Changing the World Through Imagery: Snapchat, Instagram, and Flickr

July 19, 2018

Ephemeral moments, briefly captured and briefly shared through imagery, are at the heart of Snapchat—a social media platform used by nearly 75 percent of teens in America, a Pew Research Center report released in May 2018 suggests; it is a tool that is designed to playfully combine text captions and imagery through a here today, gone tomorrow approach. What you post there is generally meant to last no longer than 24 hours before disappearing. The tremendously world-changing impact a Snapchat post can have, however, became clear in early 2018, when a teenaged Snapchat user captured the horrendous moments of the mass shooting of students, by a former student, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

This was a snap that did not—and will not—disappear. Copied and reposted online and included in mainstream media coverage of the tragedy, it has taken on a life of its own; was part of a student-driven online social media presence that helped spur the March for Our Lives (#MarchForOurLives) protest movement that has attracted participation from students and adults in more than 800 cities worldwide and its companion initiative, Vote for Our Lives (#VoteForOurLives); and, within one month of the shooting, had produced gun-control legislation in Oregon and Florida unlike any that previously came out of years of fruitless conversations between those in favor of somehow limiting access to guns and those who firmly believe that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution provides absolute, uncontrolled access to guns.

Watching that snap or looking at March for Our Lives images on the Instagram and Flickr  photo-sharing sites takes you to the heart of one of the most divisive debates in America today. You don’t just see people affected by an issue seeking some sort of positive resolution: you see the debate itself playing out in sometimes spiteful, vicious comments between those who find themselves on opposite sides of a debate that was producing few concrete results—until that snap went viral, the students became advocates with often very sophisticated approaches to the social (and mainstream) media tools available to them, and those students joined the voices of those insisting that “enough is enough” and that a positive response to the most awful of situations had to come sooner than later.

The fact that Snapchat was the initial vehicle for providing painfully jarringly intimate glimpses into another tragedy unfolding was probably something that those creating Snapchat could never have predicted when they created a platform for capturing and briefly disseminating ephemeral moments.

“I don’t think [Facebook Co-founder, Chairman, and Chief Executive Officer] Mark Zuckerberg ever dreamed that Facebook would be involved in presidential election scandals and the fake-news cycle. Nor do I think that Snapchat leadership pictured teens snapping violent and traumatic injury in the midst of a horrific crisis,” Samantha Becker, the independent consultant and President of SAB Creative & Consulting, says. “It’s not necessarily something you envision from the get-go, but it makes sense that social networks would be effective vehicles for spreading news, exposing real-life events in progress, etc. But there can definitely be backlash. I’m thinking about the Logan Paul YouTube scandal from a couple months ago, where he showed footage from a suicide. People are rightfully concerned that social media can glamorize the tragic. It’s a very delicate balance and there is a fine line between sharing something that spurs positive action vs. negative reactions. The in-situ experience of social media means that people aren’t always thinking before they post—and they can be greatly penalized for that or end up inspiring the wrong kind of action.

“I don’t have a solution for how and where to draw the line, but we could use more guidance around that and more ways to educate forthcoming generations and provide proper digital literacy training.”

Briefly tracing the early, rapid growth of #MarchForOurLives provides a strong reminder that specific social media platforms do not operate in a vacuum; they are part of an overall combination of traditional and relatively new media formats available to those who want to take the small- and large-scale steps that can lead to changing the world. #MarchForOurLives at least in part grew rapidly because those Snapchat images inspired action in a variety of ways: through mainstream and cable news programs; postings on other social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, and YouTube; fundraising efforts coordinated by the nonprofit March for Our Lives Action Fund and others; and the personalization of the story through Parkland student-activists including Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg. In fact, it is the personalization of that message through the voices of Gonzalez, Hogg, and others that draw us and inspire us to action through the power of storytelling—through Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and book-length explorations that bring these stories to people who might otherwise be overwhelmed and be unable to see that the road from observer to activist can be traveled in many different ways and in relatively short periods of time. Hogg and his sister Lauren appear to understand this implicitly: less than six months after the shooting in Parkland, they were able to publish #NeverAgain, a call to action published by Random House Trade Paperbacks.

 N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in Winter/Spring 2019. This is the twelfth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.

