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Reflections of a post-post graduate – the no-man’s land before a PhD

 

Fig. 1. How the eBrain looks – everything’s tagged. (Lost property, London Underground)

I’m delighted to say the Open University’s student blog upgrade is an enhancement. The improvements are seamless without any loss of what we had before … a ‘bulletin-board-cum-blog-thingey’.

Become an OU student to see this for yourself.

I will get Internet access in my ‘office’ – a studio down the road, away from home and family, DIY, the garden … but not the dog. She’s allowed.

All that it requires from me is something I lack – self-discipline NOT to get distracted by email, which includes updated postings from forums and the likes of Linkedin (let alone a gaggle of family members on Facebook). AOL is the worst as I innocently go to check email and find 20 minutes later I am still clicking through the inviting gobbets of news and sensation that is offered.

I had hoped to behave like the smoker trying to give up – I’ll only smoke other people’s fags. A very, very, very long time ago … I can honestly say I have never smoked a cigarette since I turned 20.

Back to the Internet. Like Television.

Or diet. We are living in an age where self-control is vital. Having not had a TV for several months I was eventually pushed to buy one. Courtesy of Which? we now have a TV so Smart that it probably tells my brother in South Africa who is watching what …. we can Skype sofa to sofa. I just wonder if our antics could be recorded and posted on YouTube? Not my doing but any of the teenagers with the wherewithal just hit a record button somewhere.

In all this hi-tech I DO have a tool I’d recommend to anyone.

I’ve invested in an hour-glass. In runs for 30 minutes. While that sand is running all I may do is read and take notes. This might be an eBook, or a printed book, either way they are on a bookstand. I take notes, fountain pen to lined paper. What could be easier? The left hand may highlight or bookmark and turn a page, while the right writes?

This works as the filtering process of the knowledge that I am reading and want to retain needs to go through several steps in any case. The handwritten notes will be reduced again as I go through, typing up the ideas that have some resonance for me.

My current task has been ‘How Europe went to war in 1914’ by Christopher Clark.

I doubt my second thorough read will be the last. From notes I will start posting blogs and going into related social platforms to share and develop thoughts and in so doing be corrected while firming up my own views. I need this social interaction, to join the discussion if not the debate.

Meanwhile I will revisit Martin Weller‘s book on Digital Scholarship.

However swift the age of the Internet may be he suggests it will still take a person ten years to achieve the ‘scholar’ level … whereas John Seely Brown recently reckoned this was now down to five years. i.e. through undergraduate and postgraduate levels and popping out the other end with a PhD in five years.

DIdn’t an 18 year old who was home schooled just get called to the Bar?

She graduated with a law degree while contemporaries did A’ Levels and finished High School and then did a year of pupilage I suppose.

The intellectual ‘have’s’ of the future will, by one means of another, achieve degree status at this age. The Internet permits it.

School is far, far, far, far, far too lax.

It tends to the median if not the mediocre. Long ago it found a way to process kids as a genderless year group instead of treading each student as an individual … so let them skip a year, let them stay back a year … allow them to expand and push subjects that appeal to them.

‘That’s nothing compared to Passchendaele”.

 

Fig.1. The dead and unidentifiable of Passchendaele, 1917

Reflecting on his training and service in the Machine Gun Corps during the First World War, veteran Jack Wilson MM commented on the regional news piece on TV which showed a soldier of the Durham Light Infantry in the Gulf before the first Iraq War to free Kuwait.

“You see these lovely rations they’re getting”, he said, adding, “and I look back at the stuff our lot were getting – it was terrible.”

He summed it up with in a sentence: ‘That’s nothing compared to Passchendaele”.

He described the food at the training camp in Grantham as “B.A.’ for “Bloody Awful”.

Reading – nothing quite beats it, does it?

Fig. 1. This week’s reading – almost. I’ve got the stack by the bed too, which includes ‘The Gutenberg Galaxy Marshall McLuhan (half way through) and ‘The Shallows’ Nicholas Carr – which I read wearing boxing gloves to resist removing the pages.

Here we see:

Passion at work: blogging practices of knowledge workers. The 2009 doctoral thesis of Lilia Efimova – who, naturally, has a wonderful blog.

Spaced education improves the retention of clinical knowledge by medical students: a randomised controlled trial. (2009) B Price Kerfoot, William deWolf, Barbara Masser, Paul Church and Daniel Federman – try QStream to get a flavour of this, then read a dozen papers from Dr Kerfoot.

The Music of Business (2013) – Peter Cook. Business with rock playing. He’s an Open University Business School MBA Alumnus, former Tutor on ‘Creativity, Innovation and Change’ a module I did early in 2012.  Should be fun.

