This is my first post-PhD semester, and much to my sadness, I will not be teaching students. My new role is in faculty development around media and pedagogy. I am lucky enough to have a fantastic circle of friends who finished with me that beat the odds and found academic positions. As we all explore our new institutions, I think we’ve been dismayed to hear similar things to what we heard in grad school..
“students are stupid”
This is one of my pet peeves. In my past life, I would hear colleagues say their students were stupid or dumb or some variation of students not living up to whatever intellectual standard the person leading the class has set as the baseline. I do not believe in stupid students. There are three reasons for this:
- Entering a formal learning space as a student is an act of submission and vulnerability. If someone is in a class, they should be there precisely because they do not know something. So, they are ignorant, but not stupid.
- Every person that enters a classroom has an effect on that space, and, as such, contributes something to the people they are able to interact with. Encounters in formal learning spaces all have the potential to be learning experiences.
- The way we ask students to show proof of proficiency in learning tends to mirror how those of us who are able to teach showed academic and intellectual aptitude. Not everyone is able to think or express themselves in the ways that we request. This is a barrier to seeming smart that is arbitrary but very real.
An Adolescent and Undergrad Story
I had my first job when I was in 6th grade and I spent my $100 a week on books. Not fun books though. I had a thing for history and humanity. I spent more time than was probably healthy trying to figure out human morality and reading primary texts of various religions as well as philosophical texts. I also read a lot of books from French enlightenment thinkers, in French, because that is what a teenager does when she is learning French, n’est-ce pas? In addition to all the reading, I was obsessed with the news, probably because I was fascinated by how people framed things because of that morality thing. When I got to undergrad, I was very excited that one of the required classes was a religion course. Religion 150: Introduction to the World’s Major Religions. I took it over a summer while I was fasting for spiritual reasons (yes I was that type of teenager. NO REGRETS!!!). My professor was Ramdas. I really, really loved learning from him. I took as many courses with him as I could. One of his classes changed my life.
Religion, Politics, and Society
We had courses that were designated as writing or speaking intensive. Ramdas taught a course on Religion, Politics and Society that was designated as oral intensive. I enrolled. I need to start this part by saying, I was an awful undergrad. If I felt I was not going to get anything from a course I didn’t go. I did the minimal I had to do to keep my GPA high enough so I could graduate. I spent the rest of the time sleeping (because I really liked sleeping as teenager and I excelled at it).
The first day of class, Ramdas went over a list of topics we would be reading and discussing during the semester. I was disheartened. Abortion? The Death Penalty? Homelessness? I’d already spent so much TIME thinking about these things. My classmates were PHENOMENAL, brilliant, passionate, amazing students to learn and think with. However, I did not know this on day one so, after class, I took my smart ass self up to Ramdas and said “I’ve spent so much time thinking about these things already and I don’t know that I will get anything from the course,” as one does. I am shocked at how patient and open Ramdas was because I would have laughed at me. But, he took me seriously and he said, “You are very smart, and I don’t doubt that you’ve thought about this. But in this class what you will learn is how other people think about things.” It was probably the best class of my undergraduate career. It let me know that even if I am smart, I am really, really, REALLY stupid too. And that is a good thing.
“Why do we keep talking about ‘Youth in Asia?’”
There is a story I share about this course that sort of made what Ramdas meant all sink in. The class was over enrolled. There were 30 people in a class that had 15 spots, but the conversations were fantastic and everyone was always there. We would do our reading that had various points of view from religion, philosophy, politicians, and academics on the topic. We would start the conversation circle with general reflections on what we read. One day we had a very in-depth conversation on the dilemma of youth in Asia. When is suffering too much? Who gets to make a decision about when it will end? How will the family cope with it? I think person X did a better job than person Y explaining why “youth in Asia” is such a difficult topic. And, then there were the people who said, “I’d never really thought about Youth in Asia.” One girl was getting visibly more and more upset and confused. She finally raised her hand and asked “WHY DO WE KEEP TALKING ABOUT YOUTH IN ASIA!? I read something about people dying.” It took a second, but then someone realized she’d never said or heard euthanasia out loud.
