JUNE 21, 2001
Photo by Mark Garvin
Abel López: Welcome to our morning session. I'm Abel López and I'm the Associate Producer and Board Chair of the Gala Hispanic Theatre in Washington, DC. I'm also on the board at TCG. As Joan mentioned this morning, we have invited experts from other fields to talk to us about their experiences in using technology, the expectations that they had and some of the benefits that they perceived as they engaged in using the technology in their particular areas.
Paul Krajniak is Executive Director of Discovery World Museum in Milwaukee, which is an interactive science museum with a focus on entrepreneurship and engineering. At the moment he is creating an exhibit called "The Techno Jungle." If you go to his website, you can actually see some of his work connecting visitors with emerging and everyday technology. Paul has designed sets for Meredith Monk, Ping Chong, and Todd Machover, and at the Walker Arts Center. In recent years he designed a retrospective exhibition about the work of Meredith Monk, Bill T. Jones and Merce Cunningham.
Germaine Ingram recently became Vice President of the Children's Defense Fund in Washington. However, she has spent much of her career here in Philadelphia, where she served as the General Counsel, Chief of Staff and Deputy Superintendent of the school district of Philadelphia. Germaine has been a professor at Temple and the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and is engaged in public and private law practices that specialize in civil rights, class actions, and catastrophic injuries. More importantly, we've learned, she's a professional tap dancer.
Joel Flatow is a Senior Vice President for West Coast Affairs in Artist Relations for the Recording Industry of America, and also leads the association's artist relations department. Prior to this senior position, however, he was the Director of Government Affairs in their Washington office. He recently completed ten seasons as a tenor with the Washington Opera at the Kennedy Center and serves on the board of directors of the Washington Area Music Association and Washington Lawyers for the Arts. He is a graduate of Yale University and the Juilliard and Manhattan School of Music Pre-Colleges.
We have individuals not only who are experts in the fields that they're engaged in, but also have worked in the performing arts, so they bring that wealth of information to their work. We've asked Paul to start the discussion for us this morning.
Paul Krajniak: Good morning. It's really great to be here and to be with a group of people that are so full of warmth and emotion and feelings of community, something I usually don't encounter much in the science and technology business.
Discovery World in Milwaukee was created on a slightly unusual premise. In the late seventies, Robert Oppenheimer's brother, Frank, who also worked on the atomic bomb, started something called the Exploratorium in San Francisco. Simultaneously, Discovery World's founder, a fellow named Robert Harlan, who was a patent attorney and a mechanical engineer who ran security on the Manhattan Project, and Frank decided they wanted to make up for their sins, so to speak. They created two educational programs based on giving adolescents power over their environment–the Exploratorium and Discovery World.
Now the Exploratorium is world-known, and Discovery World isn't, and part of that is because Frank said, "You really don't need to understand any phenomenon; you just need to witness it. You don't need to have any context for it; the magic of the human will make it so." I guess that's a very San Francisco kind of idea.
In Milwaukee, Bob Harlan felt that you really need to give an experience context, and he felt that most of the public was being fooled, that indeed people were told by movies, like Spencer Tracy, that technology came from the laboratory to you via some sort of magical experience. A great idea got to you because it was great. He felt that marketplace issues, the notion of entrepreneurship, economics, and things like that were left to the people pulling the curtain in front of us. By exposing that, that he could give power to adolescents so that they could determine how their ideas would be used, and give adults an understanding of the forces at work around them.
Now, this was the late seventies, and when the Milwaukee Public Museum was offered Discovery World as an adjunct, they thought this was business propaganda. So Discovery World was launched in the 1980s basically as an interactive science and technology museum. The notion of entrepreneurship and economics was a lot harder to integrate, but the job itself did give me a free rein to talk about anything, any human issues, and to deal with this issue of interactivity.