In Search of Memory : the emergence of a New Science of Mind (2006) Eric Kandel. I may not be about to study neuroscience of psychology but this may help get my head in the right intellectual space.

Delete : The virtue of forgetting in the digital age (2009) Viktor Mayer-Schonberger. Of the Oxford Internet Institute. On my second read as my interest is in memory and what I consider to be an infinite capacity to learn and gain more knowledge. I know it’s just a film but I do rather think that if we could live forever our minds wouldn’t let us down (Groundhog Day).

Using Computer-based Text Analysis to Integrate Qualitative and Quantitative Methods in Research on Collaborative Learning. (2010) Wegerif and Mercer.  As part of the module H809. Already read, reviewed, dissected and taken notes.

A map to get to the University of Southampton Highfield campus from Southampton Central Station.

Your Research PhD (2005) Nicholas Walliman – I’m sure I’ve read more of this than the Kindle suggests, though it must just be very long.

Authoring a PhD: how to plan draft, write and finish a doctoral thesis or dissertation. (2003) Patrick Dunleavy. I’m following the instructions to the letter.  From these two books I’ve drawn up a ‘plan’ on a sheet of A1 paper. I need a bigger sheet, so I’ll double these up or use wallpaper backing paper to plot the detail. I’ve got my head around RefWorks and have a healthy collection of papers to read, usually picking of a couple each day.

H809 Practice-based Research in Educational Technology. Only week 2. This is making me approach anything I read with enormous care. Courtesy of Google it doesn’t take long to track down the authors – I like to know what they have written since simply to get a perspective on where their career has gone or is going. Not the guide that is recommended to judge a paper but when faced with a list of potential papers on the same topic I hope I pick out the authority based on institution and their CV.

Just read:

Evidence for Delayed Parafoveal-on-Foveal Effects From Word n2 in Reading (2012) Sarah Risse and Reinhold Kliegl – A remarkable read, even if it takes a microscope to a piece of text and how we read. Fascinating. 

While still reading:

The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962) Marshall McLuhan

The Timeless Way of Building (1972) Christopher Alexander

and about to attack

The Shallows (2009) Nicholas Carr

 

The Gutenberg Galaxy – first thoughts, from the first pages

20130209-180616.jpg

Fig. 1. The Gutenberg Galaxy – Marshall McLuhan (courtesy of Amazon and a US bookseller)

Like visiting a library, having a book as an object in my hand, a singular artifact rather than its substance digitised, feels like a visit to a National Trust property. There’s meaning in it, but that way it’s packaged is all a bit ‘historic’.

Mosaic – kaleidoscope – environment – constellation

These are some of the ways Marshall McLuhan may have written about the changing society he was commenting on in the early 1960s with reference to previous shifts from an oral to a written tradition, with a phonetic alphabetic to the printing press.

We like to visualise the complex – to simplify it.

No less so than in what we perceive as a new era – that of the Internet and ever deeper, faster, more complex and fluid, even intelligent ways to communicate, share and think.

In the prologue p.1 we are told that papyrus created the social environment – how?

Immediately we know that Marshall McLuhan will be talking about an elite as if they represent everyone. authors are constantly guilty of this today, discounting those who lack digital literacies as if all that matters in the world is what these people are doing – as if it is above, beyond and distinct from everyone else. Or should we just tackle this interconnected community and ignore those who are not and may never be part of it – those thousands of millions who do not have Internet access 24/7, just as when dealing with previous eras the illiterate are ignored because they voice could not be captured and disseminated?

Society existed before script – so few could write and read would make the impact of papyri irrelevant to all but the smallest of minorities, the elite who could write and read, own and store such things.

The stirrup and the wheel – is offered as a period of transition.

We are to think of this transition as a revolution, just as the development of print from the time of Gutenberg is described as a revolution – not matter how many centuries it took to evolve, and the development of TV from Marshall McLuhan’s particular is another, as the innovation shines such a bright light that it becomes impossible to see anything else. Far from television replacing the written word it has expanded at a time of vastly increased literacy rates and has been complemented to a burgeoning publishing of cheap paperbacks, journals and magazines.

‘Technological environments are not merely passive containers of people but are active processes that reshape people and other technologies like’. (McLuhan, 1962. p.0).

As an aphorism this may apply – by ‘environment’ Marshall McLuhan is once again searching for words, in conversation in the 1960s I would imagine him saying ‘technological mosaic’ and then correcting himself and saying ‘technological constellation’. Several decades on and we may be better able to comprehend ‘technological system’ in the context of Cultural Historical Activity Theory (Engestrorm, 2006) or ‘technological ecosystem or ecology’ (Bateson, 1972., Lukin, 2008)

Applications of metaphorical notions of ecology, culture and politics can help us better understand and deal with these complexities. (Conole. 2011. p. 410)

Then McLuhan tells us that print created the public – by inference did those who made up the majority in society not exist as a ‘public’ until then?

