Just the text, ma’am… usually

Learn Digital Media flickr photo by MyEyeSees shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

This week in EC&I 834 our directive was to discuss our relationships with media as part of how we learn digitally. As you’ll notice, I’m a word person. I honestly am very word-oriented. Maybe it’s because I’m the daughter of a librarian and have been absorbed in text for pretty much my entire life. Some of it is probably just part of how I am wired, that words make sense and I have a vivid imagination that can translate words to reality easily. Add in that I am not a fan of being recorded (thanks, Dad, for making that clear with the obsessive use of that camcorder as I was growing up!). I’m also an introvert (no, really, I am, just not super far into the introvert side of the spectrum) which means I like to think through what I want to say before I say it. So I appreciate well-crafted thoughts. I like to mull over ideas and go back to them. These are all things that Bates would identify as strong points for text.

word flickr photo by wiccked shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

This came up during class and I automatically said that I wanted the text (and Katia is apparently with me on that). In watching Amy’s vlog, I chuckled to myself because I’m the opposite of her relationship with video and learning. I have used the internet to teach me new recipes and to learn to knit and crochet, to learn different things with making cards, and all sorts of things. Basically, I’m usually connected and I am frequently asking Google how to do something for my personal enjoyment or for work. I want the text. I want to be able to scan through quickly, find my answer, and move on. Videos can take FOREVER! I hate looking for one simple thing and having to wade through 2 minutes of introduction, 4 minutes of other content, then finally find what I was looking for, only to discover that it isn’t what I wanted anyway, then see it again in slow motion.

I often need a quick answer, “just in time” learning. I only want the one answer I need, immediately. Videos are frustrating for recipes because I want to keep looking at the ingredient list but it’s not like I can bookmark that and go back and forth to that (I’ll come back to this in a second). The internet is so packed with information that I know I might have to try a couple times to find my answer so the quicker I can evaluate a source, the better.

video flickr photo by k0a1a.net shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

But as I was typing this, I realized that I do really enjoy some videos for learning. Craftsy, I’m looking at you. If I could get my hands on their learning platform and use it at work, I would be thrilled. The videos are all chunked and come with a table of contents that allows you to quickly go to specific points in a longer video and you can view that breakdown before you load the video so you get the right one (there are usually multiple videos in any course). You can bookmark and make notes on the video! You can post questions and comments to others in the class on specific points of the video. You can download them or watch them online. This is the kind of video I like.

Social-Media-Roadmap750x280 flickr photo by ePublicist shared under a Creative Commons (BY-ND) license

That reminded me that I needed to go read Sarah’s post where she references social media (Ms. Social Butterfly) as part of learning. Yup, I’m on board with that one too. I have been sewing a lot more recently and I’ve discovered some great communities where I can ask specific questions and get good answers, often fairly quickly. I might start with an internet search if I need an immediate answer or the question is more general (because text!) but if the question is specific to a pattern or fabric, I might be better off to get a personal response.

Bates also discusses audio. Sorry, audio, I’m not as much of a fan. I think part of that is a learned skill to tune out audio distractions that was a side effect of my K-12 education. If I wanted to concentrate, I had to learn to ignore audio stumuli. Lucky me, I was able to filter it out for the most part. I still have to do this at work when I want to be available (aka partially open door, no headphones) but there is noise going on like the pre-school down the hall, a colleague doing some video editing, another colleague on the phone, people talking in the hall. Audio is the first thing I tune out so I have a harder time paying attention. I listen to podcasts and audio books while I work out but I remember far less of them than something I read and I usually want to have my hands and body busy if I have to just listen. I am too visually distracted. But that usually means I am not focusing solely on the audio. Music is slightly different, but I often end up singing along, or creating images in my head. I am still interacting with the audio.

Bates left out the visual aspect though. Not video. He has something specific in mind there and it’s much more about the blend of audio and visual together. But what about purely visual presentations? Sometimes they could be videos, if there’s no voice, no music. Or maybe it’s a comic, an infographic, or a flow chart. Below is a comic by Robot Hugs about how a brain can work when a person is living with depression and/or obsessive mental illness. Sure, there are a few words, but the visuals are what drive it home.

Black Holes by Robot Hugs
Black Holes by Robot Hugs CC BY-NC 4.0

I think sometimes text works for me because I get a visual diagram. I love diagrams (except the ones with IKEA furniture). I love the many ways data can be represented visually. So why did Bates leave that aspect out? He has images in his text. He mentions the use of PowerPoint. So… why did visuals get left behind? I guess they are viewed to be less advanced than video. Why have a still image when you can have a video? (A gif is animated but it isn’t a video. And people have entire conversation with gifs now on the internet. It’s accepted shorthand.)