We opened this museum with a lot of hands-on things. We found that adolescents wanted to interact. But we found very, very quickly that their interest in interactivity began to wane; that as twitch games came into play, that even your microwave oven had some level of talkback to you, adolescents became kind of empty and delirious. They talk about Generation X. It's my privilege to work with all the generations after that.
Now in the year 2001, after building exhibits and putting together a program for science and entrepreneurship education, we're finding that adolescents want to talk to the pros. They want to talk to real people. They want no middle man. School is a disappointment because there's somebody between them and the person that they want to talk to. Not that they're tooled up to talk to them, but the hunger is there.
Now, very early on at Discovery World, we found in this interactive paradigm that theatre was the thing that started really creating high response in both adults and as adolescents, not the theatre of people dressed up like Ben Franklin, but really using theatrical techniques, techniques that I learned working with Ping Chong or Meredith Monk, to take apart ideas, to really put ideas in new orders, to see things in new ways. We found that theatre production, whether it be the technical aspects, the idea of memorization, the idea of scripts, became the model for the entire museum and how it would operate.
Most natural history museums are now going into the twitch game phase. They have buttons to push that make rattlesnakes' tails move. They're kind of doing the Disney model. We're finding, again, in talking to adolescents that they want to touch the real thing. They want to be able to work with the real animal. They want to understand the real world.
So the museum business right now is kind of onward and upward. We talk about a Digital Age. For most kids in the Digital Age, they're soaking in it, as the commercial would say, and now the biological age has come screaming upon us.
Germaine Ingram: Paul has sort of stolen my theme, in a way. I think he hits on a key point. What I found is that what kids understand is that effective education is about their relationship with caring, smart adults who can help them construct meaning from the world around them.
Technology has obviously been involved, has been a tool in the education arena for a long time. If we just go back 100 years and you start with simple imaging devices and Victrolas, then you go to radio, film and television, and since the eighties, computers and the web, the pattern has basically been, it seems, that there's a boon for a while, but after a decade or so, the technology is kind of marginalized.
Even with respect to computers and the web, after the last twenty years of spending billions of dollars on technology for schools, we are finally beginning to ask ourselves, "To what end?" How do we determine the effect? What research do we need to do to assess whether the investment is worth it?
I think that there is a large gap between the dollar investment that we've made in technology for education and for schools, and the effect that it's had on improving students. I think the reason for that is that the technology is dumb. The software very often is based on games and play, rather than being based on a real understanding of the cognitive process. So as Paul has indicated, kids get tired of play. But I think there's also a problem in the way that the industry has marketed its products. There's been a great deal of hype and overselling, and educators simply don't have the knowledge to be able to assess what their needs are and the degree to which the technology that's being offered to them can satisfy those needs.
But I think the bigger problem has to do with educators and education institutions themselves because I think that even if the products get better and the software gets smarter, it's not going to have an impact on improving teaching and learning until educators create the circumstances where the products can be used in a smart way.
Some educators say, well, why should we change? Why should we change our instructional practice in order to accommodate the changes in technology? Haven't we been doing just fine over the decades? What's the reason for change? But we haven't been doing just fine. That's the problem. There's more and more evidence that even the kids who attend schools that are the most resourced with the greatest reputations, lack something in their problem-solving skills that they're going to need in society and the professional world.
When we come to the schools that I led here in Philadelphia, where 70 percent of our kids live in poverty, where kids have to run a gauntlet that I can't even imagine or fathom having to endure before they even get to school in the morning, it's apparent to me that if we keep doing the things that we're doing, we're going to keep getting what we're getting. So it's clear that there needs to be change in education. The question is to what degree technology can support the kinds of changes that need to occur.
I think that the digital technology that we have today is remarkable in that it really makes us confront the fundamental questions with regard to the need for change in education. One thing that technology does is it allows us to use data more effectively to determine what kids know and what they don't know. That's really radical in the education sphere because we're so accustomed to looking at averages. It obscures the fact that there are some kids who are doing dismally, and there are some kids that we never expected to do sensationally, that have the capacity to do that.
