So you want to shoot a video… Information across the generations

Recently, I had gotten some inquires from a local museum wondering if I wanted to do a video project. When I asked what it was, I kept getting told that it was an oral history project. That sounds good, but it was a little vague. Still, the idea of shooting a documentary, however short, was appealing. I was finally directed to another museum’s site to see what had made everyone so excited about getting this underway.

I quickly decided that this is yet another generational issue involving technology and information. The clips are just that, clips of people talking. Apparently, they are shown, “multi-media” style at the museum using a touch screen interface. This really impressed the people that saw this display. Here’s what I saw… I saw some rather amateurish looking clips put into categories depending on what they were talking about. There was no narrative, there was no coherence, and I don’t think there was much point.

When I got to sit down with one of the board members and tried to figure out what it was they wanted to do, I was amazed. They wanted to hire me (or this other guy) to run the camera and edit the footage. They also may have needed me to do the “multi-media” installation at the museum. Ummm, what decade are we living in?

I had to break it to them that it doesn’t take much of a genius to record people talking, or even to string clips together. Just as digital photography has made acceptable looking images easy to get, digital video cameras have made it really easy to get acceptable looking video without knowing much.

Of course, if I shot the stuff for them, it would look much better. That’s still the difference between a hack and someone that cares. Lighting and composition will always separate the men from the boys. Of course she didn’t really understand what it was you need to pay for when it comes to video production like this. Like I said, shooting it is a piece of cake, editing is always work, but it wouldn’t be too bad for a project like this. What you end up paying for is the ability to organize images and sound in order to tell a story, or in this case, history.

This had never crossed anyone’s mind as far as I can tell. They were ready to pay me money to simply record stuff. They were then going to take those clips and put them on a screen via a touch screen interface. Like I said before, I think there is a generational gap at work here. What role do documents and information in general play in learning history? And where does that information belong?

To many people, especially older ones, the act of getting information transferred into bytes is an amazing and unknowable process. The fact that it happens at all is seen as a miracle. In their world, you need to have lots of arcane technical knowledge to do that, that’s why you have to pay people for that. To people that are comfortable with these things (like everyone under the age of 25 and some of us older folks), it is as normal as putting on our shoes. For us, getting the footage or image is understood. What we want to know is what are you going to do with that info?

If teaching history is the main reason for recording this stuff at all, why are you going to stick it in a museum? A museum in Mathews county of all places… Once again, for people in the younger generations, information does not belong in a building where it is subject to opening and closing hours. It is not meant to have limited access. If you want information to be useful, put it on the web so that anyone can have access to it. At one time, museums were very good for that. Nowadays, they are much better suited for showing objects and hosting educational activities.

So I am going to speak to the board in December. I’m hoping to be able to explain the difference between recording data and using data to create something useful. I’m also hoping to convince them that any of them can run a video camera. No, it won’t look as good, but it will be a hell of a lot cheaper. Sometimes quantity is more important than quality… If they do want that data to be made into something useful, the last thing they want to do is limit access to it. I will try to introduce them to the internet…

That’s not really fair, they do know what the internet is, but they seem to have a very limited view of what it is. Older people tend to see the internet as something akin to TV. You tune it in and see what’s on. It doesn’t occur to them that they should contribute. I do wish that people would stop being afraid of technology. I’ll try to do my part in a couple of weeks and hopefully if they ever want to do an actual documentary, they’ll call me…

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