New Media Patience: A Digital Composing Virtue

"Zen Garden" by euart, via Flickr. See license belowWhew. I’ve been on the road now for almost an entire month. I’m exhausted. And it’s got me thinking about the role patience plays in working with new media.* In this post, I’m going to try to think about it from the role of someone who produces new media scholarship.

Context

I’m teaching at DMAC again this summer, and we’re into the home stretch with the visiting participants’ projects. We began the institute by introducing people to two software packages: Audacity and iMovie 9 (part of Apple’s iLife suite, and only available for Macs). After two days of really intense introductions to these software, and asking the participants to put together two small practice texts (which Scott and Cindy call “finger exercises”) we started to introduce participants to an emerging software package called “Sophie.” (Click here for details about the Sophie Project developing the software).

I’ll skip the sordid details, but I it’s safe to say that Sophie wasn’t yet ready for prime time. There were still just too many bugs in the latest release. People conceived of really interesting digital texts with smart arguments and challenging designs. I was impressed. But then things started to go wrong. The software started to crash. On different projects. On different machines. In different operating systems. We couldn’t figure out what was going wrong. Not good. Eventually, with several of the projects, we just got to the point where we couldn’t help. People had to start over. Eventually, we encouraged people to switch to an alternative composing environment (Audacity, iMovie 9, Prezi, etc). Now I’m confident that participants will be able to complete their texts effectively, and head home with some excellent work to show for their efforts.

Patience

This is my third summer teaching at DMAC, and what emerged from the classrooms and studio sessions this year, more than any other year, was a sense of frustration and impatience with the software to which we were introducing people. And I’m sympathetic to it. I can admit my own incredible frustration with the machines and software I’ve acquired over the years. Adobe Premiere and Flash were both incredibly frustrating and counter-intuitive at times. And trying to learn CSS so I could tweak my blog. The machines would lock up. The software wouldn’t match the “help” resources. Files would disappear. Texts would change on their own for reasons I couldn’t figure out. But eventually, something in me changed. Not with a bang, but with a whimper. Really.

Eventually confusion, frustration, impatience, and outright failure became part of my composing process. And that’s what I want to think about in this post: the role patience plays in a healthy orientation toward new media composing.

Patience is a skill like any other when it comes to working with new media. I might even go so far as to say that there’s something called new media patience.** Skills with new media take a long time to develop and require regular maintenance. A sustainable attitude is essential to sticking with it. Essential to not getting discouraged. Essential to actually enjoying the process, even when it feels like it’s not working.

It’s important to remember, though, that patience must me learned. Just like anything else. And new media patience is a certain kind of patience that might or might not be related to other kinds of patience. Most people taking the plunge into new media composing environments have very little knack for this patience. And I think it has to do with expectations. People expect that powerful technologies are easy to use. Or they expect that they should be intuitive. Or that the software should be built on some of the same design metaphors with which they are already familiar (and skilled).

What this looks like in my life…

But many experienced new media composers have much different expectations. For instance, I just assume that when I’m working with a new machine or software there will be plenty of hiccups. Counter-intuitive interface elements. Bugs. Incompatibilities. And maybe most importantly, things I can’t figure out at all. I certainly don’t enjoy it when these sorts of things happen. And I’m just as annoyed as the next guy when something it taking longer than it “should” or when I lose work that I’ve been investing in. Those are parts of the process that I don’t like. Not at all.

But what I’ve learned is to accept them. I would even go so far as to say that I expect them. They are just as much a part of new media composing as are more rewarding aspects like learning new techniques and shortcuts, saving a final version, sharing a text, or understanding what a certain software/technology might be good for. But it’s pretty much impossible to separate those rewards from those process elements which cause so much frustration.

And so, I just try to accept that I get frustrated once in a while. Then let that go. I work from the assumption that there’s always an answer, though it’s not always an easy one, nor is it always worth the trouble of finding it or enacting the solution.

The point is, I WANT to enjoy working with new media. It’s just too rewarding. So I’m thinking all the time about what it means to develop a sustainable orientation toward technology and a set of sustainable composing practices.

Notes

*I thought about using digital media, or multimodal or multimedia tools here, but really, I think it’s the “newness” of the media with which we’re working which is the primary source of the tension.

**And I’d put it right along side these other attributes of effective digital composing: Skill with the interface for the specific technology being used. Troubleshooting experience. Awareness of alternative tools. Attention to how design and argument affect each other.

(Image Credits: “Zen Garden,” by euart, via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic license.)

This article has 3 Comments

  1. well said, Trauman. And absolutely accurate (except for the participants’ projects — I think they actually have more interesting projects now that they’re using another software program. Sophie was great for storyboarding their transition, but it was also too limiting for the DMAC folks at the time they needed to break out of anything familiar).

  2. SO on board with you here, Trauman, and very appreciative of your thoughts on frustration & failure. I’m interested personally and professionally in rhetorical failure & its role in helping us re-imagine projects. What you articulate here is right on. -a

  3. This post has really helped me think my way through some of my own responses to working with new media. I am so much a “”Just jump into it and keep pushing buttons till it works sort of person.”. It almost feels counterintuitive to me to think I can “learn” patience. But what you say has the ring of truth. Just how does one actually do it?

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