A month ago when I was a school district administrator, one of the things we said was that all kids can learn, and all means all, and all means every. And technology gives us the opportunity to put real teeth behind those statements, or at least remove from us the excuse for saying that we don't know what every kid requires in terms of instruction.
But the issue here is, you have to be willing to ask those questions. And you have to be willing to take the steps that are necessary once you know the answers to those questions. You have to be willing to take the steps necessary when you recognize that the achievement levels of African-American boys are far behind the achievement level of white boys, and the achievement level of girls in math and science is behind, and looking at those pockets, investigating those pockets where girls are achieving at higher levels. So until we have the guts to ask the questions and accept the implications of the answers, we can't use the capacity that digital technology provides us to improve the situation.
Another area I think that technology could break the textbook monopoly. Most of our textbooks are overpriced, they're dumbed-down, they're poorly written. Because California and Texas are the largest markets for textbooks in the country, censoring committees in those two states determine for the most part what the rest of us are able to get. I think it would be a wonderful thing for American education if we never bought another textbook. And we could do that, because the web gives us an opportunity to allow kids to have authentic experiences that transcend what we can do within the confines of a conventional school.
Another area where digital technology provides great promise that we aren't utilizing because we aren't willing to change the paradigm, is that it provides opportunities for really constructivist teaching and learning. Kids are put in an environment where they have lots of information and models and where kids are the center of the educational process, and teachers become the coaches in helping kids to make meaning of the information that's made available to them.
What that means is that you're changing the paradigm for epistomological authority, and by doing that, we're changing the definition of social authority. That's subversive in education. And until we're prepared to take that step, we can't take advantage of the opportunity that digital technology gives us to scaffold learning. It gives kids the opportunity to deal with concepts, even when they don't have the sort of factual information they need, because the technology gives them a bridge to get from one scaffold to the next.
So in the end, until we as educators have the will and the guts to deal with those fundamental issues of what education should be, to change the relationship of educators to the educated and make it a reciprocal process, we can't utilize effectively the opportunities that technology provides.
Joel Flatow: We have very different experiences with technology in each of our respective fields. One thing that's very striking about what Germaine was talking about was the under-utilization of technology and the Internet in the education realm. On the music side, on the recording industry side, perhaps technology has been too well utilized. So I think we've played a lot of catch-up.
Paul was mentioning how adolescents really want to talk to professionals and talk to the source. Well, we've also discovered that adolescents want to talk to each other online. I don't know whether anyone else saw the USA Today front page of "Life" today. It says that 73 percent of kids 12 to 17 are online in the USA. I'm just going to footnote that I think there are very legitimate issues about access that we have to continue to address, and that really the government, leadership, and private industry need to address.
But it said three out of four online teenagers, 13 million use instant messaging, and I particularly liked that the most popular activity, 73 percent download music and 70 percent listen to music online. So on the music side, I think that presents really fascinating challenges and opportunities.
Just out of curiosity, how many people in this audience have experienced music online in some form? All legitimate music sites, right? Okay. We're not taking names. I work for the Recording Industry Association of America, probably better known as the folks who sued Napster. We so want to move beyond that moniker. But really, on the recording industry side and for the arts, truly it's a tremendously exciting time for the entertainment industry and for the arts online. There is an absolute hunger which we see in this survey and in general about people wanting to experience the arts online. All joking about Napster aside, one of the things that we saw was that there is also this hunger for community, to share music choices, to connect with each other that way.
On the recording industry side, it's not been the easiest role, but I think truly music has been the guinea pig of the arts online, given that music files are easy to compress, easy to trade, easy to share, easy to upload and download, and I think in many ways music has reflected the different time periods or epochs for each of these different stages of the Internet at large. So I think at first there was curiosity, maybe a degree of trepidation or hesitation about using it. Quickly that gave way to excitement. This is a new toy. We're going to just do everything and do it all at once. And I think what you saw was a lot of growing ideas on the Net, not only for music online companies, but also for online companies in general. I think we've seen a lot of press about companies coming and going and having million-dollar opening parties and then disappearing in two weeks.