Usually when I tell people this story they laugh, but not in a “a-ha” kind of way. It is more of a, hahaha what an idiot kind of way. That usually makes me sad. For me, it was the moment when I realized how arbitrary a barrier can be. If just not knowing how a word you read is pronounced can make it so you are unable to participate in a conversation in a meaningful way when you have the capacity to do so, imagine the effects of all the other barriers people have. We were a special group where people felt safe being “dumb”. I am not sure that is the case in most classroom environments. It was not the norm in most of mine.
When we enter the academy we are surrounded by intellectually curious peers who have done reading and writing and reflecting and speaking. They’ve had the privilege to have the time to do so. Not everyone lives that life though, and not everyone wants to (and that is fine). Students not being able or not wanting to do these things doesn’t mean they’re stupid… for me, when I teach, it just means I need to figure out what tools I need to give them so they can teach me that thing that I don’t know as a teacher. I need my students to teach me how they think, which is why I created an almost fail proof final.
Yesterday I was on a absolutely amazing panel (video at link) at the Deep Lab on Surveillant Anxiety.
What are the lived effects of surveillance? From the anxieties of the surveilled to those of the surveillers, this panel considers the cultural, physiological, political, and psychological effects of mass surveillance.
Moderator: Kate Crawford [Deep Lab] Speakers: Simone Browne Jade Davis (HASTAC) Biella Coleman (McGill) Karen Levy (NYU)
My talk specifically looked at how, from the early mid-to late 90s as internet enabled surveillance and distribution of private/amateur video footage become one of the past times of the internet, we culturally learned how to take pleasure in consuming the surveillance of “others”. I related this to the contemporary phenomenon of watching black men being killed on social media because my working thesis is this is an act of (America) citizenship.
The conclusion was, given our current moment we need to be reflective about our roll in the surveillance machine that has been culturally normalized through social media in our current moment. This is different than surveillance and sousveillance. The terms I used is
Reflective surveillance and censoring in acknowledgement of the “other”.
The thing that I want to add to this larger conversation is Seveillance. This is outside of the phenomenological self, because that tends to have some idea of unification, and I don’t think there is such a thing and I am okay with that. Seveillance is a reflective practice in mainly socially media environments where both surveillance and sousveillance collide in a stream of information where, as individual users, people are forced to encounter a media mirror that, while pleasurable for some, is painful for others. It is the thing that gets people wrapped up in flame wars or trolling as they attempt to define a safe space in an open stream of information.
This becomes important when we (society) start to break down some of the alienation we experience as a result of our digitally augmented social lives. We are able to talk to a more diverse group of people than in the past, because social streams feed the same algorithm, we need to think about what we are sharing and how, and who we are asking to watch with us and why. It is one of the ways we need to self-censor that we do not often discuss. And it leads to my big questions.
1.What does it mean for something to be both a place where we come to watch playful things and sacred men die?
2.How do we reconcile that we allow their deaths to render invisible the countless others who die in the same manner?
The Nitty Gritty of the Talk
I laid out three types of pleasure in a foreign language, because that’s how I roll, with definitions taken from the internet. Jouissance, Divertissement, and Schadenfreude. A working hypothesis for why the three examples were sticky or different is because people see them as something that could happen to them but did not. They are also all types of pleasure that have some pain, discomfort, or cringeworthyness attached to them. I think it is so so so important that we acknowledge that without pain there is no pleasure.
Jouissance: Physical or intellectual pleasure, delight, or ecstasy.
The Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee sex tape, leaked on line in 1998, wasn’t the first sex tape made, but, with the proliferation of 56k modems and T1 lines at universities, it was able to spread in a new way thanks to the internet. It allowed people to watch a what happened behind closed doors of a popular sex symbol. The eventually licensing of the tape also paved the way for Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian.. And it was a predecessor to the recent “The Fappening“, the leaking of celebrity photos stored in their icloud accounts.
Divertissement: A minor entertainment or diversion.
Unfortunately, most of the Audience hadn’t had my experience of big brother, and the video didn’t work, but here is the opening for the first minute that I was unable to show during the talk.
For me, the show that was a predecessor to what we are seeing today in terms of day to day surveillance, and privacy is Big Brother. The US version premiered in 2000. I thought it might be fun to watch the first minute of the first episode to hear what the host says, and to see what was shown on TV.
What this clip doesn’t mention is the 24 hour feed that was available on the internet. As someone who was home that summer in a small semi-rural town in California, most of my friends were online. We’d spend hours in the chat rooms watching and wondering if Brittney, one of the house guests they made a big deal about in the marketing for being a virgin, would lose her virginity.
