21st Century Skills

Preparing a movie version of a forthcoming talk got me thinking. Some of the footage I have that I can use safely in an educational setting is denied publication on the Web. Some was obtained under Freedom of Information. Australia has the highest level of defamation litigation in the world so the material I put up to my TomComAu YouTube channel will sometimes be a much less punchy version, limited to what I can get permission to reproduce.

Even with all these limitations it is amazing to be able to host my own international network. The software available today from iClone, MovieStorm, and Digital Juice, to name a few, runs comfortably on today’s generation of desktop machine. I purposely use low-res avatars so that I can turn out information quickly. The theory of ‘The Uncanny Valley’ suggests that there will be no great advantage to higher-bandwidth animation. The more realistic the avatars the more they become zombies. So the avatars I use look pretty cheesy if you’ve just watched a recent movie or TV ad but then those mega-productions have credit rolls that go on longer than the totality of most YouTube movies.

So content is king. If the message is strong and you have news that others have ignored or supressed you are entitled to call yourself ‘an international multimedia network ’. Even if you only have 3 followers they might well be influential followers. And local broadcast mostly still only reaches local communities.

It got me thinking whether running your own international multimedia network will come to be seen as a ’21st Century skill’ or will be a dead end. It takes a lot more time to make a movie. Just turning this post into a slide show with voice-over, at the very simplest end of the spectrum, would take far far longer than typing it.

But there are some big time-savers in the movie version:

  1. a documentary can deliver information in an easy format. The viewer can do something (like ironing a shirt) at the same time.
  2. the video delivers over & over, 24/7. It can be re-wound, paused and saved.
  3. live lectures cost money. Even free ones require a venue, admin & promotion

It is foreseeable that the machinima companies could produce canned studios of such quality that merely typing in a theme like this post could auto-save into a talk-show format with digital avatars but I haven’t seen them aiming in that direction as they seem to find more market in kick-butt arcade game sorts of features.

It made me reflect on other techno dead ends. The autogyro was built in the 1920s. It is still in use by military and law enforcement agencies. But given its reliability, extreme low cost, short take off and landing, and safety it seems surprising we don’t see more of them. I’ve only seen one in a museum. The same goes for hydrogen balloons with their great lift. The Hindenberg disaster ended the airship era but they are still used for scientific and weather balloons. I’m surprised tethered versions aren’t used with cabling as ‘sky crane’ devices to position not-too-heavy things from the air, including cameras and sensors.

Another great technology is biofeedback. As a psychologist I purchased an EMG device on the sound advice of our medical director. The other devices popular at the time like EEG were always a bit sci-fi for practical hospital use. The GSR (electrodermal) had a lot of potential in psychotherapy through its capability to literally measure unconscious processes. The whole field sort of collapsed by the 1980s, as did contemporary constraint-induced movement therapy. These linger on but not really as the bread-&-butter routine techniques they promised to become.

So my movie-making gave me many flashbacks to the days I wore bell-bottoms and used biofeedback devices. I wonder if I’ll look back on my cheesy avatar movie experiments as a stillborn technology that never really made us all coffee table international media barons.

I can always stick with music videos. These I can put together in a fraction of the time as I only have one composite soundtrack to compile and I don’t have to synch the archive or other public domain video footage very precisely. But from an educational perspective these have very limited potential compared to what a good science documentary might achieve.

So I’ll persist. At the least, I should be able to get a simple repeatable format for science talk/slide shows. We’ve listened to a number of these from The Great Courses and found this traditional talk,slide sort of format quite sufficient for most topics. After all the real key software resides between the ears of the audience. Technology is supposed to be a means to an educational end.