I think now we're at the point where there's no question that the Internet is embraced and it's part of everyday life and it's part of culture online. I think going back to Napster for a second, during this epoch of experimentation, this was a system whereby everything was up for grabs. The creator was sort of extraneous from all of this, and really what we saw was that people wanted what they wanted when they wanted it. They wanted the access, they were huge fans, but what does that means in terms of the relationship to the artist, particularly when you're dealing with what seems ethereal? I think this poses really challenging questions to all of you and everyone in the arts.
One of the things that I worked on personally was a group called Artists Against Piracy, which was, with other groups and other artists, the first time that artists on the music side banded together and said, "We want some choice. We aren't saying you can't put your music out there for free, you can't utilize the Internet as a distribution means, but what about us?" The result was about 75 to 80 artists of different degrees of success and popularity, who stood behind Metallica–I'm sure you know that Metallica brought their suit against Napster and got a lot of press for it, for better or worse. The tag line for the campaign was "If music means a lot to you, imagine what it means to us."
I think that's a very important message for everyone in the arts, because I think there's some fundamental questions that it raises, which are, (A) How do you make a living as an artist? (B) Are creators respected in general and particularly are they respected online? (C) How do you distribute your work to the widest audience while maintaining creative control over your work? And is there any creative control in cyberspace?
I think that these are very important questions. There have been some very interesting dynamics in terms of the artists. For instance, I had a conversation with Jeff Buckley's mom. You know Jeff Buckley, the artist who died tragically prematurely early. She is now the executor of his estate. She's been protective of his works, but also has got a lot of music out there online, on his site, for free. It's so interesting, she says she gets absolute hate mail from some fans who say, "Who are you to stand in the way of our getting everything that Jeff ever created?" "Well, who am I? I'm his mother, for starters." But secondly, as someone who's now protecting not only his legacy, but also the legacy of all the musicians and artists and producers who worked with him, it's astounding, this sense of entitlement.
I think there's a flip side to that. The flip side of the entitlement is this passion for music and the arts online. But I think the other aspect of this that's applicable to what you all are doing, and is exciting about the arts, is how artists communicate with each other and create, and the opportunities that this worldwide distribution channel can create together.
On the music industry side, just two days ago there was an announcement of Sony Digital Pictures of a screen blast service, which allows you to mix in your own tracks with other people’s through this online service, to use video images, and to share what you've created with other people. They're hoping to have tracks of different artists that you can mix in with your own music.
Thomas Dolby Robertson, the guy who wrote She Blinded Me with Science, he’s a technology beatnik, and he has something called musicgram, where he's gotten licenses from the companies. One of the companies is Vega Records. You can email all of your friends a Britney Spears song that you've remixed and share your version of Britney with them.
Another example is David Bowie’s online song-writing contest. He went to Joe Public and said, "The best song I receive will appear on my next album." Well, some kid in Wisconsin won and now has a song credit on a Bowie album. I mean, how incredibly cool is that? That's the opportunity–worldwide distribution, a tremendous opportunity for the arts and artists to collaborate, to have their work seen. On the flip side of that, there's a certain distancing of the artist. There's a passion for the artist's work and certainly for music, as we've described, but is there respect for the artist and is there that connection to the artist, an awareness that there are living human beings behind these works that everyone has access to?
Abel López: I'm going to open it up for questions now.
Whit MacLoughlin: I'm the Artistic Director of New Paradise Laboratories here in Philadelphia. One thing that keeps coming to mind as I contemplate the creative process and the Internet is something that you encounter when you go into a library nowadays. The electronic catalog bypasses the whole process that I remember of finding books, which is a combination of smell, walking around, looking at the colors of the books and the way that they've been used, serendipity, the sort of way that an errant thought can enter your mind.