What I find so interesting about how Big Brother was position versus how we are positioned now in a day to day environment that resembles the house is, they agreed to this for a large cash prize. We pay for the privilege. Watching people early on do this was merely diversion and entertainment though.
Schadenfreude: Pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune.
This form of surveillance pleasure is most popularly seen in Sousveillance Genre of Russian Dashboard Cameras, and, I think for our contemporary moment, and where I will be going next, this is an important comparisons. These films show accidents, scams, fights, and other Russian craziness. The seemingly endless feed of Russian dashcam footage caused many to ask Why they have this. The reason is corruption. These films allow people to protect themselves in court from corrupt police officers and scam artists. It serves the people filming and provides them a level of agency they would not have otherwise. And, as a side bonus, it gets them tens of thousands of views on sites like YouTube when they capture and upload something Schadenfreude worthy… like a cement truck driving over a road and falling into a hole because it couldn’t handle the weight.
Surveillance vs Sousveillance
That thing we’ve culturally been calling for as a fix. The wearable police camera… but, it is false sousveillance, and it has shown, thus far, that, it will not bring about change in the current social order, so to speak. Politically, even our attempts at sousveillance, given what we now know about how or devices and communications are tracked or how they are taken out of context by state power means that in the US we culturally have a very limited potential for what I would consider true souveillance. What we do have is this..
PLEASURE IN THE SURVEILLANCE OF “OTHERS” IS A DISTRACTION FROM A LOSS OF AGENCY AT A CULTURAL LEVEL.
WE DEFINE THE OTHER BY ALIENATION, and IN THE PROCESS ALIENATE OURSELVES.
At this point I shared a link to my post, “Black Men Being Killed is the New Girls Gone Wild” and provided a list of names I will not being sharing here of the black men and boys whose deaths have been shared on social media as clickbait because it combines all three forms of surveillance pleasure into one, if you are an ideal citizen (and not everyone is).
And now the wall of text…
I am thinking through this with both Agamben and Fanon.
‘The sacred man is the one who people have judged on account of a crime. It is not permitted to sacrifice this man, yet, he who kills him will not be condemned for homicide; in the first tribunation law, in fact, it is noted that “if someone kills the one who is sacred according to the plebiscite, it will not be considered homicide.” This is why it Is customary for a bad or impure man to be called sacred’ (pulled from an ebook of Homo Sacer so I don’t have a page number)
Black men represent both the sacred man and bare life in a meaningful way. Bare life reduces a person to just a body, unable to participate in politics or the good life. As a sacred object, it is the space we look to to make things okay. The watching of these deaths is not new. We have the history of lynching, and slavery (Simone did a fantastic job speaking of slavery). This is a historical American past time. In fact, the ability to take pleasure in this is part of what defines the good life in America.
The other side is what Karen, one of my other co-panelist was speaking about in terms of care, family, and surveillance. For all of the people that are able to take pleasure in the watching, there is another group that suffers, those that see a mirror of themselves in these bodies that die from both sousveillance and police cam footage that is then uploaded and shared online. Rather than joy, seeing these image repeated and the amplification of the positive reactions to these deaths (and I consider lots of clicks a positive reaction), means that certain bodies are still seen as always already dead. Additionally, if you are a political being (or citizen) in the United States, you are already implicated in the idea that there are some bodies that deserve state death, as we do have capital punishment. These men are bare life. And media and education, for Fanon, are, psychic mirrors. In these mirrors heroes and history are the realm of whiteness. Blackness is the realm of monsters, death, and fear.
The thing that is important to remember is that these actions are Jouissance, Divertissement, and Schadenfreude all at once. And they are a placeholder. The high visibility of the scared man is a distraction from the fact that these actions that are culturally seen as reasonable when done to certain bodies is inevitably happening to all of them, because, any citizen has the potential in the future to be homo sacer, or experience bare life. And, the distraction that homo sacer provides is that the future is now. These things are already happening to everyone. But because homo sacer is the visible representation of the opposite of citizen ship, we focus, in this case, on his black male death, ignoring the black female death, the latin@ death, the queer death, the white death, and all the other deaths that are happening in the exact same manner.