There is a sense as he later draws on the work of anthropologist X to infer that those with only an oral form of communication are part of an amorphous mass, that literacy empowered a new, though initially quite small group, to gain some kind of status through print.

‘Electric circuitry does not support the extension of the visual modalities in any degree approaching the visual power of the printed word’. Says McLuhan who sees television in the 1950s and the 1960s as something as ephemeral and passing as radio.

Without the research then available that tells us that watching TV is a passive activity that has little impact on the short term memory and next to none on the long-term, McLuhan is saying that electrical forms of the visual have less substance than the printed form of the visual. It isn’t however the means of distribution that is the cause of this, the thesis of all the Marshall McLuhan is remembered for, but the way we behave in front of these technologies – simply put, we sit forward and make an effort to read from a book, even to interpret pictures, but with TV we sit back and let it wash over us. ( Myrtek at al, 1996) Umberto Eco (1989) explains how the read gives meaning to the ‘open’ book, a far more rewarding experienced that the reading of a ‘closed’ text – the same applies to all media -we the viewer, reader, player or participant provide the meaning; the interpretation is our own.

With content from the Internet we can do either or both, or one or the other and the kinds of interaction and engagement that are far more complex and today far more like direct, face to face interaction as we do deals, discuss and debate in live groups and play massive online games.

REFERENCE

Bateston (1972) Steps to an ecology of mind: collected essays in anthropology, psychiatry, evolution and epistomelogy. New York. Ballantine Books.

Conole, G (2011) Designing for learning in a digital world. Last accessed 18 Dec 2012 http://www.slideshare.net/grainne/conole-keynote-icdesept28

ECO, U., The Open Work, trans. Anna Cangogni, Cambridg, MA : Harvard University Press, 1989 [1962].

Engestrom Y, (2006) Learning by expanding. An activity theoretical approach to developmental research. Helsinki. Orienta–Konsultit.

Luckin, R. (2008), ‘The learner centric ecology of resources: A framework for using technology to scaffold learning’, Computers & Education 50 (2) , 449-462 http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/2167/1/Luckin2008The449.pdf

Myrtek, M, Scharff, C, Brügner, G, & Müller, W 1996, ‘Physiological, behavioral, and psychological effects associated with television viewing in schoolboys: An exploratory study’, The Journal Of Early Adolescence, 16, 3, pp. 301-323, PsycINFO, EBSCOhost, viewed 9 February 2013.

 

When did you last stumble upon such words of encouragement?

Is

Fig.1. Words of encouragement

Isn’t this all that we need? Someone who believes?

(On the inside of a folder of  ‘creative writing’ from my teens – short stories, a novel, a TV screenplay, poems and lyrics. Lyrics that the author of these words put to music).

Don’t tell me I am not still that 19 year old.

This is the human condition.

Days before my mother died, with barely any faculties functioning I span her through grabs of famous artworks on an iPad – her last cogniscent words were ‘Louvre, Paris’ while all but my sister and I say a dead person waiting to die.

‘What’s new about new media?’ A decade on have the hopes of the digital age been realised?

Fig.1. Ideafisher – a CD-Rom I used extensively in the 1990s.  Indeed, it probably contributed to the writing of this article

(I posted this on 1 December 1999, without the image. Not quite my first blog post, that was two months earlier on 27 September. Verbatim. I’ll reflect elsewhere on how things have changed in 13 years. Do please offer comments and thoughts. No longer the ‘Net’ and we don’t call ourselves ‘infomediaries’ but search tools rule and bandwidth means that we have video on demand)

There’s a saying, “freedom is lack of choice,” the problem is, these days, when it comes to business-to-business communications the choice is bewildering, especially as New Media has blurred the edges between traditional media, such as print and video, and computers have blurred the edges between communications and businesses processes. That said, the use of traditional means of business-to-business communication, print and video, far from falling under the shadow of the Net is if anything more robust. The same technology that created the Net has speeded up the print and video production processes and made them more flexible. The reasons for producing, for example, a regular staff magazine or staff newspaper in print, for producing regular business television programmes, motivational and promotional videos remain valid.

Before we get hooked on the technology though, remember that craft skills, such as writing, designing and direction are just as important as programming.