So how do you, in the Digital Age, allow for the somatic experience of research? I find the Internet extremely useful, but it's limited in terms of the process of creating, not just sensory information, but the way that we come up with what we think about. I'm scared about the idea that there are fewer and fewer influences on us mentally because of being limited by the categories of information that we already possess.
Germaine Ingram: I can just share my personal experience and my concerns about that same issue. When I went to law school in 1968 to '71, I learned to do legal research the old-fashioned way, and later on I learned to do legal research online. I've always been sort of distrustful of the research that I do through Lexis-Nexis, because I always feel that their word logic is not a substitute for my intuitive sense of relevance. So I don't know what law schools are teaching now, but I think we should be teaching both ways. We need to teach law students to do research online and use the most efficient digital mechanisms, but there is something about the old-fashioned way. There is no substitute for that.
And we need to retain that sort of intuitive sense, especially because I'm looking to the K-12 education arena, I don't think that the producers understand the cognitive process enough to be able to replicate what I can do by searching around and sniffing around and making the sort of unique and fortuitous discoveries. You can't imagine what legal theories I came up with simply based on fortuity and coming across a case that I would have never found if I were simply using the word logic of Nexis or Lexis.
Paul Krajniak: Well, when you talk about the Digital Age, you're talking about consumer products–music, telephones, things of that nature, Internet–when, in fact, there's a whole undercurrent of digital information. Digital stuff is really about accuracy. It's about refinement. It's about using computers to find more details, similar to rifling and rifles at the turn of the century, creating things which became precise machinery sixty years later.
What's happening in the Digital Age doesn't counter what you are saying. There are people working on tactility. There are people working to create actors that operate on the Net that have emotional gestures that they're sampling from living people and turning them into avatars online. There is a whole range, anything you can dream of that's humanly possible, that somebody is working on in a big way both digitally and in the analog one-on-one fashion to change the world.
Joel Flatow: I think that's why record stores haven't gone anywhere–that there's still that desire to want to touch it and feel it and own it. I think it raises interesting questions about community as well. If you can experience music and there's a community online, is that the same as getting off your ass and going somewhere? Right now you can also get music through your cell phones and through your portable devices. There's a certain aspect of it that's very solipsistic, I think, or individualistic.
There was a recent study that showed that concert revenues and attendance were down this year. I have no evidence of this at all, but I wonder if you can see something webcast live on your computer, on your cable TV, are you going to go to a live concert? To me there's no substitute for that. The same thing for theatre. But are all these questions anachronistic? Is it really all going to be experienced online?
Audience Member: With the Internet, how do you protect the artist not just in terms of the artist's facility to make a living, but also in terms of what that artist does, what that person's creative process is with regard to the ability to digitize and then change what that person has done?
Joel Flatow: That's a really important question that I'm glad I get to expand on a little bit, because one of the issues in terms of Artists Against Piracy is not just choice, not just about livelihood. We saw a lot of examples of, for instance, music coming out before it was done. There would be tracks that were done in the studio and some technician had downloaded it, and all of a sudden it was just there.
There's been a lot of concern from artists that they've worked on an album for two years, they want people to experience it the way that they meant for them to experience it This, was a quote from Neil Young in Yahoo Entertainment News, "I don't like to have a record out and have people hear versions that we don't want them to hear. With the Internet, there is no more privacy, and not even a chance to express yourself in front of your audience in the intimacy of a concert that lets songs evolve. You can't do this because they immediately get circulated."
So I think it is a huge concern, and also for the image or for music to get manipulated in a way that people can butcher it and then send it around.
Paul Krajnick: I think part of this, too, is puritanical. It's anti-lust, anti-lust for the object, anti-lust for human interaction, anti-lust for watching a person perform. There is, I think, a subtext here that adolescents or even adults are being pushed to a point where we're devaluing that physicalness, and that I think places like museums and theatre in a new definition really can be a place where that can be restimulated.
