TITLE: The Power of an App or a Sideways Glance AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: December 22, 2017 12:50 PM DESC: ----- BODY: This morning I read an interview with Steven Soderbergh, which is mostly about his latest project, the app/series, "Mosaic". A few weeks ago, "Mosaic" was released as an app in advance of its debut on HBO. Actually, that's not quite right. It is an app, which will also be released later in series form, and then only because Soderbergh needed money to finish the app version of the film. In several places, he talks about being a director in ways that made me think of being a university professor these days. One was in terms of technology. There are moments in the "Mosaic" app when it offers the viewer an opportunity to digress and read a document, to flash back, or to flash forward. The interviewer is intrigued by the notion that a filmmaker would be willing to distract the viewer in this way, sending texts and pushing notifications that might disrupt the experience. Soderbergh responded:
My attitude was, "Look, we've gotten used to watching TV now with three scrolling lines of information at the bottom of the screen all the time. People do not view that stuff the same way that they would have viewed it 20 years ago."
... To not acknowledge that when you're watching something on your phone or iPad that there are other things going on around you is to be in denial. My attitude is, "Well, if they're going to be distracted by something, let it be me!"
I'm beginning to wonder if this wouldn't be a healthier attitude for us to have as university instructors. Maybe I should create an app that is my course and let students experience the material using what is, for them, a native mode of interaction? Eventually they'll have to sit down and do the hard work of solving problems and writing code, but they could come to that work in a different way. There is a lot of value in our traditional modes of teaching and learning, but maybe flowing into our students' daily experience with push requests and teaser posts would reach them in a different way. Alas, I doubt that HBO will front me any money to make my app, so I'll have to seem other sources of financing. On a more personal plane, I was struck by something that Soderbergh said about the power directors have over the people they work with:
What's also interesting, given the environment we're in right now, is that I typically spend the last quarter of whatever talk I'm giving [to future fillmakers] discussing personal character, how to behave, and why there should be some accepted standard of behavior when you interact with people and how you treat people. Particularly when you're in a position like that of a director, which is an incredibly powerful situation to be in, pregnant with all kinds of opportunity to be abusive.
... if you're in a position of power, you can look at somebody sideways and destroy their week, you know? You need to be sensitive to the kind of power that a director has on a set.
It took me years as a teacher to realize the effect that an offhand remark could have on a student. I could be lecturing in class, or chatting with someone in my office, and say something about the course, or about how I work, or about how students work or think. This sentence, a small part of a larger story, might not mean all that much to me, and yet I would learn later that it affected how the student felt about himself or herself for a week, or for the rest of the course, or even longer. This effect can be positive or negative, of course, depending on the nature of the remark. As Soderbergh says, it's worth thinking about how you behave when you interact with people, especially when you're in a position of relative authority, in particular as a teacher working with young people. This applies to our time as a parent and a spouse, too. Some of my most regrettable memories over the years are of moments in which I made an offhand remark, thoughtlessly careless, that cut deep into the heart of my wife or one of my daughters. Years later, they rarely remember the moment or the remark, but I'm sad for the pain I caused in that moment and for any lingering effect it may have. The memory is hard for me to shake. I have to hope that the good things I have said and done during our time together meant as much. I can also try to do better now. The same holds true for my time working with students. -----