The technology that has made these “New” forms of communication possible has at the same time invigorated print and video communications. Thanks to desk top publishing and non-linear editing, as well as the greatly reduced costs of the hardware and software involved, there has been no reduction in the number and variety of printed internal business communications and in the use of video not just as the video version of the corporate, but for everyday matters such as induction, health & safety and sales training, as well as business to business communications such as investor reports and video news releases. Indeed, if anything the accessibility of video as a business tool has allowed companies to seek bespoke answers to communications issues, instead of relying on generic productions.

In this way everything can be tailored to specific problems.

They say, “old news keeps like fish.”

This is as true in the business world as it is elsewhere. Today, because costs have come down and the digital video medium is so flexible, companies no longer need to be satisfied with “old news.” Not only can video updates be released on a regular basis, but the libraries of shots, interviews and graphics become a valuable source of material for future productions and for use on websites, CD-ROMs and in print.

Digitisation fuelled the latest innovation in business communications.

It wasn’t long ago that we marvelled at the desktop publishing that has permitted a flourishing growth in magazine titles, and supported the use of print in all kinds of ways for business communication. In the video productions business too, digital editing led to reduced cost and increased diversity. By breaking every message and every component of that message (be it the written or spoken word, photographs, animated graphs or moving images) into zeros and ones, a myriad of uses becomes possible. For a period this innovation has been exploited within separate industries, it was the gradual emergence of computer based systems, for storage, retrieval and manipulation of words and images with discs, then particularly the CD-ROM that has allowed hybrid production processes to develop. Already the CD-ROM replacement, DVD-ROM, is bringing greater speeds and huge capacities that are making the marriage between the printed word, video and computers even stronger.

Digitisation has resulted in an explosion of choice in all media.

The increased diversity of magazine titles, radio shows and TV channels available to the consumer, is mirrored by the diversity of trade magazine titles and subscription offerings. What is more, the same technology, has at the same time fuelled the broadening diversity of internal communications solutions for large businesses and organisations, and made such solutions financially feasible for medium sized and even small businesses too. Digitisation has made the tools of communication far cheaper; all a business must do therefore is identify and understand each communications problem as it arises, and then choose the most appropriate tool.

No problem, no solution!

Whether it is new media or old media, from a business point of view, they only become valid tools when there is a problem to fix. For example, if lack of awareness amongst staff is leading to poor motivation and preventing healthy cross-fertilisation of ideas, a regular business programme on video could be the solution. If, taking another example, it is found the personnel department is constantly fielding health and safety issues they may find a webzine, or Human Resources Intranet site, for employees could deal with all these matters.

By taking this approach, putting the problem before the solution, we’ll be better able to take in the bewildering choice of communications solutions now available. Solutions which on the one hand may be print, or video, a CD-ROM or a Website, but could include a mix of these media: for example, a video supported in print, a CD-ROM supported in print, or a website backed up with a video and print or live events transmitted by satellite to 10,000 desktops. In addition to mixing the media like this, constant advances and innovations mean there are new hybrids, such as DVD-ROM, which could be a platform for full-screen video-quality programmes, as well as training interactivity and an encyclopaedic depth of information. A DVD-ROM which contains the entire inventory of a business in a digital catalogue could also hold a video-like trainee induction programme, product demonstrations of varying levels of sophistication, and interactive course-books that monitor a users knowledge and feed this, with links to line managers and personnel staff. The Internet might be ubiquitous, and make an unprecedented breadth and depth of information available, it might offer immediacy in a world that wants to get things done NOW, and work as an interactive tool too, but having everything just a mouse click away is a short coming too. And speeds are yet to get close to providing the kind of fluid TV experience we are used to with terrestrial TV, video, cable or satellite.

There is no panacea.

If anything the choices are becoming wider. Whilst the business communication specialists can now use a variety of precision tools we still make excellent use of the stalwarts of our trade. As tools go, print publishing and video production are indefatigable with new solutions simply variations on this theme.

Understanding how and why print and video, staples of the business work, sheds light on the kinds of problems they were designed to fix and indicates where and how organisations should be considering the use of “New Media.”

For example, annual reports and printed statements of financial performance, have become vehicles to promote the business to shareholders, customers and suppliers. These printed reports, still produced by statutory requirement, and still showing off the latest in print design styles, have for some time been expressed in video form too. Video is considered a more user-friendly medium and can switch the attention away from sets of figures and put the attention on the leading individuals who run the business. Over the last few years some printed annual reports have been supported by a CD-ROM and of course those companies that have websites publish their results here too.

