Category Archives: Communications: Theory & Practice

Digital Story: Independence Hall

For my Communications Theory & Practice class, we had to choose one site in Philadelphia to which we had never been, research it, go there and collect data (photos, sounds, etc.), and create a digital story out of what we gathered.

I had never been to Independence Hall, and I felt that was kind of a shame. It is incredibly important to the USA historically. I love history (although my past history professors probably wouldn’t be able to tell you that) and I love my country, so I chose Independence Hall as my location.

The reason it popped into my head is actually kind of funny. Recently, there was a marathon of the National Treasure movies on TV. My roommates and I would watch them and make fun of Nicholas Cage and the whacky things he says. However, one of his lines struck me. He is being chased because he has stolen the Declaration of Independence, so he runs into Independence Hall to hide. Talking about the Declaration he remarks,”…the last time this was here, it was being signed.” I thought that was such a cool idea, and it made me want to experience such a historically significant place.

When I went there, I brought with me pictures of historic paintings and tried to take photos from the same angles. Using these photos, I contrasted the past with the present. In the past, there were men in wigs and stockings. There were horse-drawn carriages and cobblestone streets. In the present, there are people wearing Nikes. There are public transit buses and traffic lights.

This gave me the idea to have my video serve as a reminder of the past. That is, I wanted my video to inspire a sense of patriotism and pride in the viewer, and to remind the viewer of the things for which our forefathers stood.

We have come so far as a world and, specifically, as a country. We have grown in technologies, tools, abilities, ideas, and knowledge. This progress is certainly not a bad thing intrinsically. However, I hope that my video will admonish its viewers against letting our original values and freedoms become eclipsed by the bright lights and loud noise of the modern-day United States of America.


No praise, no blame; just so.

For one of my classes, I listened to two audio stories. As in the post about TED talks, the themes of these stories are unrelated. However, they both use storytelling methods to capture emotions, inform, and tell a story. (Note: To hear these stories, see the link at the end of this post.)


The first is a piece on Dan Knudsen, a musician from Portland, Maine. In order to set the stage, the piece begins with a clip of his music.

 Dan Knudsen

The clip immediately draws you in. His voice is a bit off-key and nasal. The lyrics are extremely strange. This is a bit humorous, but more importantly, it is intriguing. It makes the listener wonder, “Why is someone doing a piece on this mediocre amateur musician?”

Throughout the piece, it is stressed that his music is different. More specifically, his lyrics are pretty weird. But this being different is crucial to the story because it draws the audience’s curiosity.

Knudsen throws in another intriguing factor. There are a couple mentions of his signature trademark: a fannypack. What the fannypack contains is never revealed. A clever quip is that it is “where the magic is.” This fannypack has a sense of mystery that adds to the allure of the story.

Finally, throughout the piece the listener is almost forced to like Knudsen. He is simple and quirky. He is described multiple times as being a good guy. It is noted that his music contains no cynicism or sarcasm.  And, based on the things he says and the way he speaks, it is apparent that he has not a bad intention in him.

This piece is so successful without visual accompaniment because of the clips of him playing live music. Whenever one is played in the background, one’s imagination immediately paints the picture of a smoky barroom with a man, a microphone, and a guitar.




The second audio story that I listened to describes a convent of nuns in Waterville, Maine in the wake of a tragedy.


The beginning of the piece sets the scene with an audio clip of women praying the rosary. The sound is echoey, putting in the mind an image of nuns praying in a chapel.

The first commentary does two things: First, it sets a tone of being in the aftermath of a crisis. (“We are all so… so wounded. We need to keep bonded with people around us…”) Next, it sets a tone of wanting to move forward. (“We need to keep bonded with people around us instead of setting up barriers and saying, ‘They did this,’ and, ‘They did that.’ You can’t live that judgmentally. It does something to yourself. You can’t judge.”)

Next, the narrator (Jessica Alpert) offers a visual by describing the appearance of the convent and the ages of the nuns. This makes the story that much more real for the listener.