One of the banes of my existence has, and forever might be, grades. I had a conversation a few years ago with someone about grades, and I remember the person saying you could define a course in two ways with regards to grades, one where you go for mastery of applying the material, giving everyone equal access to “As”, or one where it is mastery of content, at which point there will be more stratification. This is, of course, overly simplified. But it did empower me to think of other ways of assessing students that would enable the course to be as fail proof as possible. Much of it centers around the Final Project or Paper.
In my department every semester I can inform the chair that I will be meeting for the final exam at the designated time, as required for the University, but we will have a non-traditional format. I’ve been lucky enough that it has always been approved. The results have always been pretty amazing in terms of what it does for the class. I’ve written about the overallcourse design for these courses before, but this will be more about how the final projects come into being.
FLOW OF THE COURSE TOWARDS THE FINAL
GOALS AND OBJECTIVES
(for both introduction to media history, theory and media AND media & popular culture)
1. to read scholarly and popular texts critically; 2. to practice constructing and shaping arguments; 3. to find a voice in writing about, creating, and presenting media; 4. to creatively experiment
FIRST HALF OF THE SEMESTER/MID-SEMESTER CHECK IN
The first half of the course is always getting the lay of the land. This is usually gauging where the students are, introduction of central concepts (that will be revisited later in the semester), and review of previous courses (if the course has a requisite). The mid-semester check-in (formerly known as midterm) checks to make sure everyone is on the same page. Rather than asking for facts I tend to ask for application of concepts and/or identification of other spaces concepts can be applied. In addition to doing the mid-term, I ask students to identify what they think they’ll want to work on for their Final project or paper. I tell them they need to choose something they will actually enjoy working on, and not something they think I will enjoy because they will be working on this thing for months. I provide them with some examples and guidelines for the project. I encourage them to experiment and try to make media if they haven’t before (since, media course), because the classroom is one of the few spaces they have where if something doesn’t work properly we can control the consequences.
SECOND HALF OF THE SEMESTER/PROJECT PLANNING & REFINEMENT
My biggest fear in teaching theory heavy media courses is that students will think they have to show me how much they get theory rather than how much they get the media. As a result, during the second half we revisit and take a deeper look at the concepts we touched on in the first half of the semester. However, instead of just looking at concepts and theories without something in mind I ask that the students think through these concepts and how they apply to a project or paper of their creation, so they are never approaching theory as just theory. On the day the mid-semester check-in is turned in, they fill out a note card where they write the topic they hope to work on, and how they are thinking about executing it (traditional paper? blog? short film? look book? something else? no idea?). We then move into an activity. The most important thing for me when creating in class activities is that all activities in the class are meta-learning moments. I never want to make them do group work for the sake of doing group work. This semester I decided to make them do speed dating for the first time. In addition to it ensuring that everyone in the class actually spoke to their classmates at least one time, it allowed us to think about the role and norms of “dating” in popular culture (this was useful because gender and sexuality were one of the early concepts, and rom-coms, romance novels, and attitudes toward relationships were already in discussion).
PROJECT SPEED DATING: THE HOWS
Above is the Speed Dating thematic. I am sharing it because the first time I tried to do this, I failed at figuring out what to do after the first circle formation finished talking. We start with two circles, an outer and an inner circle and then move to two smaller circles. In the background a YouTube playlist of all the favorite songs of the participants played in the background (these were collected at the beginning of the course). The playlist and the note cards are “icebreakers” so if someone is shy they have their list and something other than the project to talk about for a moment. The music videos also help change the “feel” of the classroom space. The participants are asked to take their note cards and spend 2-3 minutes with each person (depending on time in the course). In these 2-3 minutes they each need to:
- introduce Themselves (if they haven’t previously)
- share their topic and why they are interested in it
- explain how they plan to *do* their final project and why
These descriptions are brief. Once the time is up the people in the outer circle move counter-clockwise one space until they spoken with everyone. What is really great is by the end of the first circle, they’ve gotten down their description, why they’re interested in it, and what they want to do and why. They then move to the second circle (the people who were in the outer or inner circle with them), so they can speak to everyone in the course. Throughout this experience they record the names of people who have similar projects, or projects they might like to work on.
After everyone has had a chance to speak with everyone else, they are given 5-10Minutes to free mingle with people they might be interested in forming groups with. After speed dating they should have a good sense of what their topic is and how they hope to execute it. They should also have a group if they want to do a group project (papers have to be done individually), and a topic group of people they can check in with, in the event they are doing an individual project.
