Why do we collect?

One of these days, I’m going to end up on the TV show Hoarders, grizzled and bleary eyed, sitting in front of a pile of plastic souvenir sundae baseball helmets. I’ll have that distant, agonized look in my eyes that people on that show get, my wife Sheila will be crying in the corner, my kids will be screaming at me to wake up from this nightmare, and I’ll be saying something like, “I know no one understands, but the collection just wasn’t complete without that 1997 Tampa Bay Devil Rays helmet.”

My entire life, I have collected—everything from typical items like baseball cards and ticket stubs to odder things like lost pet flyers and yard sale signs. (This past Christmas, my seven-year-old son inherited my decades-old collection of the first 62 Choose Your Own Adventure books, pictured here.) I have always had a tendency to be what I think of as “goal-oriented,” and what my wife thinks of as “obsessive-compulsive.” When I focus on one of these collections, it’s hard for me to think about much else, such as family or hygiene.

Recently, I have been scouring eBay for the plastic souvenir sundae helmets they sell at Major League Baseball games. At first glance, you might think, “There are 30 teams, so there are 30 helmets. That’s not so bad.” But when you think about the fact that many teams have changed logos and colors several times (the Arizona Diamondbacks do it about every six months), and many have alternate identities, the possibilities are limitless. (It makes me twitch when I think that I have to wait several months before I can get my hands on the new helmets that the Miami Marlins, Toronto Blue Jays, and Baltimore Orioles will be selling in the 2012 season.)

People who write about the psychology of collecting say that collectors do what they do for a connection to the past, to rekindle fond memories, and to achieve a sense of completion, among other reasons. An article on the website HorizonLines.org cites author Kim A. Herzinger on the subject:

Collecting is a means by which one relieves a basic sense of incompletion brought on by unfulfilled childhood needs. It functions as a form of wish fulfillment, which eases deep-rooted uncertainties and existential dread.

I did not realize that I was easing existential dread when I ordered that retro Milwaukee Brewers helmet on eBay, but if that’s all it takes, then I’m in good shape. These helmets appeal to me as a designer because I like logos. They appeal to me as a baseball fan for obvious reasons. They appeal to me as a consumer because they are plastic junk. And they appeal to me as a childish knucklehead because it’s fun to see how high I can stack them.

With all of this as background, I had resigned myself to the fact that I’m crazy until I read Tim Merriman’s recent post on the NAI blog, “The Collector Within Each of Us.” Tim writes about the importance of properly interpreting museum collections—telling stories and making connections rather than simply displaying a bunch of stuff. It made me realize that the small space my wife has allowed me in our kitchen cabinets for my helmets is my own personal baseball museum.

The helmets are conversation pieces when we have guests. The blue Expos helmet prompts stories about when, as newlyweds, Sheila and I moved to Montreal; the Cubs helmet almost always leads to stories about the time Shea and I ditched our respective wives and children in Chicago to make a pilgrimage to Wrigley field; and yes, that 1997 Tampa Bay Devil Rays helmet that’s going to get me featured on Hoarders prompts stories about time spent with friends in St. Petersburg.

And because the whole point of the tiny baseball museum in my kitchen—as it should be with all interpretive sites—is to be relevant to my visitors, I make it a point to serve ice cream to my guests in their favorite team’s helmet (and if they don’t have a favorite team, then I don’t want them in my house).

In anticipation of Shea’s next visit, I have a Yankees helmet at the ready, which I procured on a visit to the old Yankee Stadium in the late 1990s. And I have some stories to tell about that day.

Have a Platypustastic New Year!

I have been making New Year’s resolutions on this site since we started doing this in 2009. And I’ve accomplished some amazing things based on past resolutions: I threw out that old, disgusting Tupperware in 2010, and I have not feathered an edge in months.

