Planet Google, so don’t have this generational opportunity.

I find it short sighted of the authors not to go for a ‘longitudinal’ (sic) study. It strikes me as the perfect topic of a JISC, Open University, BBC tie in, the filming part funding the research that is then published every three years for the next thirty, for example.

Trying to decide who is Generation X, or Generation Y or the ‘Google Generation’ strikes me as fraught as trying to decide when the islands we inhabit became, or could have been called in turn England, Scotland, Wales, Great Britain or the United Kingdom.

We could spend an unwarranted amount of time deciding who is in and who is out and not agreed.

We can’t it’s like pouring water through a sieve. The creator of IMBD, a computer geek and film buff was born in the 60s (or 70s). Highly IT literate, then as now, he is not of the ‘Google Generation’ as defined as being born after 1993, but is surely of the type?

Personally I was introduced to computers as part of the School of Geography initiative at Oxford in 1982.

Admittedly my first computer was an Amstrad, followed by an early Apple, but I’ve not been without a computer for the best part of thirty years. I can still give my 12 year old a run for his money (though he does get called in to sought our browser problems).

And should this report be quoting Wikipedia?

Surely it is the author we should quote if something is to be correctly cited; anyone could have written this (anyone did).

Reading this I wonder if one day the Bodleian Library will be like a zoo?

The public will have access to view a few paid students who recreate the times of yore when they had to read from a book and take notes, and look up titles in a vast leather-bound tome into which we strips of paper were intermittently stuck. (not so long ago).

Is there indeed, any point in the campus based university gathered around a library when all his millions, or hundreds of millions of books have been Googliefied?

Will collegiate universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol and Durham (Edinburgh and Dublin? Harvard ?) become even more elite as they become hugely expensive compared to offerings such as the Open University?

There may be no limit to how much and how fast content can be transmitted … the entire Library of Congress in 3 seconds I am told, but there are severe limits to how much you can read and remember, let alone make sense of and store.

Is this not the next step?

To rewire our minds with apps and plug-ins? I smile at the idea of ‘power browsing’ or the new one for me ‘bouncing’ the horizontal drift across papers and references rather than drilling vertically, driven by a reading list no doubt.

I can give a name to something I did as an undergraduate 1981-1984. Reading Geography I began I the Map room (skipped all lectures) and then spent my morning, if necessary moving between libraries, particularly the Rhodes Library and Radcliffe Science Library, by way of the School of Geography Library, of course, and sometimes into the Radcliffe Camera or the PPE Reading Rooms.

I bounced physically.

I bounced digitally online as a preferred way of doing things. Though this often leaves me feeling overwhelmed by the things I could read, but haven’t read, that I’d like to read. Which is good reason ONLY to read the latest paper, to check even here if the paper we are asked to read has not already been superseded by this or fellow authors.

Old digitised news keeps like a nasty smell in the wind?

Users are promiscuous, diverse and volatile and it is clear that these behaviours represent a serious challenge for traditional information providers, nurtured in a hardcopy paradigm and, in many respects, still tied to it. (p9)

The problem with the short read and low tolerance of readers is the way papers have thus far gone from print version to digital version without, yet, thorough transmogrification.

We await new acceptable ways to write, and submit and share knowledge that is less formal and to anyone versed in reading online, digestible.

All authors for the web would do well to read Jakob Nielsen on web usability.

There is a way to do it. If it looks like it belongs in a journal or book, you are getting it wrong

Do the authors appreciate that labelling the behaviour ‘squirreling’ is self-fulfilling?

It normalises the behaviour if anyone reads about it. Whilst metaphors are a useful way to explain, in one person’s words, what is going on, such metaphors soon become accepted as fact.

There is a running debate across a series of article in the New Scientist on the way humans think in metaphors (good, can’t help it), and how ideas expressed as metaphors then set unfounded parameters on how we think (not so good, and includes things like the selfish gene, competition and so on).

This dipping, bouncing and squirreling, horizontal browsing, low attention span, four to eight minute viewing diverse ‘one size does not fit all’ individual would make for an interesting cartoon character. I wonder if Steven Appleby or Quentin Blake would oblige. ________________________________________________________________________________

Why ‘huge’ and why ‘very’ ? Qualify. Facts. Evidence. And why even, ‘very, very.’ This isn’t academic writing, it’s hear say and exaggeration.

There’s a category missing from the graph – branded information, such as Wikipedia, or Harvard Business Publication, Oxford or Cambridge University Press and Blackwell’s, to name put a few.

Where so much information is available, and so many offerings on the same topic, the key for anyone is to feel they are reading a reliable source.

The point being made later about ‘brand’ presence for BL … something we will see more of with the commercialisation of information. Even Wikipedia cannot be free for ever, while the likes of Wikileaks, for its mischief making and spy-value will always be funded from nefarious sources.

There are very very few controlled studies that account for age and information seeking behaviour systematically: as a result there is much mis-information and much speculation about how young people supposedly behave in cyberspace. (p14)

Observational studies have shown that young people scan online pages very rapidly (boys especially) and click extensively on hyperlinks – rather than reading sequentially. Users make very little use of advanced search facilities, assuming that search engines `understand’ their queries. They tend to move rapidly from page to page, spending little time reading or digesting information and they have difficulty making relevance judgements about the pages they retrieve. (p14)

Wikipedia and YouTube both exhibit a marked age separation between viewers of content (mainly 18-24s) and content generators (mainly 45-54s and 35-44s respectively). (p16, ref 17)

‘there is a considerable danger that younger users will resent the library invading what they regards as their space. There is a big difference between `being where our users are’ and `being USEFUL to our users where they are’.

Surely it would be easy to compare a population that have access and those who do not?

Simply take a group from a developed, rich Western nation and compare them to a group that are not, that don’t have the internet access, video games or mobile phones.

REFERENCE

Information behaviour of the researcher of the future. UCL 11 JAN 2008

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