Following the description of the convent, you hear an account of the tragedy. As the nuns describe a mentally ill parishioner forcing his way into the convent and strangling one of the nuns to death, you can sense the fear. The shaking voices of the eyewitness accounts put the listeners in the action and impart the fear into them. The emotion is again able to be felt when one of the nuns begins to cry.

The narrator then describes a dramatic scene – the falling action. It sounds like it was taken from a movie. The police burst in, guns drawn. The murderer is standing there with a statue of the Virgin Mary in his hands. The police instruct him to to drop the statue or they will fire. This vivid description puts the listeners in the action.

The account turns eerie when the nuns describe their dying Sister’s screams. One nun says quietly, “[The police] didn’t get here in time to save her life.”

These descriptions make the audience feel as if they’re witnessing the scene firsthand, seeing the attacker, hearing the screams and commotion, and feeling the fear that the nuns felt.

Afterward, the piece becomes more peaceful. The nuns announce that they quickly forgave the murderer. They explain that they symbolically dramatized this forgiveness by inviting the parents of the murderer to have their feet washed at Mass on Holy Thursday. This represents the washing away of any blame or guilt. While talking about this, church music is played in the background to realize the scene even more.

The feeling of peace and forgiveness is reinforced when a nun quotes a wise expression from Zen Buddhism: “No praise, no blame; just so.” She softly speaks this quote twice, and is followed up by a short moment of silence.

Finally, a nun uses a bell as a metaphor for this experience. She explains that every strike must hurt the bell, but it produces a beautiful sound. In other words, for every incident that causes pain, make something joyful come out of it.

The piece closes with the sound of a congregation singing a hymn. This brings the theme of praying full-circle. (Remember that the piece began with the sound of nuns praying.) However the song implies that the ending is joyful and beautiful.

The Craft of Storytelling

I recently watched three different TED Talks, all with unrelated themes. But in each of them, the speaker told a story about his or her life. In this post, I will discuss elements of storytelling that each of them used to make their story successful. (Note: To see these talks, see the link at the end of this post.)

(If you don’t know what TED Talks are, they are talks in which one person speaks, sometimes with visual aids, for about 20 minutes about a certain subject. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, & Design. The talks are meant to be informative and entertaining. Many discuss a certain issue to raise awareness or propose a solution.)


The first talk I watched was given by Mike Rowe, star of the Discovery Channel show “Dirty Jobs.” His talk was about being completely wrong.

First, he gained credibility by explaining his show. He told how he has worked in all major industries firsthand as an apprentice and has seen (and lived, for a day) these people’s lives. He also gained credibility by referencing classical literary terms – anagnorisis and peripeteia – to explain different feelings he has experienced on set.

The first is one he seeks in every episode. Anagnorisis, in Rowe’s words, means discovery. He finds out what it’s really like being someone else, one of the “average Joe” laborers in the USA.

The second hits Rowe without his seeking it. He experiences peripeteia, which is like a sudden, surprising reversal of circumstances. These peripeteias are realizations that the lives and jobs of these people are very different from his expectations.

These two experiences – anagnorisis and peripeteia – are important to his story because: a) realizing that something is not what you thought it was is intriguing to people, and makes them want to know the truth as opposed to their preconception, and b) it exposes certain lifestyles to people who have no previous experience with them.

 Mike Rowe working a dirty job

Finally, he relates his experiences to the current economic crisis that so many people are experiencing. He talks about how society has these preconceived notions that “dirty jobs” are low on the totem pole.

However, through his agnorises and paripeteias, he has found that these jobs are devalued. In his talk, he remarks, “People with dirty jobs are happy.” These people, who didn’t “follow their passion,” are happier than you’d think.

He is speaking to the general public and “talking about the forgotten benefits” of “manual labor, skilled labor.” He is giving people the power to see that, especially in today’s economy, they do not always have to shoot for the stars and follow society’s sparkly idea that you have to be CEO to be happy.