With that, here are some promises Shea and I make to you for 2012:

  1. We will learn about platypuses—web-footed, venomous, egg-laying mammals that they are.
  2. We will embrace new media. Learn about it. Talk about it. Use it.
  3. To my wife’s chagrin, I will at least triple the size of my collection of Major League Baseball ice cream sundae helmets.
  4. We will get a pet platypus.
  5. Shea will finally call Cy Sperling to see what can be done.
  6. We will not place photos in compositions at random angles (and certainly not with drop shadows).
  7. We will introduce a new word to the English lexicon: platypustastic.
  8. We will use that extra day in February to its fullest potential.
  9. We will become huge hockey fans. I will root for the Philadelphia Flyers because I grew up in Philadelphia and I am still connected to that community through family and frequent visits. Shea will root for the Montreal Canadiens because they have the most championships and that’s how he picks his teams.
  10. We will start a podcast. A platypustastic podcast.

Happy new year!

 

Add this bird to your life list

Shea and I share many interests, which we call The Six Bs*: baseball, blogging, buffets, baseball, being married to people way out of our respective leagues, and baseball. One interest that we do not share, but which also begins with a B, is birding.

When we’re at NAI National Workshops every November, Shea usually says to me something like, “A couple of us are going to get up at 4:00 in the morning and go sit in a freezing-cold puddle in the middle of a big field for a few hours. Wanna come?” For a long time, I thought this was Shea’s way of telling me he didn’t want to hang out, but I learned recently that this group of people was actually doing the thing he said. They take binoculars and birding books and sit in freezing-cold puddles. Then they look for birds and check “lifers” off their lists.

I have a healthy respect for life lists and collections in general. I keep a running list of Major League Baseball stadiums I have visited (19, including seven that are no longer in use) and I am dangerously close to becoming obsessed with my ice cream sundae mini-helmet collection. However, the extent of my interest in birds boils down to a three-tiered classification system that I learned from an NAI friend: Big, Pretty, Other. (It used to be a four-tiered system, until Shea told me that I cannot count “Buffalo Chicken” on my life list.)

I don’t actually object to birds (though there have been a few incidents when it seemed birds thought I had a target on my head). In fact, when I’m in a place where there are interesting birds (in the “Big” or “Pretty” categories) or birds that I used to sing about as a child, I have been known to actually take photos of them, as with this actual kookaburra sitting on an actual old gum tree that I saw in southern Australia in 2010. (Note that this photo was taken from the deck of a house while I was drinking coffee in the late morning, rather than from a frozen puddle while it was still dark.)

Given my interest in branding and identity, especially where they cross over into sports, and my relative lack of interest in birds, I was intrigued to learn the back story of the Phillie Phanatic, the mascot of the Philadelphia Phillies and the best mascot in all of sports, objectively speaking. The Phanatic was introduced in 1978 as the last survivor of a flightless bird species from the Galapagos islands.

Just recently, the Phanatic returned to his native land on a tour offered by Lindblad Expeditions—the same Lindblad Expeditions that interpretation superstar Sam Ham has collaborated with since 1988 to promote conservation of the Galapagos. Worlds are colliding! There’s an article about that collaboration in the September/October 2008 issue of Legacy magazine. (You can see a photo album of the Phanatic’s visit, including the above photo by Celso Montalvo, on the Phillies website.)

I, for one, am glad to see the Phanatic involved with Lindblad. In the 2008 Legacy article, titled “Using Interpretation to Promote Conservation in the Galapagos,” Sam Ham says, “The conservation community is watching the Galapagos example…. If conservation can’t work there, where can it work?” To date, according to the Lindblad website, interpretive techniques—making people care about the place—have helped them raise $4.5 million, “more than any other organization in Galapagos.”

And while all of this has piqued my interest in birds, it’s funny that Sam didn’t mention the Phanatic once in that article. Probably because he’s a Mariners fan.

All of that said, I still don’t see myself getting up at 4:00 in the morning to go look for birds at next November’s NAI Workshop in Virginia. I prefer my favorite birds to show up at coordinated holiday events in downtown Ocean City, New Jersey, and be willing to pose for pictures.

Notes
*Not really.

PowerPoint Poison

Last week, I presented a two-day Interpretation By Design workshop in Jacksboro, Texas, with our mysterious and reclusive third author, die-hard Texas Rangers fan Lisa Brochu. I always love traveling to present IBD workshops, as it affords me the opportunity to partake of local fare. In Texas, I got to eat a meal at a real City Drug soda fountain counter, see a game at a new (to me) Major League Baseball stadium, and learn exactly what 106 degrees feels like. (On a serious note: The IBD workshop took place just before the wildfires started. Our thoughts and best wishes are with our friends in Texas.)

