From Sgt. Peppers to Instructional Design

On May 26, 1967, 50 years ago at the time of this post, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released. Thanks to a dated sticker system at the local record store in the town I grew up in, September 14, 1994, was the day I discovered this album for the first time and it changed how I listened to music forever and sent me on a journey far beyond the world of music.

I was fifteen years old and a freshman in high school the fall of 1994. I had a pretty limited collection of music, mostly grunge Seattle sounds. That September, going on nothing but the thought that everyone says the Beatles are amazing, maybe I should buy an album, I set out to do just that. Looking at the albums available, the one with the long strange title and crazy looking cover seemed like a good start and I was suddenly awoken to the sounds of the 1960s.

I spent the next two years buying albums by other artist from that era and zeroed in on two groups, obviously the Beatles and the other Led Zeppelin. The summer of 1996 rolled around and as a sixteen-year-old, I needed to get a summer job. My older sister had met a group of musically likeminded guys at an auditorium in the North Carolina mountains. So she got me a job there, thinking I’d fit in with them. All the guys working there were media production majors in college and I was a wide-eyed kid with a fresh driver’s license. We would spend our spare time watching and laughing at video projects they created, going to Waffle House and listening to music.

Now my love of video production began long before I was sixteen. I made many videos with my friends and if cameras weren’t readily available, we’d do audio productions. Little did we know we were making podcasts before podcasts were invented. It wasn’t until that summer job rolled around that I began to think seriously about perusing a career in media. For the next three summers, I worked alongside the same group of guys. I would liken it to an apprenticeship. During the school year, my co-workers were busy learning the theories and techniques to video and audio production and each summer they would pass that new knowledge on to me. So by the time I was ready to head to college, I had a deep understanding of multimedia production.

I hit the ground running in college and without hesitation, majored in communications. Oddly enough, I thought marketing and management was a better fit but it didn’t take long for my love of video to come around. The marketing classes were interesting but I almost couldn’t wait to take a class with Professor Kevin Balling, an award winning documentarian. After that I was hooked.

While my school was somewhat large in size, my fellow communication majors and I quickly formed a tight network and I was the guy that knew how all the equipment ran. It just came naturally to me. So I found myself in the labs often helping my classmates trouble shoot a problem or make the production software do a particular task. I found great joy in teaching and passing on my knowledge.

After college, I was thrusted into the working world and set my sites on Charlotte, finding my way onto the staff at the NBC News Channel. While the news business was exciting at times, it was a revolving door of employees in their early twenties, working awful hours. The ones fortunate enough to be nine-to-five were in their thirties and forties and weren’t going anywhere. I kept my sanity by creating documentaries on my own time and going to hear my best friend’s Beatles influenced band play. It was here that I met a student about to start college, with a passion for video. I saw myself in them and we quickly became friends. I began critiquing their work and helping them with their projects as they began the same journey I had begun six years earlier. It was very rewarding. They were learning flash and HTML, wanting to practice, we worked out a deal where they would create a website home for my work. Little did I know that this would be two major keys to the next chapter of my life.

Armed with my own webpage (www.waterrockproductions.com) and a now defunct blog where I complained and moaned about life on the second shift in the news world, I began looking for work. A family friend, sensing my distaste for my work while reading my blog, decided to find me a new job outside of the news world. It was a “Videographer” position at Davidson College. Oddly enough, it had never occurred to me to look in higher education despite all the signs pointing towards it. The job talked about facilitating the growing need for video on campus. Supporting faculty and students in video curriculum. Traveling to conferences and growing professionally in the land of higher education. It all sounded great and exciting. I leaped at the chance and I got the job.

Ten years later, I’m still here, still find it fulfilling to help others with technology. It has been interesting to witness the evolution of higher education over the last ten years. When you’re a student, you don’t really notice it. When you’re a staff member, it becomes amazingly apparent. When I arrived I was called the “Campus Videographer”. Today I’m the “Instructional Designer for Digital Media”. Vastly different jobs with new and exciting challenges. At the end of the day, it is the technology that gets me up in the morning. I rise looking forward to what I can learn today in order to pass it along to someone new tomorrow.

Where Do We Go From Here

When I’ve written blogs in the past, a lot of the time a song will pop into my head that will spur an idea that focuses my thoughts into words. Today’s song is an old U2 song from their second album October, entitled “With a Shout”. Off topic slightly, a little known fact about me is that you’ll probably not find a bigger U2 fan on campus. So with that out in the open, feel free to ask me U2 questions.

So there’s a lyric in the aforementioned song, “Where do we go from here?” That’s a good question, obviously when Bono penned the lyric he wasn’t thinking about his digital identity but today, some thirty-six years removed from the release of the song, I’m writing a blog about my digital identity while thinking about the lyric.

