This past weekend, I had occasion to attend not one but two college graduations. The guest speakers were substantially different – an environmental activist and an evolutionary biologist – though both found their way to the classic commencement theme of making a difference in the world.
This got me to imagining a graduation speech for my imaginary, newly-formed Interdisciplinary Producers and Academics Department (or, iPAD) – an institution where researchers of all stripes and content creators across all media and genres study and innovate together.
Welcome, graduating students, distinguished faculty, and beloved Product-Placement Partners. I raise a Sunny D® to this inaugural class of Scholars With Inter-Professional Education – iPAD’s SWIPE program is the envy of institutions that still separate research and creative development.
That’s not to say it was easy. I remember the uproar when we tried to integrate TV Production with Interactive Media, in the ’90s. The TV producers were certain it was a covert attempt to phase them out, but new media don’t replace old ones, they change them. Today, our Netflix School of Storytelling and Data Analysis is strong, and we have the nation’s #1 Vine Studies program.
Surely, too, you remember the late ’00s No Apple/Android Programming Protests (No-APP) and the t-shirts reading “you can have my mouse when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers.” This was actually the genesis of our integrating research and production: the No-APP sit-in ended when our Board on Rugrats and Technology (BRAT) made the compelling developmental distinction between direct touchscreens and the hand-eye coordination needed for traditional computers.
We even weathered the In-App Purchase financial debacle of 2012, when our chief financial officer invested our entire endowment in Smurfberries.
Still, toughest of all was the merger between the School of Empirical Zeigeist and Understanding (SEZ-U) with the programs in Broadcasting and Traditional Media/Linear and Interactive New Endeavors (BTM-LINE). Integrating the curricula didn’t kill us, but negotiating the new mascot nearly did (Go, Fighting Pirate Philosophers!).
So, here is where I turn to the traditional graduation speaker role, and encourage you to use your powers for good, instead of evil.
You’ve all fulfilled the SWIPE requirement to study a second language. We were so proud when the production students learned that ANOVA wasn’t Spanish for “doesn’t go,” and when the researchers stopped snickering at every reference to “back end.”
Now, as you enter the real world, use that cross-cultural understanding to forge one common language, free of jargon. As Evolutionary Biologist Beth Shapiro told the Harvey Mudd College class of 2014, “no one ever complained that an idea was too easy to understand.”
Next, if you maintain focus on your goals and audience, the pathway to reaching them will become clear. You each took “Affordances and Limitations of Technology 101″ (known informally by students as “Ooh…Shiny”) and learned, I hope, that newest isn’t always best.
Of course, technologies needn’t be “either/or” – their unique, significant uses can be combined. You’ll find wisdom (if not always clarity) in the Team Resolution on Agnostic Networks in Screen Media (TRANS-Media) forged by our “360 Commission” on Second, Third and Fourth Screens.
Keep your eyes also on the findings of our ethnographic research collaborative: In-home Studies with Parents and Youth (I-SPY). Patience is difficult, but we are beginning to amass comprehensive insights about media and technology, family cultures and traditions, play and learning, that will be to everyone’s benefit – research and production. Immediately, your stories and games, apps, ebooks and toys will gain relevant context and mesh better into kids’ and parents’ lives. In the longer term, we are building deep understanding of how diverse families live, grow and change.
I know you’re getting warm under those gowns, but let me close by quoting activist Van Jones, speaking at the Pitzer College 2014 commencement. He reminded students to “know the difference between facts and the truth.”
Research can provide facts – remarkable, crucial insights into media’s role and influence, the potential and the peril of technology for learning and play, and effective embedding of curriculum into content.
But, there is also the “truth:”kids want, expect and deserve entertainment just like adults; parents do what they must to make their families function; and screen media development is an art more than a science – no scientific formula could predict viral or breakout successes like the Toca Boca apps, Minecraft or “Adventure Time.”
So, Philosopher Pirates, go forth and apply both sides of your education. Think deeply about the trust your audiences invest in you and how to repay that, but remember also that great content goes unseen if it can’t be funded and sustained. And of course, if you don’t make lots of money, how will you give back to the Alumni Association?
You may now throw your caps in the air.