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.

Social Media at the #NAI2011 Workshop

I compare the annual NAI National Workshop to final exams. I spend most of my year building to this one week, during which I go sleepless, subsist almost entirely on buffalo wings and nervous energy, and then crash afterwards until someone wakes me for the holidays.

I have been to 10 NAI National Workshops, and I remember each one distinctly for different reasons. There was the 40 Days of Rain Workshop (Virginia Beach, 2002), the “Wheel of Fortune” Slot Machine Workshop (Reno, 2003), the Shiny Horse Incident Workshop (Wichita, 2007), and, of course, the Shorn Head Workshop (Las Vegas, 2010).

Last week’s Workshop in Saint Paul, Minnesota, will always be the Social Media Workshop to me. Smart phones and tablets were everywhere throughout the event, and there was a steady stream of Tweets and Facebook posts from participants. NAI promoted a Twitter hash tag, #NAI2011, which participants used when Tweeting about the event.

For those not familiar with Twitter, a hash tag is a short phrase or set of characters set off with a pound sign (like #NAI2011) that Twitterers use to link their Tweets to other Tweets. In Twitter, you can click on a hash tag and see all of the Tweets that have included it. Being relatively new to Twitter, I was struck by the following effects of the #NAI2011 hash tag:

It generated buzz:

It connected people—in person and online:

It made people feel bad:

It spread the message:

It expanded the conversation beyond the session rooms:

It gave participating organizations a line of communication to their people:

It provided instant feedback:

It highlighted some of the tangential benefits of the event:

And, of course, it encouraged shenanigans:

I co-presented two sessions during NAI 2011, one on blogging with my esteemed IBD co-author Shea, and one on using social media in interpretation with Friend of IBD Phil Sexton. Both were well attended, but in particular the social media session was packed so full we called it Occupy NAI, and our room monitor was turning people away. That session was popular for three reasons: 1. New media is incredibly important to the field of interpretation. 2. People believed me when I told them that Phil is actually Kenny Rogers. 3. I can’t remember the third reason.

I consider the #NAI2011 hash tag experiment a success. It was widely used by participants, encouraged conversation, facilitated connections, and generated buzz about the event.

Now, on to #NAI2012!

Save the World: Designers to the Rescue, Underoos Optional

Underoos were the ultimate underwear for me as a child. If you don’t know what Underoos are, you just made me feel old. There was something empowering about wearing Underoos. You were able to go about daily life knowing that if you were needed to save the world, on the inside you were a super hero.

As an interpreter and a designer I still have that feeling today. Not because I have found an online outfitter of adult Underoos (link not provided) being produced in some guy’s basement in Mississippi, but because interpreters and designers are working to save the world.

The Australian Graphic Design Association (AGDA) is hosting an entire workshop titled How Can Graphic Design Help Save the Planet. The goal of the conference is to “become a global initiative, encouraging designers from all the major disciplines to help make a difference in the way we work, rest and play…and therefore to the world in which we live.” The conference’s theme revolves around the concept of how much graphic design “permeates almost every aspect of our daily lives.” By placing priority on the greater impacts of design, perhaps a concerted effort could be developed to help tackle larger social issues.

Interpreters have been doing this for some time through various venues. I’ve seen several social issues taken on at NAI regional and national workshops. In 2010 NAI’s International Conference will be held in Australia with the theme of Building Connections Between Continents and Communities in a Climate of Change. The underlying goal is to improve the understanding and appreciation of our heritage resources in a rapidly changing global climate. Much like the AGDA workshop the NAI International Conference will take on the impacts of interpretation at heritage sites and how that interpretation can effect change.

As designers and interpreters if we place an extra layer of thought in what we create (products or programs) we can focus our efforts to make the world a better place and build a stronger connection to our sites for visitors that will change their lives and actions. I think it is empowering knowing that other interpreters and designers are working together to solve problems, make the world a better place, and enrich the lives of visitors.

The AGDA workshop will be held in Sydney, Australia, in August at the Powerhouse Museum. For more information you can visit the AGDA website. NAI will host the 2010 International Workshop in Townsville, Queensland, April 13-17, 2010. For more information visit the NAI International Conference website. If you plan to attend either conference don’t forget to pack your Underoos.  Aquaman was always my favorite. What about you?