Beacon Blog: On technology's progress and high school projects | St. Louis Public Radio

Beacon Blog: On technology's progress and high school projects

Nov 29, 2010

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 29, 2010 - I ventured to my childhood home over Thanksgiving. As my trips surrounding holidays tend to, this one included time spent with friends made in high school.

Now scattered throughout the country, our group is doing things so varied it doesn't seem possible our common background could have adequately prepared each of us. Our conversation turned to those "good old days," absent friends and former teachers.

One thing I particularly recalled were several assignments done in video format. Specifically, I recounted projects done in consumer education (a parody commercial for a fake product), British literature (a satire -- in retrospect very ham-handedly done), U.S. history (a series of sketches on the 19th century, including the women's rights movement and Seneca Falls Convention, the Temperance Movement and the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement) and a self-directed project in a broadcast communications class (a short commemorative video of that year's madrigal dinner).

While my dad mainly bought it for filming family gatherings, birthdays, Christmases and school productions, the family's video camera was available to me for class assignments, as well as hobby and casual filming. It was fun; and I thought it was pretty cool to be able to shoot video. (I remember it was on small, 8mm tape cassettes, but I'm not sure if it was digital or not.) I even did a little rudimentary editing by recording a bit from the master tape to a VHS tape, then fast-forwarding or rewinding the master tape and recording some more, and so on.

What a difference a decade makes.

As we were talking about these old projects -- many of my friends had starred in them (then, as now, I preferred to be behind the camera) and they'd done similar assignments themselves that were all shown in class -- I wondered what kinds of things we would have come up with had we possessed the technology available today. Not only can you buy a high-definition digital video camera for less than $100, but software to edit the video you shoot -- in ways far beyond my high-school capabilities -- comes standard on most any new computer sold today.

On the one hand, I can think about this and lament what might have been. How much slicker might those projects have been, if only I could have pumped the footage from a pocket-sized HD camera into iMovie and dragged-and-dropped clips and transitions, overlaid with photos, titles, narration and theme music.

On the other hand, those stories were still told. The school projects and the downtime just hanging out with friends, the things that were important are still remembered. If it wasn't in HD video, it was on analog VHS tapes. If it wasn't in video at all, it was in photos -- digital or prints. If not photos, journal entries and shared storytelling. And the last resort, memory.

It might be an interesting diversion to speculate on how history's storytellers might have used today's technology. To be sure, technology can enhance how some stories are told. It can make the knowledge stickier or easily accessible. It can make stories more entertaining or dramatic. It can present complex information in an easy-to-understand way or enable access to vast amounts of resources.

But the more important thing is that those stories, that information, the news that matters to people are being told. When you measure your worth in pageclicks, video views, comments left or eyeballs-on-ads, the technology to measure those things and to make those things happen suddenly becomes a vital part of the process. But when you decide what's important is the story, and sharing that information with people, all the technological trappings fall away.

You use the tools you have to tell the story. If there's something important to be remembered or shared, just do it, and use what you have to the best of your ability.