By Bill Shribman, Senior Executive Producer, WGBH
So if you’ll excuse the switch of formats to the lazy writer’s friend, a random stream of consciousness, here are some reflections on media and a few notes on what I’ve been juggling as I try to move our new media literacy project forward this week. If this were the “Previously On” section of a TV show it would note that, “In previous ramblings here, Bill has mentioned he’s pulling together a new broadband series for kids. It features an animated dog, Ruff Ruffman as a Humble Media Genius…”
I recently interviewed a group of 5th graders from a wealthy suburb and a group of 7th graders from a less well-off neighborhood of Boston about their technology use. This is true for both groups: if you want to see any group of kids shoot their hands in the air, ask them whose parents are preoccupied by their own devices. And as it happens, you get the same result if you ask, “Who has their own mobile device?” We’re a connected bunch.
In both groups, kids admitted to taking down photos they’ve posted if they didn’t have enough likes. Doug Rushkoff tackled this topic in a recent Frontline for WGBH, but his interviews were with older teens. I wasn’t expecting 10-year olds to be exhibiting the same self-conscious behavior. But likes are a currency and no one wants to see their currency devalued.
One 13-year old told me she had over 1,000 followers on Instagram and had 500 pending friend requests. I naturally assumed these would be creepy men and web-crawling robots but instead she claimed, “I’m kinda famous in Boston because I’m cute.” Her schoolmates rolled their eyes. Hey, parents?! Do YOU know how many followers your kids have? Do you even know how to look? I’m working on a questionnaire for parents to dig a little deeper into what we do and don’t know around technology. I’ll let you know here when it’s up, maybe you’ll take the survey.
As production continues, we’ve been reviewing incoming animation – our animators are the lovely Flaming Medusa Studios in Cincinnati – a city which I promise to be able to spell without spell-check by the end of this project. The animation is looking good: our format is one made of comedy sketches with Ruff that tee-up issues we’ll then explore a little more deeply on the website. The scripts we’ve been writing this week look at search and information quality and also the perils of sharing inadvertently geo-tagged photos. But with a dog, a cat and a mouse as protagonists we’re able to keep it light and accessible. We’re recording new audio this week with the supremely talented Jim Conroy, directing him via phone as he sits in a recording studio in NYC. This kind of multi-city approach is not unusual, although the majority of the work happens inhouse at WGBH.
You can see a little of what that inhouse work looks like in a recent Boston Globe feature about my team. The main thing I discovered here, from a media perspective, is that print is not dead as I had suspected. It turns out all my neighbors get a newspaper as they’ve been jumping out of bushes as I walk my dog to tell me so.
I’m also looking ahead to the fall and to new funding beyond the pilot. I’ve been forging new partnerships with academics at Brigham Young, Harvard, Ohio State and elsewhere as I prep for a new spate of grant writing. Besides all the active production, I work on 30-50 grant proposals per year of one kind or another: it’s pretty exhausting but I really enjoy bringing new people aboard a project like this, it adds so much perspective. The latest additions include computer science researchers and a media studies professor. It takes a village.
I’ve also been considering the public health aspect of this project and am pulling together resources around a side project about distracted driving: the statistics are horrifying for road accidents caused by texting and phone use. And while the natural focus of education programs has been on teens, I see adults of all ages texting and those older folks like myself probably need all of our fingers and attention on the keyboard to compose a simple text, so that’s probably much worse a distraction, and distracted we are. A colleague told me, “Well, it could be my kids calling,” as an excuse. We all have our excuses.
I was researching anti-texting slogans this week and one stood out as it seemingly had a pro-texting message, “Keep texting and driving, my mother needs a kidney.” I’m not sure at this point what it will take for us to put our phones down, but I beeped my horn at a teen who was wavering in front of me on the Turnpike this week, and that did the trick, at least for the 30 yards I needed to pass without her swerving into me.
And now, back to the proposal writing and prep for a presentation at Games4Health in Boston this week. So more soon.
Thanks for listening.
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