The Final Episode

Seinfeld is still my favorite television show. I know there hasn’t been a new episode in 14 years, but there is something about those characters that really resonates with me. I’ve always liked George the best (I’m sure it has something to do with his husky disposition, follicle misfortune, and that he worked for the New York Yankees). I feel like no matter what incident in life that comes my way, Seinfeld has partly prepared me for it. At times the show may not have prepared me how to respond to certain incidents, but at the very least I can find the humor in any situation. Now whether anyone else can find the same humor has yet to be determined.

The only thing that bugs me about Seinfeld is how it ended. If you recall the final episode closed with all of the main characters being placed in jail for their inappropriate response to a bad incident (carjacking). I understand the underlying current that the characters lack character but you can’t put the same characters on trial for all of the things we had grown to love about them. Maybe the writers wanted to create an unsatisfied appetite for more so that we will always yearn for more of the show.

Regardless of how it ended, it’s still my favorite show. Since that last episode I haven’t really found a sitcom that I find as much joy in. Maybe that’s me just getting older and not liking change or keeping up with the times. Maybe because there are no sitcoms any more. Perhaps it is my affinity for the ’90s. The closest show that I enjoy today is the Big Bang Theory, but it is missing something. It’s good. It’s just not the same.

So there’s good news and bad news.

First, the bad (so far as we’re concerned): This is our last installment of IBD. Today’s post will be the end. Luckily for us, Paul and I are not in jail (because we know our wives or Lisa aren’t going to bail us out). Paul wrote on Monday about Closing Quotes and ended with an apology of sorts. I want to say thank you to the community revolving around IBD.

Over the last three years the encouragement that you have provided us has been nothing short of amazing. I’ve heard my wife say to my friends, “Don’t encourage him.” Now I know what she means. We appreciate your input, comments, and the enjoyment (okay, maybe that’s a reach) of our little project.

This blog began as an idea to publish our email conversations that we were already having and to also sell books. Well, at least we published our conversations. We hope at least we perpared you for something (insert your own joke here).

So how do we end this on a positive note? I’m not sure. It is bothering us seeing it end. When I feel the anxiety welling, I think back to relationships that have been formed because of a silly blog. Much like the character witnesses that came forward in the Seinfeld finale trail, you have been a big part of our run. At times when writing was an exercise in discipline, we found inspiration from you.

But wait, there’s more.

The good news: On April 2, we are coming back in a different way (much like Teen Wolf 2, we know how well that turned out). Our new project has been titled Media Platypus. Why? you may ask. Because Paul wanted to see if I could spell platypus and seriously, what’s more fun than an egg-laying, venomous, duck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed mammal.

We live in a changing landscape and we have to change. Otherwise I would still be wearing puffy shirts and stonewashed jeans.

On the new site, we are going to take a different approach to what we write about, what we share, and how it is presented. You can count on it being ten times as funny as IBD (10 x 0 still = 0; I’ve got mad math skills). If you feel so inclined, we’ve got a Media Platypus Facebook page ready for you to like, as well as a new Twitter handle, @MediaPlatpyus. The website will be www.MediaPlatypus.com (though there’s not much to see there yet). If you don’t want to follow this new venture, we understand and we’ll go back to crying ourselves to sleep each night.

It’s been fun, thanks for everything. We’ll see you on the Plat.

We Fear Change, Part 1: Facebook

We live in turbulent times. REM stopped making music, major college athletic programs change conferences almost daily, and Leonard and Penny split up after more than half a season together (I’m watching Big Bang Theory on Netflix Qwikster, so I’m a little behind the times). With all of this change, it’s a little unsettling when you reach for one of your comfort blankets at the end of a long day only to find that Mark Zuckerberg has knitted it into a completely unfamiliar pattern.

Welcome to what we’re calling Garth Algar “We Fear Change” Week here on IBD. I will discuss Facebook today, and Shea will address Netflix Thursday. Some day down the road, when we’re all emotionally prepared for it, we’ll write about the new logo for the Florida Miami Marlins baseball team.

In the 1992 movie Wayne’s World, the hateful Benjamin Kane (played by Rob Lowe) comes to Garth (Dana Carvey) with the insidious notion of giving arcade tycoon Noah Vanderhoff (Brian Doyle-Murray) a regular interview segment on Wayne and Garth’s cable-access TV show. Garth responds with a simple “We fear change” and starts smashing the robotic hand he’s building with a hammer.

Those of you who use Facebook may have noticed that there have been some changes recently to the design and functionality of the popular social media site. Those of you who don’t use Facebook, this is why two-thirds of the people you know recently spent the better part of a week screaming as though someone (Mark Zuckerberg) had stabbed a fork through their hands.

To say that the reaction to Facebook’s redesign has been negative is a little like saying some people didn’t like the movie Cabin Boy. (Note: One of my favorites.) As with all of Facebook’s previous changes, this one was met with tears, confusion, and threats to cancel accounts (and that was just one guy).

The difference now is that there’s another option. Google+ is gaining momentum and is seen by many as an alternative to Facebook, if only they could get their friends to come along. The irony is that many of Facebook’s changes (increased interactivity, larger images, tweaks to the “list” feature) are in response to the emergence of Google+.

And this is the crux of the issue: Facebook is in the unenviable position of needing to stay current, respond to competitors, and adapt to emerging technology, all while keeping the Garth Algars of the world from freaking out.