In addition to helping them define their projects, the speed dating serves a secondary purpose. Throughout the semester students give group presentations. One of the reasons I want them to speak to each other is, as we move to the more theoretical parts of the course, knowing what everyone is doing and/or is interested in allows them to bring illustrative examples for their presentations that are helpful and interesting for people in the course. They never have to approach the dense theory without a good sense of the types of things people might be thinking through it with because everyone has a general view of the landscape of interests/projects of course participants.
Once the students have had a chance to speak with everyone in the course, determined groups, etc, they have four days to a week to create a proposal (depending on the course schedule). The parts of the proposal are as follows:
- Media/Experimental Project or Traditional Paper & Justification
- Project Summary
- Why are you doing this project?
- What will you be doing?
- How will you be doing it?
- What is the working thesis?
- Timeline (that incorporates workshop days, and draft project due date)
- Potential roadblocks or questions you would like more guidance on
In my experience the proposals tend to be written with a scope bigger than what can be completed in 6 or so weeks given other work required for the course and the overall course load. The proposal gives me a chance to see the parts that need to be better refined, rethought, or repositioned. I usually end up telling students to think smaller and deeper, and let them know I will help them with this during the workshops.
These are done in groups so the students can meet with their group members and speak with other people in the course about what they are doing to get outside perspectives and feedback. They workshops are designed to mirror things related to the overall topic of the course, like all the activities, so we make mini-media projects (but you need not be limited to this! things like surveys, interviews, posters, pamphlets, or whatever your disciplines norms or topics of study are can be used too).
From the beginning of the course, at least two days are devoted to in class workshops. The first one happens after I’ve had a chance to go over proposals and give feedback. Once they’ve had a day to process feedback the first workshop is designed to help them refine their topic. This year I had them create an advertisement with a pithy catch phrase that restates their thesis statement, and a bit of explanatory text, and an iconic image. This allowed the students to think about the production process of advertisements. It was also a chance for them to make their projects exciting for external audiences.
The second workshop happens towards the end of the semester. The purpose of this workshop is to link the final project to concepts from the course. They are given a worksheet with a concept bank and asked to link their particular project to at least half of the concepts with a brief explanation.
While students are working on their workshop projects, I go around the class and meet with each group or student to check in and see where they are with their projects, to find out if they have any questions or concerns, and to make sure they are on track with the timeline they provided. I do this in class because not everyone can make it to office hours and I want to make sure everyone is on track. I also want to check in to make sure that they are able to link their projects to the course in a meaningful way that pushes their thinking. I give them challenges too, to make their projects a better learning experience that makes them push a bit harder than they might on their own against the concepts and format of their project or paper.
Depending on the course, there might be one or two additional workshops just to make sure people are able to “network” with people in the course to learn things they might need for their projects. If the class is mainly individual projects or papers, I try to add additional workshops so they have a chance to speak through their projects with other people enrolled in the course. I always remind them that their audience for these things shouldn’t be me, but rather, making sense of what they are doing and why to their classmates, because the final audience they will be presenting their work to is each other, and I am just one person.
FINAL PRESENTATION / THE FINAL
By the time we reach the final presentation, they should have spoken with me at least two times and gotten feedback from me 3 (proposal, advertisement, course concepts). If the final is very early in the final schedule, the project or paper is due BEFORE the day of the final presentation. If it is toward the end, they can turn in an option draft for feedback with specific questions before the final exam period starts. This is done to ensure that, as the students are stressed out about their finals, the course isn’t a big stressor at this point. Generally, since we’ve checked in throughout, they hopefully shouldn’t be procrastinating for the most part (though there are always a few). At the very least, even if they are waiting until the last minute, they know what they are doing and why, and how what they are doing is related to the course.
When we meet for the final the students share their projects or papers (one of the rules for projects is that the project has to be a stand alone piece that makes sense without explanation. It forces the student to edit it like they would a paper). However, since we are together for the final, they need to explain some of the connections between their projects or papers course concepts. By the time we make it to the final, they have their position down. It is reflected in their projects and papers. And it is wonderful. What ends up happening on the last day is, rather than them cramming to take in all the concepts and references for the course, we meet and they show each other what the course was about. It ends up being a really big student led review of the course. Student work and effort are centered. And, instead of cramming a bunch of information for an exam and forgetting it, they leave with something they can put in a portfolio, or a new skill (like video or audio editing, etc.), and an experience that makes the concepts “real” in a way a paper exam cannot. And, because the projects tend to be really fantastic, they will also remember their favorite project from another person or group, again, reinforcing learning so that it can remain meaningful.