Taking another print example, staff newsletters have for decades been recognised as a useful way to keep staff up to date with HR and personal issues. In some instances these regular newsletters or magazines were supported at first by AV presentations, but then by video. Indeed, the regular staff video is considered a vital means of communicating with large numbers of staff where a business is widely dispersed, for example in all kinds of high street retailing activities, from banking, to selling cars, groceries of clothes. Considered to be more than just news, such videos are seen as an important part of regular staff training, advising them of health and safety issues, demonstrating new products and explaining special offers, as well as giving staff incentives to perform well. Viewing these tapes is often mandatory, and is likely to involve an introduction from a line manager, as well as group discussion afterwards. In a learning environment course books are common.

New media has not replaced this versatile, memorable tool, indeed in many ways new media simply offers a diversity of platforms for material that is linear in nature. The benefit of putting a business programmes onto desk top screens in a financial institution is conformity of message and minimal disruption, the advantage of a modular approach lets people view the clips which are most pertinent to them and in small time slots.

Despite the growth of the Internet as a business communications tool the corporate video still makes up over 25% of the business communications production spend in the UK. Whilst this percentage has diminished, the overall size of the business communications pie has grown significantly. We all want to know more investigate more and share more, as quickly as we think it.

In the business environment Bill Gates calls this “Business @ the speed of thought.”

They say we are entering the “Information Age.”

As tools are developed to feed us information, our hunger to know more is increased. The current context is important to consider too. As employees we are told to be prepared for a “Lifetime of Learning,” as well as constant charge. Such attitudes simply feed our growing passion to inform and be informed.

Training videos, both generic and bespoke training packages, have long been the stalwarts of business communicators.

John Cleese was one of the first in the UK to use humour to present business problems and solutions using broadcast TV production standards supported in print; others followed with generic productions of equal quality, though not necessarily playing the humour card. As video production costs dropped, especially as we moved from film to tape production, so opportunities arose for the largest organisations to commission bespoke training packages to deal with issues unique to their business. Here a number of examples can be given, for example training in the nuclear power generation and nuclear reprocessing industries where it is vital that all staff conform to the same high standards; or in customer best practice in the retail sector (whether the product is a financial service, a car or food); sales training has been the subject of many generic and bespoke productions too. The latest production innovation, an easy to use low cost digital camera, will simply increase the likelihood of companies commissioning short videos on all manner of issues, only using higher production values for productions that may have a customer facing aspect to them or will have a diversity of uses and a long shelf life. The analogy is an artist’s study – we can now paint not only with oils or water-colours, but everything in between.

Here, line managers, to justify their investment, need to be able to measure the effectiveness of their chosen information tool. There are many ways to do this, but a simple measure of performance, before then after, is often the best.

CD-ROMs are used in a diversity of ways.

For a simple way to mass distribute a short video presentation a CD-ROM is cheaper than videocassette. CD-ROMs make versatile training tools, but because they can hold such huge amounts of data, have also become invaluable supplements to the product catalogue. CD-ROMs account for 15% of visual communications projects commissioned.

The Internet is not replacement technology; it offers something new which overlaps the corporate brochure and the trade advertisement, while acting as a live means to communicate with users.

Intranets might overlap with staff magazines, but it is the functionality of computer based communications which allows them to serve a different role, for example, increasingly Human Resources Departments are using Intranets not simply to inform employees, but to make everyday records transparent so freeing up HR staff. The Internet, at first nothing more than a hybrid communications link between computers to allow sharing of information has gradually evolved, improved upon and been exploited. Whilst it has invaded all other media, it non the less draws on the familiar, it is a conduit for all that has been done before, as well as producing it’s own language.

It’s still possible to distinguish between a TV programme, a film, a radio show, a newspaper, a video game, a magazine, a telephone call, a face to face meeting and a conference – the edges are becoming blurred as the digital ocean washes across everything.

Though the Internet is just one platform which allows us to send and be sent packets of digitised information. It is fast developing in a way that is neither magazine or video, not the telephone or a fax, to a library, a gallery, or a filling cabinet … but all of these and more.

With over 60 million hosted websites and 176 million Internet users, whether in business or at home, increasingly we are falling back on technical or human information intermediaries when using the Net. We need browsers and search engines to find our way to sites of value. That said, precision searching has far to go, which is where a new breed of intermediary has emerged: “infomediaries,” teams of Net-savvy people who take your search request, just as a telephone call may be taken over the phone by your bank.

Websites, at first little more than corporate vanity sites, have developed to satisfy the differing needs of a business.

As a PR and recruitment tool they are invaluable. E.commerce is a huge growth area too, with the likes of Amazon.com blazing the way to show how books and CDs can be sold and marketed over the Net. Less ambitious though equally important for the businesses concerned, entire product catalogues are made available to buy over the Net via limited access extranets. Other business examples find supply chains monitored and updated on extranets to streamline supply. Here, the diversity of uses of the Net is most clear, it isn’t simply a platform for below the line or above the line advertising, or for in-house communications, but as a medium it can form an important part of the production process.

