Friday, April 24, 2020

Getting Over Ourselves

There has been a long and winding thread weaving its way through my life, when it comes to the topic of broadcasting. Because of that, bridging the gulf between that heritage and the current quarantine-crossing dilemma of reaching out to sequestered genealogical society members has had an added psychological component for me.

When I was a kid, my brother, who was twenty years my senior, had graduated from acting school and recently been signed to host a children's television program. Somewhere along the line, my dad thought it would be a great idea to get my younger sister and me onto the set as part of the "audience" for one of my brother's daily broadcasts.

Needless to say, I have vivid memories of that experience—and the several which followed it. None of them had anything to do with the fact that my dad had been a stage musician at one of New York City's iconic theaters (where my sister once got to meet Lucille Ball...while I was home sick with pneumonia). Nor did any of those memories have anything to do with my mother's previous career in acting, either.

What I did remember from that childhood experience was how small the set was in relation to the rest of the room we were in, and how fake that comparison made it seem. And I remember the clockwork precision of the support team assembled to produce the program. But most of all, I remember the impact, after the show was over and the stage lights were turned off: the contrast of heat and light to darkness was enough to create an actual breeze inside that building. It takes a lot to make a television set look "real."

Years later, when I had the chance to do some broadcasting myself, memories of that earlier point in my life echoed through my experiences on the air and behind the scenes in radio production. I learned the power of the voice to create illusions—most humorously illustrated when looking at the expressions of the fan girls upon their first chance to meet the guy with the fabulous on-air voice (but, alas, incongruous physique) who worked the late night show at our station—but I also experienced the discipline demanded by the rigors of broadcasting.

That sense of timing, of professional presentation, of lofty production values still linger as part of my internal imperatives, despite the actual work experience being far behind me. Now, when facing the only obvious answer to connecting with our genealogy society members in a post-COVID world, it didn't matter that we would be connecting from the comfort of our own homes, using equipment which, though so commonplace now, wasn't even in existence back during my broadcasting days. Something from deep inside clicks back on and I am back to broadcasting, again.

There is a problem with reverting back to that old scenario. While videoconferencing may indeed be a form of broadcasting, this is not the same broadcasting as was done in the bygone era of the three-channel-only monopoly. We need to think much more like the candid world of YouTube broadcasting, where everyone with a laptop and a motormouth can have a channel—a world where the neighbor's dog bleeding through the audio feed is forgivable. Where every hair does not need to be in place. Where we can get over perfectionism and just be ourselves.

Believe me, for some people (that finger is pointing at me), that can be a hard jump to make. A person like me has priors for needing to finish that voice-over on exactly the right second. What can we do, though, when the technology is new, we've never done this before, and mistakes are just so easy to make? We just learn to live with mistakes. And learn to learn. While doing.

As the entire world, it seems, is making the shift from doing things the way we've always done them to doing this new video-based meeting venue, we're having to mount an unexpected learning curve. Of course, it helps when the way to the "new normal" is strewn with ample suggestions to help make the transition easier—don't pace while holding your iPad during meetings, for instance, or (horrors) forget to click the "mute" button on your audio feed while taking the meeting with you into the bathroom—but above all is one cardinal rule: forgive others and forgive yourself when tripping up on this learning journey.

We're all in this together, and rather than expect perfection at the destination, let's focus on maximizing the experience of the journey. Never forget that, although we call this "virtual" reality, it still is reality. And the best way to handle this process now is to learn how to be real. Even on camera.

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