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Coming Full Circle with Digital Storytelling in #etmooc

February 11, 2013

After dabbling with digital storytelling last week as part of the work I’m doing as a learner in #etmooc, the Education Technology and Media MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) organized by University of Regina professor of educational and media Alec Couros and several “co-conspirators,” I circled back on the theme in a more focused and serious way. And found myself in far deeper emotional waters than expected—as is often the case with any completely engaging learning experience.

etmoocCouros and his colleagues have offered us choices among eight different digital storytelling challenges ranging from simple acts (writing a six-word story and combining it with an emotionally engaging image) to an “ultimate challenge”: “Write a story, and then tell that same story digitally using any number of digital tools and freely available media! For inspiration and story creation guidance, see Alan Levine’s 50+ Web 2.0 Ways to Tell a Story.”

Starting simply, I tackled the six-word stories; saw the emotional depth others were achieving; and went back to the drawing board until I found one that promised to carry me into the level of exploration others had achieved: “Through stories, our departed remain alive.”

One of the departed who remain alive for me is David Moebs, who died from AIDS-related complications in June 1998, yet remains amazingly present. He was a person whose understated generosity made a substantial difference to his friends during his lifetime: at least three different times, he gave substantial amounts of money to friends in need, knowing that the money, if used wisely, would make life-changing differences for them. He had no expectation of receiving anything in return; he simply wanted to take action at the right moment, with people he perceived to be the right people.

It was not a complete surprise to me, therefore, that when I wrote about his spirit of volunteerism and generosity and posted the article online (more than a decade after he left us, in a rudimentary form of digital storytelling long before I ever heard the term), it touched a few people who still carried strong, positive memories that were rooted in his actions.

David_Moebs

David Moebs

I was, in preparation for the #etmooc digital storytelling assignment, already going back to unpublished writing I had completed about David. I was also trying to find the appropriate way and tools to give new life to an old story. Video still felt a little beyond me; blogging felt as if it wouldn’t force me to stretch in ways the assignment was designed to make all of us as learners stretch. So I started looking for tools I hadn’t yet explored—Prezi and Vuvox among them—to see if I could revisit David’s story in my ongoing role as a learner. My starting point was to storyboard the effort using PowerPoint: I actually completed a draft that placed the script into the notes field of each slide; incorporated images licensed through Creative Commons and posted on flickr; began moving the images into Prezi and Vuvox; and recorded the script using Audacity.

That’s when I hit the sort of glitch we expect to find while learning: Vuvox wasn’t cooperating, and Prezi didn’t want to take the audio files in the format that Audacity produced and stored them. I did find an online service that would, for a fee, have transformed the recordings into a format compatible with what I had developed visually in Prezi, but I held myself back with a challenge to either locate a free online tool or find a new way to use existing tools that I already had acquired.

The solution proved simple once I returned to PowerPoint. Using the “sound” function that is under the “insert” tab within the program, I was able to easily re-record the individual elements of the script and insert them into each slide—and even pull in an audio clip from YouTube to pull the story together at a multi-media level.

And while I don’t expect to win any awards for innovations in digital storytelling, the entire exercise not only offered a wonderful opportunity to revisit an old friend, but to benefit further from the learning opportunities that #etmooc is producing at a time when so many of us are exploring what MOOCs are and will continue to offer as part of our overall learning environment. 

N.B.: This is the sixth in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc. The digital story described in this posting can be viewed online in “Slide Show” mode; to produce the audio, please click on the audio icons on each slide.


Speed PowerPointing: Honing Our PowerPoint Presentation Skills

December 6, 2010

Trainers and other presenters have a knack for creating interesting challenges to improve their skills and effectiveness—to the benefit of all they serve. We’ve seen Pecha Kucha, Lightning Talks, and Ignite, those great formats for designing and delivering brief and creative presentations with a limited amount of time and a small number of PowerPoint slides. (One that remains particularly entertaining is colleague Peter Bromberg’s “What Do a Leaky Roof, a Greasy Spoon, a Bear Sighting , and a Man With a Tortoise in His Pants All Have in Common?”, and if the title doesn’t send you racing off to see it—again—maybe we should break this off right now.)