The day the changes were unveiled, there was a collective uproar on the site. When I posted on my Facebook page that I didn’t mind the changes (I actually like the new scrolling, Twitter-esque news feed), it garnered a pile of comments, some of them unnecessarily personal. (I will say that I don’t support the changes wholesale; Facebook needs to address the fact that some of the new features have upended privacy settings by allowing friends of friends to see items only meant for a select few.)

The thing is, this all felt familiar to me. I was searching for reactions to the new look on Google and found articles going back years where irate Facebookers were screaming that they wanted the old site back. Every time the site has been updated, features have been added, users resisted, then got used to them and even came to enjoy and rely on them. (In 2006, Facebookers were unhappy with this gimmicky new thing called a “news feed”—now a staple of the Facebook experience.)

Facebook is an optional leisure activity, like watching baseball or visiting interpretive sites. People don’t want to feel confused and annoyed by something they choose to do in their spare time. Any change to a comfortable environment is going to be disruptive to some people.

Interpreters faced with the task of creating materials for visitors—especially repeat visitors—should be extra careful that changes to exhibits, publications, websites, and logos are not just for change’s sake, but for the improvement of a product. If you make drastic, unnecessary changes to a place where visitors come to learn and relax and enjoy some solitude, you may just find your self playing the role of that robotic hand in Wayne’s World.

If you make changes that are warranted and actually improve your product, people will get used to them, but you still may find yourself cursed out on a highway construction sign.

Who Are You Calling a Nerd?

No one likes being called a name. Paul and I got used to it at a very young age and have learned to embrace it. Much like that kiss from that creepy aunt from the other side of the family.

Uber IBD Reader Jeff Miller challenged me some time ago to explain the difference between what it means to be nerd, geek, and dork. He came to the right place. On several occasions in an attempt at self-deprecating humor, or as my wife calls it reality, we have called ourselves or each other nerds and geeks. It’s true. We are. Most of you know this by now. Now that Jeff is labeled as the Uber IBD Reader, he has achieved status in one of the three categories. Trust me, Jeff Miller likes this.

There is an element of geek-chic renaissance (at one time it was cool to be a nerd, ca. 469 BC – Socrates) with current shows like Big Bang Theory, Freaks and Geeks, Family Ties, Ugly Betty, and Heroes where nerds are featured as being mainstream and widely accepted.  Okay so Family Ties is not that recent, unless you consider the mid-80s current, but Alex P. Keaton and Skippy were great nerdy/geeky/dorky characters.

There are important distinctions to be made between a nerd, geek, and dork.

A nerd as defined by Wikipedia is

…a term often bearing a derogatory connotation or stereotype, that refers to a person who passionately pursues intellectual activities, esoteric knowledge, or other obscure interests that are age-inappropriate rather than engaging in more social or popular activities. Therefore, a nerd is often excluded from physical activity and considered a loner by peers, or will tend to associate with like-minded people

Nerdy Fact: The word nerd originates from the Dr. Seuss book, If I Ran the Zoo. Correctly used in a sentence: Jeff thinks Shea and Paul are nerds because of their obsession with baseball, talking about file formats, and letterforms.

A geek as defined by Wikipedia is

…a peculiar or otherwise odd person, especially one who is perceived to be overly obsessed with one or more things including those of intellectuality, electronics, etc.

Geeky Fact: Traditional geeks were sideshow freaks in the circus performing such acts as biting heads off live chickens. Correctly used in a sentence: Jeff thinks Shea and Paul are geeks because of their obsession with grammar (Paul only), texting, Facebook, and chicken wings (no chickens were harmed during the writing of this post).

A dork as defined by Wikipedia is

…a quirky, silly and/or stupid, socially inept person, or one who is out of touch with contemporary trends. Often confused with nerd and geek, but does not imply the same intelligence level.

Dorky Fact: Correctly used in a sentence: Jeff thinks Shea and Paul are dorks because of their obsession with sweater vests (Shea only), red Crocs, and 2008/2009 World Championship gear.

As an interpreter and/or interpretive designer it is important to embrace your inner geek and focus on your strengths. I have been envious of Pete Stobie’s ability as an interpreter for some time. For those of you involved in NAI, you may know Pete from his involvement at various levels of the organization, presentations at workshops, or through his reputation at the Kalamazoo Nature Center in Michigan.

I once saw a video of Pete’s Antson Pantz living history-type character program. I had seen a portion of the Antson Pantz program at an NAI National Workshop when Pete and I first met and became friends. While watching the video at home I noticed that my children stopped coloring on the walls, playing with matches, and eating broken glass and were glued to the TV due to Pete’s interpretive prowess. Even my wife started paying attention, commenting on how talented Pete is, how funny he is, and how cute he is. I turned the TV off.

Several years ago, after seeing Pete’s presentation, I was inspired to create a character much like Antson Pants. After several failed attempts which left children crying, I realized that my personal style was not conducive to this type of programming. I had to step back focus on my strengths, draw from Pete’s approach and adapt my program to be successful. To this day when I present a program I try to incorporate elements of Pete’s interpretive approach to the unexpected, revelation, and group participation. I leave the singing to the professionals.

Your design style comes out in everything you create and regardless of how hard you work at being different. Elements of your personality creep in. So what if I like things centered? As long as I know my tendencies and don’t center everything that I do, I can accept who I am as interpretive designer, nerd, geek, and dork.