Friday, January 23, 2009

Reacquaintence and Identity: Miss Veach is a Peach

I had lost this photograph about 20 years ago. It's my first class picture. It's my Kindergarten class and was taken, as you can see on the menu board propped up in front of us, in 1976. And while I had managed to hold on to all my elementary school class photos for grades 1 through 5, I had somehow lost this one. But here it is again. One of my former classmates unexpectedly returned it to me by scanning their own copy of it and posting it on Facebook. I'm in the third row, third in from the left. I'm wearing what pretty clearly looks like a navy blue sweater with a stitched downhill skier on it.
I recently finished reading some essays about youth, digital media and identity. Most of them discussed how youth are exploring,expanding,probing and challenging their identities using new digital media production and distribution tools. The essays focused primarily on social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace or YouTube where millions of youth are providing social scientists of every ilk with the meat of their tenure . I thought, if today's youth are busy with the basics of digital identity creation, how is Facbook (and that does seem to be the current hub for this activity) allowing my own generation to explore the history of their own identity? How are we using it to collectively explore who we once were and especially, what we've become?

The popularity of Facebook makes reacquainting simple. The rediscovery of so many people you had begun to expect you'd never hear much more about other than a passing word are suddenly reappearing and aggregating all sorts of personal information about themselves and putting it on display, a kind of show and tell. And I mean that in the most optimistic sort of way. I remember running into an old high school friend 10 years ago and listening in awe while she gave me the lowdown on who had married and those adventurous few from our class who had been brave enough to wade into the murky depths of parenthood. Now those very people are reorganizing digitally, their lives, their new middle-aged identities being haphazardly stitched together through status updates, photographs, article postings, groups joined, books read and videos posted. Quite a few of them are now firmly ensconced in parenthood. But your concept of them, of who they are and how they relate to you, draws from memories you formed 10, 20 or even 30 years ago. So there's this terrific little jolt when you learn a little about who that person has become. On Facebook, their profile picture usually offers the first clue. For many of these profiles, my own included, there's a picture of a child. Sometimes they're posing with the kid(s), a partner, or their family. They all say, "Here, at a glance, is what I've become." Sometimes people have gained a lot of weight.

There's a nice little nostalgia trade active on Facebook. Everybody is scanning old photographs and posting them. High school photos mostly, but family photographs too. They sometimes kick off little conversations. I wish there was more video. It's around, but rare.

This Kindergarten class photo, for obvious reasons, is the best and most endearing piece of the Facebook nostalgia trade that I've come across. I'm lucky to have nothing but the warmest memories of that class and Miss Veach, the Bea Arthur-like woman standing somewhat drably amongst us little munchkins and who was our teacher. Her personality was anything but drab though, even if her outfit from that day wasn't particularly flattering. I remember her being a woman in charge, and yes, her personality was even a bit like Bea Arthur's in Maude. She was Maude-like; bold, a touch acerbic but ultimately warmhearted and maternal at her feminist core. Many of us peed on the floor of her classroom, but I'm not going to name names. When I was in first grade I drew a picture that I was allowed to take across the hallway and deliver to Miss Veach. I don't remember what the picture was of though I did get to present it to her in front of her entire class. It all felt so heroic. After taking my picture, she put an arm around me and explained to her current batch of Kindergartners that I was one of her former students who had since ventured forth into the more refined elements of first grade.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Because Past is Prologue

Men may differ as to the particular form of governmental activity with respect to industry or business but nearly all are agreed that private enterprise in times such as these cannot be left without assistance and without reasonable safeguards lest it destroy not only itself but also our process of civilization.
-Franklin D. Rossevelt, 1934

Friday, January 16, 2009

More About Libraries and Digital Storytelling

In the pre-Internet days of multimedia publishing, pioneer digital storytelling enthusiasts showed people how to digitize the old photos in their family albums, interview their relatives and digitize the interviews, then arrange the audiovisual elements into a narrative, often with voiceover narration. While this technique can be applied to personal genealogy and history of pure entertainment, digital storytelling, when used to construct a narrative presentation of true historical events, personages, and geographical locations, is one way of introducing students to participatory media, to the communication basics of compelling narrative production, and to local civic affairs. Journalism doesn't have to be global. Hyperlocal journalism that delves more deeply into local events than mass media does can also serve as a springboard for civic engagement.

I had been reading these MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning books online and enjoying them quite a bit before realizing just how badly I wanted to actually hold one of them while I read it. Not just because I can establish a more meaningful, in-depth dialogue with a text when its medium is a book with tangible weight and scent, but because I wanted something to covet as an object, to hold this nifty little collection of essays exploring so much of what had been kicking up all this dust in my own head the last few years.

Howard Reingold's essay, "Using Participatory Media and Public Voice to Encourage Civic Engagement," from which the above quote comes from, deftly explores some of the issues concerning youth, civic engagement and digital journalism/storytelling that I've been haphazardly exploring over the last few years. Namely I've been kicking around how we take these elements and make them part of our library programming. What would such programming look like? A series of workshops? What are our goals? Do we explore this first with a round-table of local teens? What do we discuss and are they even interested in the first place? I'm pretty confident they are. In fact, the hyperlocal journalism Reingold mentions is already happening in after school and community-based programs lucky to have, more often then not, foundational support.

Public Libraries aren't looking to stir the pot of community controversy (their very existence is often controversy enough), but I do think they have a vital role to play in offering their patrons with the tools necessary to tell their stories (even controversial ones) and, ideally, engage their communities. Because after all, once the story has been crafted, it needs to find its audience. Which is why I've also been kicking around so much dust thinking about DIY marketing and distribution models.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Cold Marathon

I'm up early. Had a dream that I was running a marathon. The course was a large, somewhat ramshackle hotel. We ran the hallways. Much to my frustration I ran off course, confused by the media covering the event. Or something like that. I awoke up angry, blankets tossed aside. Sleep had fled.

It's cold out. The heater is kicking on every few minutes. I'm listening to Abby on the monitor and can tell she's thinking about waking up. Soon I'll be a mermaid.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Dregs Of Winter

Looks like a good time to start work on that summer documentary I've been kicking around. Though our little Winter baby probably has other plans in store for me. A little late night walking of hallways maybe? Definitely. Most definitely.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Those Hands Belong To You!

At a little over 7-weeks now Megan is beginning to take some wonderful movement away from the basics of feeding, sleeping, pooping and crying. There's something very obviously primal about this first stage, for both the baby and the parent. Your life becomes consumed by the pure necessity of keeping both the child and yourself afloat. You slog through it, exhausted and amazed. Wonder is tempered by ample handfuls of the mundane.

Megan discovered her hands a little over a week ago. All that involuntary hand movement, a kind of infant interpretive dance of flailing, bonking and impassioned conducting, has been slowing up some as Megan pauses more and more frequently to stare at her fingers before placing them determinedly into her waiting mouth. The discovery of hands as boob proxies.