As is the case with most of my thinking, I tend to look backward to see how I got where I am and see if there is anything I can glean from the journey to help me forge my path forward. My earliest memories of a digital identity are of a fake persona I created on a local BBS. I had recently returned from a trip to Germany and met a fellow who’s first name was Hans. The last name Flogunstoff came to my head. I’m not sure why but it just sounded German. The poor sap that ran the BBS went to school with me. Several friends joined in and created fake names from other points in Europe. It was in good fun and we did nothing malicious with it. The BBS administrator would brag at school about how popular his BBS was, with users from Germany and Great Britain. Eventually he wised up to it and the fun was over.

It is interesting though that when given the chance to hide behind a keyboard, we often step out of our three dimensional public personas and become something else. Hans Flogunstoff was the last time I worked under an online alias until 2015 when on a whem I created a fake Twitter account around a UNC basketball player that went viral and for a brief moment I became a low level online celebrity. What I really discovered from all of this is that neither really suited me. I am who I am with some slight variations in online to face to face Robert.

I keep things pretty guarded and only let a few trusted people in close and I’ve always been that way. You look online and I think it is the same thing. I only talk to a hand full of people but I have a pretty vast list of friends and followers but the people I really pay attention to online are the same people I’m close to in real life. So the idea of creating a network of strangers is a tad uncomfortable for me.

So in the next thirty days, my goal is to try and step out and connect to a few communities, mainly on Twitter. In an effort to begin this journey in retooling my online identity. We’ll see how it goes.

There’s Still a George Out There

I began work at Davidson College in January of 2007. I was the first to hold the title of “Campus Videographer”. The idea of video on Davidson’s campus was new. A lot of people didn’t quite know how to utilize it. Which was good, being new to high education, it gave me some time to figure out how to use it in that setting as well.

One of my first tasks was to re-invent the loaner pool. Before I had arrived, there was a hodge-podge of various cameras. Little thought was given to how they would work in a class environment. So I went back to my roots and called up some of my professors at Appalachian State University. I took a field trip to the school and spent the day chit-chatting with professors and getting a since for how they ran their loaner pool.

A small army of hand-held video cameras were purchased along with one big pro-style camera. A mishmash of audio gear and voice recorders followed. A set of tape decks were purchased to ingest the taped footage into the edit bays. A crude checkout system was put in place and before I could wipe my brow, the whole game changed. Standard definition gave its last dying breath to high definition content. So back to the drawing board I went.

How do I supply the students with cameras that can shoot high definition content? Do we need to shoot high definition content? I came to the conclusion that we should move forward but how? There were so many questions, I didn’t know where to turn. My supervisor turned me onto a local shop in Charlotte called “Camera World”. She suggested I go down and ask for George.

Upon arrival I walked into an old storefront and entered into a treasure-trove of cameras. I was greeted with a friendly, “Hello, how may I help you?” and I told them I was looking for “George”. They smiled and walked into the back and out came an older gentleman, befitting the name George. We began to talk and I told him my supervisor, Kristen had sent me. He immediately knew who she was and asked how she was doing.  I asked him questions about cameras, what the future held and directions we should go. He got some models for me to look at. He had all the answers and knew his stuff. I wrote down a laundry list of items he had suggested and noticed as I walked out that a large part of their business was devoted to film processing. I thought to myself that you don’t see that as much as you use to.

I arrived back at my office and did some price comparisons and discovered that the online camera mega-story B&H Photo beat Camera World’s prices by ten to twelve percent. Now B&H Photo was once like Camera World, a small camera shop in New York. The difference was that someone at B&H had the foresight to see the Internet coming and jumped on board as the train left the station in the late 1990s. By 2007, B&H had become a coast-to-coast supplier for everything camera and video you’d ever want. They were the industry standard.

I still made about a third of my purchases from Camera World as a thank you for George’s time. Time I wouldn’t have gotten from B&H. At least not without getting on the phone or sending email and losing that whole personal interaction and relationship I formed with George. At the end of the day, I still put more money into B&H’s pocket than Camera World because it ultimately came down to dollars and cents.

I stayed in touch with George, asking questions and getting great advice. Then one day, on the front page of the Charlotte Observers website was an article at the bottom, announcing that after decades of service to the community, Camera World was closing their doors. It broke my heart a little but when I was in the store, I knew it was coming. You could see it in their business model. The digital age had swallowed up another “Mom and Pop” store.

I look back at what I lost when they closed and while it wasn’t evident at the time, it is now. When I have camera questions, I go to forums and websites and read what people say. You glean information from multiple sources now with little actual interaction and come up with an educated guess. There is no “George” anymore, just guys with “expert” opinions.

So I wax nostalgic about the good ‘ole days of George but at the end of the day, I wouldn’t give what I have now back to get Camera World reopened. With 2-day shipping and every kind of camera and part at the click of a mouse, the convenience is mind blowing.

I still spend a good bit of time on B&H’s website even though I’m just a guy with an expert opinion. They do a decent job of encouraging people to give reviews of gear, especially if it is something new. I do my best to interact on their site and give thoughtful and honest reviews. In a way, I guess I kind of keep the idea of George alive by doing so.