Together, Internet and Intranet creation now account for 35% of the UK visual communications business.

Whilst not denying its value as a conduit of information, it is just a resource or tool like any other devised and utilised by human kind, from the train to the telephone, the internal combustion engine to the Dictaphone.

Exposure to the same tools and information will result in similar solutions being offered.

Perhaps until recently it was easy to see that a brochure, a conference, a video would provide the solution – today with such a wide number of options it becomes all the more important to consider each communication problem in isolation.

Care needs to be taken to identify the nature of the problem; write precise briefs and so put forward a variety of appropriate solutions. As such solutions are tried and prove effective then the expectations of those commissioning work, as well as the audience change – they may call for the same response to a similar response, or in a climate of change expect further innovations.

In the broadcast arena commission editors want the same programmes for less, because they know hardware costs keep dropping and production innovations have speeded up so reducing the labour costs – I wish the same could be said for having the car serviced.

For cost –effective and fast solutions to broadcasting information (video, audio and data) around the globe the World Wide Web is too slow – it cannot deliver the quality of TV transmission we expect. Instead we can call on the immediacy of transmission by satellite, which these days includes the multicasting of all data, as a TV show or with the interactivity of a CD-ROM. CD-ROMs provide a high level of interactivity, which makes them ideal for training purposes, and they’re good for cheap distribution for large mail-outs too.

Live Events are part of the communications mix we haven’t mentioned yet, but account for 20% of the business. Here, as with the printed word and video production, whilst the tools to create, produce and manage such events have changed, their purpose is just as valid. No technology has replaced the importance and value of bringing people together to take part in an event, have questions answered, and to network. We value the proximity of live events and face to face meetings, we are reassured by seeing someone in the flesh and making value judgements about their aptitudes, experience, manner and approach.

Left to a computer no business relationship would create a long lasting bond – we need exposure to different people, in fact a balance between the familiar and the new, between different mind sets is how to create synergy.

All forms of visual communication must be seen in context, we are social beings who love to interact, love to be informed and entertained, tested and intrigued; there are many different ways of doing this and each tool has its strength.

New ways of working are being developed.

Because computers enable us to share so much suppliers and clients could make everything they do for each other transparent. This is already the case in many sections of the automotive trade where an entire supply chain is revealed to all those who impact upon it in order to make constant improvements which impact on the customer.

In the past the role of the producer in corporate communications was a bit like that of a doctor; the client came to them with a problem which the doctor would diagnose and then propose a treatment. Increasingly patients are being encouraged to understand their condition, the symptoms and the prescribed course of action so that their knowledge can work with that of the doctor. The relationship becomes symbiotic. If clients and producers are to benefit fully from the bewildering choice of solutions and take full advantage of any innovations they need to get under each other’s skin.

I liken e.mail to electronic Ping-Pong, it enables people who are working together – be it across a desk or across the world, to share in the thought process, the strategic thinking process, the creative thinking and the production process as it happens.

Fears over undue client interference have been unfounded as everyone recognises the need to work towards set stages within the production process. The advantage in the creative world is to ensure that all those working on a project share the same vision. The process and convenience in the past has meant that, like locks across a river, client and producer or account handler would fix a date for a presentation then get together to consider the brief, then the proposal, then a treatment, then scripts based on this treatment would be presented, whilst in the meantime budgets and schedules are confirmed. Further meetings are then held to sign off draft and final versions of the creative execution, whether it’s a poster campaign, double-page spread or TV commercial. Today, in many instances the gates that form these locks can be removed to allow the process to flow uninterrupted. In this way the main client can sit like a passenger as the producer drives the project forward, but also a host of support staff can also tap into the information. The result is that the client is able to contribute throughout the process and it is far easier to make slight adjustments to the itinerary without having undue impact on costs or schedule, indeed, there is a far greater chance that the chosen destination will be reached.

Whilst the convergence of print, video and computers may be creating a bewildering choice of hybrids, it is reassuring to see that we are entering traditional territory as the kind of mixed media solutions we have used for many years serve the same purpose.

For example, business programmes distributed by cassette are often supported with printed support materials and questionnaires to generate feedback. Over the last 10 years those companies using satellite distribution for live regular staff programmes have used the telephone to feed questions to a board director or panel of experts. Digital transmission by satellite offers both programme output, if necessary to desktop screen, as well as interactivity of data.