Castle reaction gif
Reaction gif from squirtlemacturtle2 on imgur http://imgur.com/gallery/7VZOE

Sure, I’m not really learning from this gif, but something like this can reinforce a point better than text. And better than a full video clip because I don’t need the audio. I don’t need the full clip.

Tea service flickr photo by miyukimouse shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

So I’m a mix. I like my media to be in the right proportions. And my proportions might not be yours. I like thought to go into why something is in a particular medium. Why do a video if a still image will do? But what about if an animation would clarify? Do I need audio? Is this clear with text? When you get down to it, the reality is that if you’re building a course, you can’t provide all information in every format. So you have to make choices. And students also have to be flexible. Students need to be taught ways to make different media work for them. Because we might not always get the perfect cup of tea but we can try to find a workable blend.

Can Our (Digital) Identity Really Be Captured By Checking Boxes and Filling In Blanks?

We humans really like to categorize things. We like to put labels on things. We pretend that the world can be classified according to neat little boxes. We want the world to be quantifiable. Quantitative research is so nice and neat because everything fits in an easy box. All too often, we want to treat identity like that. Please check all that apply.

flickr photo shared by Mr. Ducke under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license

We have talked before about the ways that Facebook influences how others understand our identity. But what about how we ourselves understand it? Susan Cox wrote about Facebook’s impact on identity and it is something worth considering. While the prod for the article was Facebook’s decision to only use legal names (and the need to provide government ID if Facebook decided your name was not a real one), and the subsequent acceptance that “real” identity may not be a legal identity, that there are people who would be harmed by that, the author goes further. Cox brings up the fact that Facebook has reduced our identity to something to be checked off, filled in. The information options that Facebook provides (read: expects you to fill out) are actually pretty invasive.

Facebook has redefined the standard of what information should be immediately known about you as a person. It was a slow process, where it gradually increased the “About” fields, but now when I meet someone, it is somehow appropriate for me to see their exact age, residential history and entire résumé of work experience and education. (No, Facebook, I don’t want to display where I went to high school. Stop trying to guess at it!) Facebook can even reduce your personal journey on this earth to a chronological list of “Life Events.” It knows the true measure of what’s important in this crazy world and can tell you everything noteworthy that’s happened to you in this one helpful list. Facebook has turned our lives inside out to the point where all of this very specific information now seems to be what constitutes a social identity.

Our identity is mediated through the fields that a company has decided are relevant, with the options that they have chosen as valid. Even before our chosen posts are filtered by algorithms to determine what others see, we must categorize and classify ourselves so others can easily scan through all the apparently important information about us.

This isn’t totally new. Quantitative gathering of information is easier. You can sort, search, and compare. The Canadian census (and pretty much every census) does the same thing. Most surveys ask for some basic personal information, even if it is anonymous. How many times have we seen ourselves or someone else represented by check boxes and short blanks? We just worked on an instructor survey at work and we used Qualtrics (a survey software that U of R currently holds a license for) to build it, trying to rely mostly on checkboxes to make it faster. We even originally had a question about gender, at least until I started questioning why there were only 2 options, and then we asked whether we really needed to know that. But if we’d had it, we could have sorted based on that, tried to see if there were patterns based on that one facet of identity. Not only one facet, but a really limited view of that facet. Gender could (and should, I would argue) be understood as a continuum. That doesn’t work all that well with check boxes, though (although Facebook has tried).

But here is the other side that this article got me thinking of: How often have we wanted to say more (or less)? How often have we found that the available options don’t fit? How often have we really thought about whether we want to provide that information or set restrictions on who can view what aspects of our profile?

As Cox said, the digital age was supposed to be one that was freeing, that opened up more options for identity rather than reifying those few options currently accepted. The familiarity with sites like Facebook, Myspace, or online dating sites, have seemingly made us more willing to check off boxes and just accept the boxes that are there.

I am all of this
I am all of this but more

Our identities are not as neat and tidy as a venn diagram. It can change over time or even day by day. It may be difficult to put a label on (for example, we are seeing new labels like “heteroromantic bisexual” because the existing identity boxes don’t work).

Maybe the prevalence of check boxes in social media have helped force us to go back to questioning, to pushing, to fighting. Now that we are being asked to quantify ourselves over and over, maybe it will help us to push back and start using rich language descriptors. I am more than the sum of my parts because I am contradiction and blending and confusion. I want to explain my answers, give the exceptions. I am a grad student. I am also employed full time. Anyone else ever struggled with the assumption that “student” and “full-time employment” seem to be viewed as mutually exclusive? And those are things I am willing to openly identify as. What about the pieces of my identity that I may not tell everyone? Is there space for me to be those things too in a world of checkboxes that ssume you now know everything important about me?

Anyone else feel like their identity is as complicated as this song?

So how do we challenge this? Should we really fill in all the blanks? How do you create a more nuanced identity for yourself?