The last thing done as a student in the course is optional. If someone’s online participation (blog posts) grade is low because they haven’t done all their posts, or if they need/want extra credit, they are able to write a response post to projects from the final presentations. These allow them to give feedback to each other after they’ve had some time to think. The posts give me a chance to check in one last time to see how the students understood the course.
DOES IT WORK?
So far it hasn’t failed. If a student doesn’t pass their final project, it is generally because they simply did not participate or didn’t complete the project. Because we spend so much time in class working on the projects, this is extremely rare. In terms of how the students perceive it, after the presentations on the final day I’ve students tell me how helpful the process of the course was in helping them with their other courses that were more theory focused. I take that to be a good thing. One of the other things the students remark on, especially in the blog posts, is how, despite being so different in terms of execution and topics, the themes that we covered in course are evident in everyones work, usually in really fun and interesting ways the student hadn’t thought of (they of course explain what the new and interesting ways are and how they are different from how they were thinking about things).
And then, I get permission from the students who did their work on public platforms to share their work more widely. I give them the option to opt out. Every end of semester on twitter I share their work, and, I say genuinely at the end of every semester, I really love giving finals. I learn so much from my students. Just like their classmates, each year my students show me new ways to understand and see theory, and they give me a glimpse of what was happening in their mind as we went through the course.
I have to accept certain things about myself. I tend to think more theoretically, and/or more towards the future than many people. I’m not a deductive thinker. I am an inductive thinker. I’m really good at seeing different parts of complex things and how they work together to make “predictions”… that to me are just observations. All this to say, what my experiences in Higher Education have taught me is that I do not think like most people. As a co-learner and as a teacher, that means I have to come up with ways to make the things that are “obvious” to me visible to others. I have to also create openings for people to critique, expand, or disagree with those things I think are obvious. Because I do not know everything. In fact, I maintain that I know very little. I just exist in a perpetual state of confusion and curiosity (great mindsets for learning and exploring imho). So, what’s a girl to do???
Playing and Making
I’ve always been drawn to playing and making. And I didn’t get why until I started my drone tests to see which one I would attempt to get for my class next semester… and which ones I would get for us at the Duke PhD Lab (all the grad students there are super into the idea of playing with drone, from the classics people to the digital humanities people). What I think I determined, which is one of those things that was probably obvious to everyone else, is that when we play or make, we immediate go to the more theoretical imaginary space. We make towards a potential thing, and playing is all about that which isn’t there but could be or is only symbolically.
I cashed in all my store credits and discounts to put together a little fleet of drones. I have a small rolling FPV that is just very intuitive and really fun to play around with. A mini-qudrocopter drone that films excessively grainy HD video onto a microsd card. It has the biggest learning curve to fly too. There is a very stable quadrocopter that is fun, has a small learning curve, but only takes photos from directly below where it is flying. And finally, I have a low-midrange bigger quadrocopter that takes really nice video (the first flight video is above). I’ve done my first few flights with a series of drones and my brain is whirring (I imagine that word came to mind because of the whirring of the propellers).
I think when I was originally planning on possibly teaching with drones I assumed, naturally, that the primary thing I’d be working with and against is surveillance culture. That is a part of it. The second part was about creating world perspectives. I was thinking about literature and film, and how one would go about writing what can be seen through a drown, or creating new aesthetic practices in film that go beyond the panning scenery. I was really excited when I saw this Ok Go video because it took advantage of the mobility and perspectives of drone filming:
(There’s an interactive version of the video here: http://iwontletyoudown.com/)
But, after playing with the drones, and their different interfaces, I’m thinking a lot about how we imagine the body with technology. Like a broken record, I am thinking about how useful McLuhan’s idea of technology as an extension, and ultimately, amputation of the body, is when we try to conceptualize what are relationship to technology is when it becomes the only thing we can see through… I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared for a piece of technology as I was when I saw on the screen that the bigger drone was going above the trees and it was a speck and I wasn’t sure if I could keep control.