Ed Shockley: I'm from the Philadelphia Playwrights Center. As playwrights, we obviously talk a lot about this, but there's a whole new world online for writers, and it's kind of dangerous. It feels a lot like the inverse of the biblical thing, where we're putting old wine in new bottles. A lot of us talk about art as a product, art as a commodity, art as an object. Almost every grant, every situation in America for a playwright is geared toward getting your next play out. There's just enough money to keep you going for another month to complete the next play, so you're constantly worrying about how to survive.
As long as we continue to frame the question around how we can protect art as a commodity, then artists aren't free to practice their work.
Germaine Ingram: Your comment takes me back to a lecture I heard a couple of months ago by Merce Cunningham. Someone in the audience asked a question about whether his way of choreographing changed as he got older. He said that technology allowed him to transcend the limitations of age, so he felt that he had no less capacity than he did when he was younger. He also talked in his book about how there is no product for him; it's a journey. A dance is simply a stop on that journey. So if we can think of this as a journey and the plays as being stops on the journey, that still doesn't necessarily feed you, but puts it in a context where it's less depressing.
Joel Flatow: Sometimes art is also commerce and sometimes art is art. You have the opportunity for a worldwide audience to what you're doing, no matter what, and also, I don't know whether playwrights appreciate it or not, the opportunity for feedback. I think, for an artist, it's a tremendous opportunity to just get it out there, to just have people experience it.
Bill O'Brien: I'm from Deaf West Theatre. The deaf community has really taught me how much this new technology is an enabling technology. It's really changed their ability to communicate without having to go through a third-party conduit. I'm wondering what kind of models we are looking at that are going to allow the technology to enable us to communicate with each other better and how can the other artistic disciplines learn from what you guys are forced to think about now?
Joel Flatow: I love that question. In just another few weeks, the end of this summer, new services are going to be launched on EMI, EMG, and AOL-Time called MusicNet, which will have major titles. It will be a subscription service. It won't be phenomenally expensive; it'll be a monthly fee. It's with cooperation of the artists. It's licensed, and yet people can still stream or download or share songs. Sony and Universal have something called Press Play that's very similar. We worked through the muckiness and have come to a place where it is possible to have a business model that respects a creator but also gets it out there.
Edgar Rosenblum: I'm the Executive Director of Theatre for New Audience. We seem to have an endless driving need to come together to experience live arts performances. I don't think it's going to end or diminish; it seems to be growing here. I wonder what you feel about that.
Paul Krajniak: I would completely agree with that notion. Everything in my experience, both with adults and adolescents, tells me that indeed there is a lust for the living and that the digital culture that we're talking about is actually creating a groundswell or an opportunity for live theatre to position itself to be what it is–fresh, new and exciting.
The lust for it is there. I think that people have not come to your doors in the way that we know they need to, and that as more of this technology rises, you'll find that your audience is swelling. But you will also be creating in adolescents your competitors, because these adolescents, once they get the hunger, the urge, will create theatre to compete with you and to play with you and to participate, and that will be an exciting renaissance in itself.
Germaine Ingram: I agree. There is a voracious appetite for live artistic experience. What we need to do in schools is to create a better integration between the school experience and the art experience. Too often we use the art experience as sort of a respite from the education experience. It should be one and the same.
A couple of years ago I was working on this project that I called Cultural Forces with a notion that one of the ways we could transform the culture of schools is to make artists part of the full-time community in the schools. The artistic process could become part of the ongoing everyday decision-making process within the school, not just about art classes, but about how you design the roster, what courses you teach, what teachers teach what, what discipline codes you use. I think that's a different problem-solving process than the one that's typically used in schools. And to the extent that we can make art serve those ends, the potential is enormous.
Abel López: I want to thank our panelists for their comments.