The next speaker I watched was John Hodgman, who talked about his theory that alien beings have infiltrated Earth. Furthermore, he says that he has been targeted multiple times by these extraterrestrials.

 John Hodgman

The first element that he uses is humor. He begins by talking about a scientist (Enrico Fermi) who, one day, asked his colleagues out of the blue where all the aliens were. This element of surprise draws people in. It makes them laugh and it gives them a sense of anticipation – like, “Where is this going…?”

 An alien sketch next to Enrico Fermi’s photo

However, besides his humor, what I think makes his story so successful is that he is able to put together this argument that, taken for what it is, is completely ridiculous. However, using traditional logic, it cannot be disproven.

He tells stories of his past in which odd things happen. He posits that the memories of these odd moments were put into his brain by the aliens (or by the brain’s natural reaction) to block out memories of alien abductions.

While part of your brain is saying, “But… but…” trying to logically disprove his theory that he has had contact with extraterrestrials, the other half of your brain is enjoying these ludicrous, but entertaining, anecdotes.



Finally, I saw a talk by Becky Blanton, in which she tells of a time in her life when she was (voluntarily) homeless, living out of her van.

Becky Blanton and her Rottweiler with the van – their home for a year

The first element of her story is experience. She provides a firsthand account of a lifestyle with which not many people are familiar – homelessness.

Additionally, she draws on emotions from the get-go. She talks about how she became depressed when her father died. This makes people want to listen and hear how she coped. Later, she mentions that she had suicidal thoughts. Something this extreme usually catches the ear of the audience.

Her emotional appeal comes full circle when she finishes with a happy ending. She talks about how she got over her depression, ending by saying, “Hope always, always finds a way.”

These words alone somehow give us hope. And in her talk she explains why they should.

She makes the you think about how you regard yourself. She says, “…negative perceptions of other people can impact our reality if we let it.” She is questioning societal values. In particular, she talks about how homelessness is stigmatized. But she is implying that one should not live by what others think. Rather, we should strive to live up to our own expectations for ourselves.

Finally, she makes you question how you think of, and treat, others. She explains that sometimes where someone lives or where they are in their life does not really explain who they are.

Her talk is a great example of the old rule “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

Did you see what he just tweeted?

How do I use digital media?

I’d like to think that I am not one who spends much time on digital media. But why is that? Sitting here thinking about it, using digital media is certainly not a bad thing.

I think I just have a block against being thought of as one who spends all day on the computer. Maybe I just try to convince myself that I do more productive things. I don’t know.

I do know, however, that I spend too much time on social media sometimes. Like any college student, I feel like time-wasting sites draw me in like a magnet whenever I have something to do.

But when I try to think about it, I’m not really sure what digital media I “consume.”

A lot of times – again, usually when I have work to do coincidentally – I’ll find myself just scrolling through my Newsfeed. I’m not looking for anything in particular. It’s just a time-killer. I’m seeing what other people post: funny things, political things, and just getting updated on goings-on.

I also spend a decent amount of time on Twitter. I mainly follow funny accounts – fake celebrities or even my own friends that tweet a good joke every now and then. I also follow some Spanish-speaking people just to keep up with the language. (Although the Spanish jokes are really corny, figuring out punch lines is a good test of fluency in a language.) So every now and then, I’ll scroll through my Twitter feed and see if there’s anything entertaining.

Finally, I watch YouTube a good amount. Usually I’m drawn there for a certain reason: watching a sports highlight, checking out a band’s new song, etc. However, most of the time I view a video, I’ll somehow spend the next 10 minutes (or two hours) browsing. (That stupid “Related Videos” section!!)

I really do like to think that I don’t spend “too much” time on digital media overall. Yes, I admit I’ll use it to procrastinate too much at times but other than that, I think I balance it well with the rest of my life. I seldom miss out on things going on around me because I’m engrossed in digital media. My digital media consumption would most likely be categorized as “moderate.”

 “Too much” digital media.