The Steadicam of Life

This little video blew my mind in so many ways. I don’t expect it to blow the minds of very many others – or maybe it will – I don’t know. First, some background. The Techcast Focus Network (TTFN) is a group dedicated to informing would-be broadcasters about technology that delivers the highest bang for the buck. They are a consultant group and therefore get paid for what they do, but they give back to the community in many ways through their video reviews and coverage of technology shows – especially the National Association of Broadcasters Show (NAB Show).

I have subscribed to TTFN’s YouTube videos for a couple of years now, and they have informed some of my approaches to video and live production ever since. I especially like the fact that have an ethics page to transparently disclose any corporate assistance they have received and address the lack of influence that may have on their reviews.

So imagine the aligning of planets that brought the TTFN folks together at the NAB Show at the Tiffen Booth to talk to Garrett Brown about the latest Steadicam products. “So what?”, you might say. Well, if you don’t know who Garrett Brown is, he is the inventor of the Steadicam. It is a tool to stabilize a hand-held camera for film, and now video. The Steadicam was first used in the Hal Ashby film Bound for Glory. It was perhaps more famously used in The Shining, following the character Danny on his trike through the Overlook Hotel, and later through the snow-filled hedge maze at the end of the film. It was revolutionary. It allowed the camera to go anywhere, at least anywhere a human could go with a camera strapped on. Cranes and dollies would be impractical to follow a character doing one complete revolution of the hotel perimeter in one complete take. The Steadicam made it possible – and mesmerizingly unique. Wikipedia has a picture of Brown walking and talking with Stanley Kubrick, with the device, on the set of The Shining.

So this got me thinking about my favorite subject, or at least work subject, education. Specifically the tools that we use to not just enhance, but to transform education. What the Steadicam has done is provide an extension to the body that allows what I said before, to “see” in the most accurate way to how humans see life. And to go anywhere that humans can go. As Brown says in the video above, we humans have a built-in Steadicam. The technological device transformed filmmaking. Tools like this have transformed education as well. I’ll let others argue the accuracy and application of the terms enhance and transform for now.

But we know some of the tools that have changed for the better how education can be delivered. Altered and enhanced learning by enabling networks and communities of practice. It’s OK to celebrate the tools for what they have enabled. The Steadicam didn’t save the film industry. No technology will save education. What has happened to the Steadicam technology is that it has become less expensive, and therefore more democratized. It allows filmmakers on a small budget to get the look that films like The Shining have. You can get them for DLSRs and even get one for your iPhone for about $150.

Educational technology tools are similar. And the best ones are those that you don’t think immediately as being specifically a tool for education. Textbooks, film projectors, overheads, blackboards, and even computers, all enhanced education in certain ways. To a small extent they changed how we “see” education, but in a literal way. The technologies that will transform education are the ideas that are born from them. My friend Gardner Campbell talks often and lovingly of “Alan Kay’s aphorism that “the computer is an instrument whose music is ideas.” The Personal Cyberinfrastructure that Gardner has championed the last several years, and that DTLT uses as a frame for our “culture of innovation”, is some of that wonderful music born from the technology. A Domain of One’s Own is what we think will at least enhance one’s education and perhaps even transform it in profound ways.

Now like all analyses of this type, discussions can get bogged down in over analysis. What about “X” or”Y”? Time to rip to shreds your little dream-like analogy or aphorism. Steadicam’s are still relatively expensive for some. There are DIY versions of  them out there. So how about DIY education? Questions and further analysis for another day. I prefer to bask in the strange and delightful performance of Garrett Brown hawking a product on a convention show floor that was derived from a device he imagined and used on the set of a film by one of the greatest directors of all time. Life is full of delight.


2 Responses

  1. This post is a keeper, Andy! I like the way you think. I wrote last year on similar lines, “Technology, learning, and free will” .

    AND I had not heard about the Steadicam Smoothee – bonus!

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