There’s a facial expression I’ve seen a lot in recent years. As a frequent traveler and a parent of young children, I am very familiar with the look of dismay that dawns on airplane passengers’ faces when they see me approaching their row with my kids in tow.

I have seen this same look on the faces of conference attendees when they walk into a session room to find a presenter firing up an LCD projector and checking the batteries on his laser pointer. It’s bad enough when you’re faced with one or two hours with a PowerPoint show, but two days would be torture. During our two-day workshop in Texas, Lisa and I used PowerPoint slides for less than half the time.

The first morning of the workshop was conducted entirely without PowerPoint, then we fired up the projector after lunch that first day. So imagine you’re a participant in a two-day workshop. It’s roughly 1,000 degrees outside in the hottest summer Texas has had since the earth was an unformed ball of magma, you’ve just eaten chicken-fried something with fries and a milkshake for lunch, and you walk into a room to find the presenter turning off the lights and firing up the ol’ projector. What would you think? You’d think, “Oh no. Those kids aren’t going to sit by me, are they?”

Here are some tips I follow to keep from crushing the souls of IBD workshop participants with PowerPoint:

Make it image-intensive. I project images, usually with no words, and I talk about those images. Sometimes a single slide generates 10 minutes of conversation, sometimes it’s 10 seconds. The image above is a slide from my PowerPoint that I use as a springboard to talk about how different people use grids in different ways. (Look how adorable my children are. Don’t you feel bad about rolling your eyes when you saw them get on the airplane?)

Get the words out. At the moment, there are 166 slides in my slide show. (It changes frequently.) Only 15 of those slides have words, and most of those are introducing new sections. There are fewer than 50 total words in my entire slide show. (For the record, the word count goes up when I’m presenting with Shea. He can’t tell you his name in fewer than 50 words.)

I know you’ve heard this before, but the worst thing you can do is project bullet points and then read those bullet points. The only reason I repeat this is because I keep going to presentations where presenters read bullet points. Whenever I see this, I feel like the content of each slide is new to the presenter and he’s discovering it along with his audience. When I do use words, as with the “Serif” slide above, I don’t use full sentences to be read aloud, but rather a single word or phrase to be discussed.

Drop the laser pointer. If you have so much going on in a slide that you need a laser pointer to show it, you have too much going on in that slide. The only reason to take a laser pointer to a presentation is if you’re presenting to a room full of cats and you think it would be fun for them to chase the little red dot.

Not only are laser pointers not helpful, they are actively distracting. I find that presenters with laser pointers use them way more than necessary, seemingly absent-mindedly, to fill dead space or as a nervous tic. It makes me wonder if the laser-pointer button is connected to a morphine drip, like with those lab rats in that experiment back in the 1970s.

Don’t use effects. Don’t. They’re distracting and everyone hates them and we’re not impressed that you applied a checkerboard transition to every single slide. And for the love of all that is sacred and good, don’t make your bullet points bounce into the frame from the side.

The only time you’ll see me using transitions, movement, and sound in a slide show is in the above slide, which I use to demonstrate that PowerPoint effects are the Comic Sans or clip art of the multimedia world.

Mix it up. No matter how good your slide show is, it’s not going to keep everyone engaged for the entire presentation. Be sure to mix in activities, conversation, and content that does not require projected images.

Finally, take everything I’ve said here with a grain of salt. I realize that every presentation is going to differ based on the content and purpose of that presentation, so it’s impossible to apply hard and fast rules to every one of them. The most important common thread of all of my suggestions above is that presenters should seize control of their content. PowerPoint is a useful tool, but used incorrectly, it can sap the energy out of your presentation. It should complement your personality, not replace it.

One final note: Thanks to Friend of IBD Matthew Greuel, who shared a link on our Facebook page to the Swiss Anti-PowerPoint Party (APPP), which fights against the “economic damage resulting from presentations using PowerPoint.”