I am having lots of thoughts about public space, and how we imagine technology being in these places. When I made it to the park where I did my test flight, there was a group playing competitive boomerang (yes I live in that type of place). When they saw me go to another part grass near the field with my flying thing, they moved where they were playing to a neighboring baseball field without saying a word to me, sort of handing it off. Additionally, as we pulled in to the community park, I reflected on drones being banned in National Parks. There was a story this weekend, too, about an emergency helicopter pilot who had to avoid a drone while flying. I’m also trying to figure out where I can go with my students so they can film with a drone without others feeling like there is an invasion of privacy, and, where this is no risk of them hurting someone by dropping technologic object with spinning blades, as they learn to fly. So, lots of things I didn’t think I’d be thinking about until the technology was in hand.
And, of course, I always wonder about the implications of having all of these technologies that are designed so specifically for a visual experience and not really much else. It isn’t a bad thing. It’s just… curious.
I imagine as I play around a bit more, and as I play with more people with these things I’ll have lots of other thoughts, and they will too. I am just grateful to have another fun bridge to help break down some of the thought barriers into something other than language. And I’m happy to have more toys to play with. I’ve let my little ones play with all the drones (except for the big one… it was too windy) it’s been interesting to see how intuitive some are versus others.
I am slated to teach Introduction to new media again (very happy about that). In this course I try to have a signature project for the students that is relevant to their life or the current socio- cultural, political, and historical context. Last time, all of my students were seniors so they did a “master of your own domain” project. This semester, I am planning on some how getting a video capable drone and having the students push the drone to its creative limits through making experimental digital shorts, with the backdrop of learning about the current political and legal, commercial interest etc. conversations around drones.
So… I sent an email to a few drone companies asking if they have any form of educational discount as I will more than likely end up having to purchase the drone myself for use in the classroom, especially if I can’t find an adequate discount. One company replied, not only not answering my question (they suggested a different model), but they started the email to me with “Dear Sir“.
It wasn’t an auto email. Someone replied and called me a sir. I think there are two reasons for this. Someone sees teaching fellow/professor and assumes male… (and I guess Jade is sort of unisex, but I’ve never met a man named Elizabeth) and drones seem to be for boys and men… specifically middle aged white men with a good amount of disposable income. Now, I am not saying they are the only ones who use drones for fun. However, I spent almost all of Saturday and half of Sunday watching people’s drone videos and tips, and comparisons, etc (I should probably be ashamed of the amount of hours I spent (seriously, it was more than 15)… and none of the people coming from the US did not fit that demographic. It was a bit shocking. I didn’t expect it to be so homogenous. So, I feel even more determined to have my class use a drone for the purpose of a creative intervention. The demographics of my University and the major means our courses tend to have more women than men. I want them to make videos and share them.
Boys grow up and get remote control toys like airplane and cars. I guess girls are supposed to get easy bake ovens and baby dolls. Boys grow into men and the toys are upgraded to drones. Girls become mothers and get the kitchen. That is what this is feeling like. When girls are depicted as doing surveillance it is almost always to show they are crazy and unhinged. There are a few things where women get to be spies or thieves too with special gadgets, etc, but the popular trope of the snooping girlfriend or wife seems to be dominant and pretty well accepted. When are doing surveillance they are generally super cool spies, action heroes, military (or related career) men, or hobbyist with a bunch of disposable income and time. I was one of those little girls that loved cooking, but on a stove… and even more than cooking loved my chemistry set and my race track. I always wanted remote control vehicles instead of the barbies and baby dolls i would get. The barbies lost their heads, and the dolls were never touched. I longed to see commercials as a kid that showed that things like hotwheels were for me too so when I told my family and other kdis that I wanted boy toys it would be normal. This is part of the reason the lack of representation of girl droners out in the world populating the YouTubes was so… epically sad for me. That this seems to be so culturally ingrained, and from a young age makes me sad too. But it seems to be our popular surveillance culture. I desperately want drones to be for girls too though.
Anyway, if anyone out there in the silence of the internet has suggestions for affordable video capable drones, please send them. I’m thinking that all the companies will say no about educational discounts right now (and all of them might call me a sir), but… I will find a way to make this happen.
Also, if there are any amazing girl droners or research out there and on gender demographics and/or the culture of drone hobbyists (did a search and found nothing), that would be awesome too.