We’ve also seen the spread of Battledecks, a tongue-in-cheek macho challenge during which presenters compete against each other in front of an audience to see who can most creatively and effectively—with little advance preparation other than being given the topic to be addressed—string together the most compelling and cohesive presentation possible from sets of unrelated and oftentimes poorly matched images they are not allowed to view in advance.

And now, through the unexpected challenges of the workplace, we might be on the verge of yet another game to hone our skills: Speed PowerPointing.

Speed PowerPointing is what we do when someone asks us to prepare a short PowerPoint presentation 35 minutes before we are expected to meet with colleagues about a new proposal we are advancing. (As we codify this game, let’s set a ground rule of completing a PowerPoint deck of no more than 10 slides in one hour or less). We do not get extra credit or time for whining; any time we spend objecting is deducted from the 35 to 60 minutes we have been allotted. (Yes, this is tough, but Speed PowerPointing, like Battledecks, is not for the faint of heart.)

To up the ante, let’s agree that the final presentation cannot be comprised of what was initially requested in this case: simply transferring text from an existing document, formatting it into a series of one-line bullet points, and slapping a title slide onto it so we end up reading (or, worse yet, having our audience read) the words from the slides or printouts of the slides.

Prize-winning Speed PowerPointing must effectively and engagingly produce whatever results we are seeking; be weighted toward imagery interwoven with text—the less text, the better; and draw from the narrative flow of a Beyond Bullet Points presentation. (I suspect that at least a few trainer-presenters already are beginning to envision their own first Speed PowerPointing decks; if you’re rising to the challenge, you need to start your timer running. Now.)

What drove my first Speed PowerPointing effort was the aforementioned meeting, which was called to discuss a solution to our problem of tracking and making an ever-increasing volume of training documents available to an audience spread over a large geographic area and connected more by basic online resources than by any significant amount of face-to-face contact. The resources for the PowerPoint presentation were the one-page text proposal I had prepared for the 30-minute discussion; existing PowerPoint presentation templates I had previously developed to be consistent with the organization’s extremely detailed branding requirements, including logos, typefaces, and style sheets; online sources of images and graphics—I turned to Flickr for mine; and a desire to combine humor and creativity to be entertaining and persuasive.

The result, for my colleagues and for me, was a six-slide presentation that led to adoption of the proposal.

Our final slide deck—which I’m not reproducing here because there was some concern about making an in-house presentation available to a wider audience—started with a simple title slide addressing the issue of managing an explosive amount of documentation: “Where Did You Say You Put That? (A Proposed Marketing & Learning Document Library).”

All slides, in keeping with this company’s style, had white backgrounds, headlines in light blue type, the company logo in the lower left-hand corner as a footer, and the company name in the lower right-hand corner as part of that same footer. The bulleted text was a sans serif type in black to provide a contrast with the blue headlines.

Each of the subsequent slides addressed an aspect of the problem or proposed solution; included plenty of white space; bowed to the group’s insistence that some text in bullet-point form be inserted onto the slide (rather than having that information included in the speaker notes section of the slide presentation and presented orally); and included an appropriately eye-catching image that generally took up a third or more of the space and moved the narrative of the presentation forward rather than simply serving as a space-filler or repeating what was already being said, face-to-face, to those attending the meeting.

A slide addressing the challenges the company was facing in searching for documents it couldn’t find included the headline “goals: accessible & searchable” and a rescue-dog image that brought smiles to attendees’ faces. A slide addressing the too-much-information problem the company was facing included the headline “the online library: sifting through information” and an image that suggested all the ugliness of information overload. A slide outlining how the proposed online system should be tested included the headline “objectives: it’s all about testing” and an image of a test situation that resonated with everyone present. The final slide had the header “questions and comments” above a playful image that took advantage of the simple white background the company favors in its presentations.

One other tip: given the limited amount of time we have under the evolving rules of Speed Networking, it proves to be very effective to move the headlines and text onto slides first, seek appropriate images to complement the text next, then use PowerPoint’s slide sorter view near the end of the process to scan, on one screen, the entire presentation to catch and resolve visual inconsistencies.

And if it’s not obvious, let me be direct: I’d love to hear from anyone who effectively uses Speed PowerPointing to meet the presentation challenges we all face in a high-pressure world built on the idea that everything should have already been finished. At least five minutes ago.

Any

(image from photostream on Flicker)


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