The advantages to distributing such programmes on video cassette, where it is appropriate, for example in the car trade where offers, models and revisions are made frequently up to the minute LIVE satellite transmissions have become a regular feature. Here an interactive element is easy to introduce, originally by taking phone calls and faxes, but increasingly by fielding questions using the spare capacity within the digital transmission. Indeed, in some instances, important business decisions are taken by inviting the audience, whether staff or customers, to vote on various matters which will impact on their business. Here, if the interface looks like something off the Net, it is because the TV graphics skills are similar whether the images end up on a computer screen or on TV.

Reassuringly the process of thinking through a communications problem, preparing a brief and putting forward a solution, remains much the same whether it is a video, a publication, Website or live event, the difference today is that tools we have in our tool box are being improved constantly and new tools are added all the time.

Returning to the analogy of an ocean formed by universal digitisation creating distinct, valuable and durable pockets of expression will remain – our senses, our interest in story telling and our social experience will make TV, radio, the printed word and live performance as valid in the next century as it has in this. At the same time new platforms are coming to life.

If the ocean represents digitisation then different layers within this ocean represent public access Internet sites restricted access (by subscription) extranets and closed access Intranet sites.

If someone can dream it up and there’s a market for it, it will sell. Computers have simplified tasks, so has the Internet. We can learn more, faster and our knowledge can be put to the test. Just as in the past innovations like paper clips or “post it” notes came along to solve problems in the office, so today innovations which make information more effective because it gets wider distribution, more memorable because the audience are tested on what they have learnt will be exploited.

There’s too much on the Net, so search engines improve and we let newswires, personalised pages, and intermediaries do the searching for us.

REFERENCE

Vernon.J (1999) What’s new about new media? Not much. http://www.jonathan.diaryland.com/newmedia1.html (accessed 29 November 2012)

Enriching the broadcast transmission

Tony Hirst

Given growing interest around second screen complements to live broadcasts, are Comms looking at ways in which we might provide social media annotations/enrichment around broadcast materials at time of transmission

(eg along lines of http://blog.ouseful.info/2010/02/16/broadcast-support-thinking-about-virtual-revolution/ )

and maybe also as value add content around timeshifted/personally scheduled content?

(See also: http://blog.ouseful.info/2010/11/23/time-yet-for-twitter-captions-on-bbc-iplayer-content/ )

 

Taking more ‘risks’ is better than taking only one.

The mistake risk takers make is to take too few risks

The dot com or e-learning mistake is to have only one ball in the air.

Like Cirque du Soleil they should juggle a dozen items, who even notices if one drops to the ground and breaks, there’s enough going on to amaze.

TV production companies, docs and drama, film companies too, have to have many ideas in development if any are to succeed; when will web producers take the same approach?

28 projects on the go I understand is the figure

I’ve got four ideas, so seven other people with four ideas each and we’re in business as imagicians.

How we read and contribute online

Once you have the definitive response to a fact, something composed as a wiki that has been thoroughly reviewed I’d then like to see this thinking, initially just in words, animated via a slider, the kind of volume control we’re used to seeing, only this, instead of increasing the volume of sound, increases the number of words.

In this way you choose your moment to read a bit, a bit more, or a lot, the whole thing, and or everything (in theory) that went through the author’s mind when they wrote their chapter/boo/report in the first place by having not just the links, but the references open and ready to read in an instance.

Indulgent?

The expert mind does this anyway. By the time you’ve read so extensively on a subject that you hear its authors speaking, you tap into a form of this. You could at any moment offer a summary, or talk for hours on ‘your’ subject.

I would like this opportunity from the start, from the point of ignorance, to nudge back and forth, to ‘rock n roll’ as a soundengineer would put it, finding the point to cut a sound track, the ‘sweet point’ for where I was at, where enough was being said to engage me … or, were I about to alight from a train, a bitsize thought on which I could chew ’til the opportunity arose to indulge and nudge this ‘text volume control’ along the scale.

Now think of this as a slice in a pie.


Just a thought.
 

Open it out and you migrate away from text alone to include stills, video and sound. For example, the image-based expression of this concept, and a particular issue/idea/fact/report, begins with a single image, like a book cover, or TV title sequence … as you run along our ‘volume control’ the number and range of images expands.

Jonathan Franzen on writing

Jonathan Franzen

Jonathan Franzen (Photo credit: What is in us)

First posted on 29/09/2002 in my Diaryland blog

On Jonathan Franzen

From edited extracts from ‘Why Bother?’ a collection of essays by Jonathan Franzen. This essay is, ‘How to be alone’ that appeared in the UK’s Saturday Guardian newspaper.

