Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Pirates of the Seabus

In my last posting I stated my intention that I would try to be one of the ones to show up when the call went out for people to get out of their houses and do harmless goofy things in public spaces. I have been monitoring The Vancouver Public Space Network (VPSN) website for their next call to action. The idea for an event called "Pirates of the Seabus" was proposed, but then the expectation was for interested people like me to pass the word through our own groups. I asked four friends, but none of whom could make it. By the time Friday evening came, my energy was low, and I was on the verge of changing my mind. But my friend Juan, equally tired, had managed to get through his equally busy day and he still intended to get there. He was motivated by the fun he'd had at the Halloween Party on the Skytrain, and it had been his enthusiasm that made me so curious. As soon as I got into the atmosphere I got energized. I am practicing my pirate's "Arrrgh" with him in the final frame of the video below.

This blog's theme is about the issues that arise when seniors get stuck on the wrong side of the digital divide. So how does my participation in a flash mob fit in? I see two points of connection.

One of my fears, as a COABC, is about the possibility of social isolation for those who use computers extensively. I worry that online social networking might become a substitute for face-to-face encounters. But my fellow pirates, on the basis of information spread as a Facebook event, enthusiastically launched themselves off on an adventure in the real world. They played with identity using real, cheesy costumes, and interacted face-to-face with strangers. Here, I've seen a concrete example of how Internet based social networking can connect people into "First Life" (as opposed to "Second Life"). A key element in the success was spontaneity and low barriers to participation. Being tired at the end of the day is enough of an inhibitor! The timely spreading of the news needed instant, easy communication to make it worth our while.

A second COABC reflection upon my participation in this event is about my surprise today in finding that, as of the time I'm writing this, my video is the first photographic material to be uploaded to the VPSN Facebook site. I tend to assume that I am the least tech-savvy person in a group -"ten thumbs" technologically. But after my time as a media student, I am seeing that I have gained hard-won technical skills that might be setting me apart from other people who came of age before computers. I not only took a gig worth of material on my digital camera, but had facility in using it -- for example, switching to recording sound using the "sound memo" function when I didn't have enough memory for any more movies. In one of my classes last term, I was one of the few who passed the Apple Certification exam for level one in Final Cut Pro, the industry standard for editing movies on computers. I now am teaching seniors how to use digital cameras, and am getting quite good at helping them move from mystification into confidence.

Last night I put together the little movie you see above, and then uploaded it to YouTube and FaceBook and here on my blog. Since I had other commitments in the four days since the Pirate event, I was sure that I was going to be so late in contributing my material that everyone would yawn and say "been there, done that". People might still yawn, but it will be from boredom, not competition. To my surprise, not only have I produced a pretty okay movie, but I'm ahead of the crowd. Go figger!

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Will there really be another Shutdown Day? Can you plan a viral event?

Two postings here back in March and April 2007 recorded my excitement at the Internet-based Shutdown Day on March 24, 2007. A site encouraged people to turn off their computers, and do something else, just to see what it felt like. More than 50,000 people responded. My second article in April, entitled "Shutdown Day - the Day After" expressed disappointment that the majority of people reported that they "sex" and "computer use" as what they had done (sometimes in combination). Even at the time, I recognized that it might be a "generational thing" on my part to be so surprised. I myself had spent the day with a friend participating in a haiku writing contest. I've been checking the official site periodically and have been googling around, without finding activity yet on Shutdown Day 2008. I now am asking myself -- why does it need to happen again? Isn't it okay that it happened once, and that I had a day that got me thinking?

On Shutdown day there had been simultaneous flash mob pillow fights in a number of cities, including Vancouver. With very little lead time, a word-of-mouth announcement went out, boosted by emails, cell phones and messaging, inviting people to drop what they were doing and show up with concealed pillows. Although nobody called ME, the following video taken on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery shows a very engaging alternative activity to being hunched over a computer. Two viral events in the same spirit on the same day. Coincidence? I think not. Repeatable? Maybe. Maybe not. I'm starting to get it that the nature of a viral event is that it gets set in motion, and then it is what it is.

Vancouver | Flash Mob Pillow Fight 2007, Feather Extravaganza from ardenstreet on Vimeo.

And now I am intrigued -- a flash mob wannabe, waiting for my first opportunity to check it out. Since last year I've become much more comfortable about both the short lead-up and quick wind-down of viral events. In fact, I've joined a Facebook group called "Flash Mob Vancouver". I am now poised to leap into that loop, and to be ready to pocket my palm pilot and go show up. Whether or not the Shutdown Day website fires up again and gives me a place to report, I can move on and apply that experience towards another step. I'm ready and waiting to shut down my computer and show up for the next "international day of fluff" -- 2008 World Wide Pillow Fight Club 3.0. And I'll report here.