Jonathan Franzen’s model when he got out of college in 1981 for the kind of novel he wanted to write was Joseph Heller’s ‘Catch 22’.

This was 1992. So what is it now. I presume a bit of TV and radio would have given way to the Net’

‘The ambitious young fiction writer can’t help noting that, in a recent USA Today survey of 24 hours in the life of American culture, there were 21 references to television, eight to film, seven to popular music, four to radio, and one to fiction.’

I like how Jonathan Franzen relates the fall of the Soviet Union to the shift on car purchasing in the USA.

‘In 1993 -the swollen minivans and broad-beamed trucks that had replaced the automobile as the suburban vehicle of choice – these Rangers and Land Cruisers and Voyagers that were the true spoils of a war waged to keep American petrol cheaper than dirt.’

This brings a wry smile from me:

‘I was becoming so depressed that I could do little after dinner but flop in front of the TV. I could always find something delicious: M*A*S*H, Cheers, Homicide. Naturally, the more TV I watched, the worse I felt.’

I zap between E.R., Friends, Coupling and Simon Sharma.

‘If you are a novelist and you don’t feel like reading, how can you expect anybody else to read your books?’

This prompted me to go out and buy Zadie Smith’s, ‘White Teeth’, Tony Parson’s ‘Man and Boy’ and something else … I want Michel Houellebeque’s ‘Platform’.

‘In the 19th century, when Dickens and Darwin and Disraeli all read one another’s work, the novel was the pre-eminent medium of social instruction. A new book by Thackery or William Dean Howells was anticipated with the kind of fever that a later December film release inspires today. The big, obvious reason for the decline of the social novel is that modern technologies do a much better job of social instruction. Television, radio and photographs are vivid, instantaneous media.’

P.S. What is a ‘social novel’ ? I never studied English beyond school. I.e. Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy and Pope.

N.B. ‘The essence of fiction is solitary work: the work of writing, the work of reading.’ Jonathan Franzen 1992

This is why writers need a shed. Or a yacht. Or a hermitage

I’d like a hermit’s cage; I’d like to be sent innocent girl’s in search of God so that I could put the Devil inside her. (If she were consenting and over the age of 18 of course, or is 16 in England.)

‘However sick with foreboding you feel inside, it’s best to radiate confidence and to hope that it’s infectious.’ Jonathan Franzen 1992.

There are echoes of Steven Pressfield’s ‘The War of Art’ all about ‘resistance’ … though Jonathan Franzen wrote this a decade ago. Ripples, synchronicity. Blah Blah. Writer who writer about writing as they write.

‘Even harder to admit is depression. It’s not just that depression has become fashionable to the point of banality. The invitation to leave your depression behind, whether through medication or therapy or effort or will, seems like an invitation to turn your back on all your dark insights into the corruption and infantilism and self-delusion of the brave new McWorld … Instead of saying I am depressed you want to say I am right !’

And a bit more

‘Depression presents itself as a realism regarding the rottenness of the world in general and the rottenness of your life in particular. But the realism is merely a mask for depression’s actual essence, which is an overwhelming estrangement from humanity. The more persuaded you are of your unique access to the rottenness, the more afraid you become of engaging with the world; and the less you engage with the world, the more perfidiously happy-faced the rest of humanity seems for continuing to engage with it.’

Don’t think about it, just do it.

Don’t even hesitate to look into your soul. Don’t do an Elvis. Narcissism and writing equals stalemate

‘There’s evidence that young writers today feel imprisoned by their ethnic or gender identities – discouraged from speaking across boundaries by a culture in which television has conditioned us t accept only the literal testimony of the Self. And the problem is aggravated when fiction writers take refuge in university creative-writing programmes. Any given issue of the typical small literary magazine reliably contains variations on three general short stories: “My Interesting Childhood,” My Interesting Life in a College Town,” and “My Interesting Year Abroad”. As a reader I mourn the retreat into the Self and the decline of the broad-canvas novel.’

Just do it. Site down and write.

Lock yourself in a shed. Drink, wank, let go. Then write. Get on a yacht. Disappear to sea. Fly a rocket to the moon. Isolate yourself. No radio, no TV, no papers. No reference books. No contact with the outside world. No ‘writers groups’ at all. Sexperts are permitted.

‘I used to distrust creative-writing departments for what seemed to me their artificial safety, just as I distrusted book clubs for treating literature like a cruciferous vegetable that could be choked down only with a spoonful of socialising.’

Ha ! I knew this writer’s group thing was a waste of paste and space.

‘Readers and writers are united in their need for solitude, in their pursuit of substance in a time of ever-increasing evanescence: in their reach inward, via print, for a way out of loneliness.’

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