Multimedia Reflection Essay

A surprisingly difficult learning experience

Having taken part in numerous writing classes at UCSB and gaining acceptance into the university’s Professional Writing minor, I entered this quarter’s Multimedia Writing course with high expectations that it would be a refreshing breeze in the park. I grew up surrounded by digital media and have always loved writing, so I thought to myself, “what could possibly be difficult about integrating the two?”

Well, that answer smacked me in the face quite early on.

It was many things. Many things proved difficult about learning how to tastefully combine multimedia and text into a seamless and visually-appealing story.

My thought process upon entering this class was that it would be a neat way to learn how to master the technical skills I already used on a daily basis through writing on social media and blogs. What I found, however, was that the process of creating an intriguing story was actually far more complicated than I initially expected.

This preconception I held was perfectly described in Jones and Hafner’s Mediated Me in their description about the ways people think about media:

“Instead of thinking about media in a simple, ‘one-to-one’ way — a single technology with a clear set of affordances and constraints being used to take certain discrete actions — it’s better to think of media as parts of systems of actions and activities, meanings and thoughts, social organizations and identities…the meanings that we are able to make in one situation might make possible new meanings in totally different situations…”

This excerpt perfectly captures how I came into this class vs. what I learned upon leaving it. The process of telling meaningful stories is complex and detailed. Each component of it your requires thoughtful consideration to achieve the desired result and reaction from your audience. This was perhaps the most difficult part in creating my multimedia story: I often failed to consider creating unique avenues for my media that would better capture the message I was attempting to tell. As McCloud described in his comic, “words and pictures have great powers to tell stories when creators fully exploit them both.”

I have always felt a natural inclination to writing my thoughts down on paper, but never fully realized how my articulation of these thoughts could be enhanced by integrating them with forms of multimedia. I had simply never been taught how.

The process of learning this was frustrating on many occasions. I chose to write about the oil rigs that line the Isla Vista coast because I’ve always been insanely curious about them. I watched a documentary which discussed both sides of the coin in terms of whether or not they present a threat to the environment. I always found them kind of pretty at night but my liberal mind always just assumed they were terrible for the environment. What I found, however, was quite the opposite.

My story shifted away from simply describing the history of the oil rigs to an overt argument for their right to exist as producers of marine life. The amount of fishes, invertebrates, and other species of sea life that depend on the beams and pillars of the oil rigs is almost overwhelming. They act as a home to so many species and have created and sustained a unique ecosystem as a result of their offshore placement.

Crossbeams and pillars underneath Platform Grace. Footage from ‘Remnants’ documentary, courtesy of Jacqueline Kane.

Though this story both excited and intrigued me, it was difficult to write because 1) I know very little about marine biology, and 2) I could never gather any original media for this project. Both of these things frustrated me throughout the writing process, but also forced me to get creative in my usage of other people’s media.

The amount of research I had to do to even begin knowing what I wanted to discuss in my story was a challenge in and of itself. Luckily, I was able to find a website made by a UCSB professor that detailed the reasons behind why the rigs are helpful to the environment, and also provided tons of images and video that I was able to get permission to use.

However, the videos were quite murky and the photos of fish were more for scientific studies rather than visually-appealing images that could be easily integrated in a multimedia study. My solution to this was to create GIFs out of a friend’s documentary, and have these be my sole form of eye-catching media. I was displeased because I felt limited in my ability to incorporate more forms of media in my story, but I think I achieved the gist of the message I was trying to send.

My hope for this story was that it would help the community of Isla Vista see a different side of the commonly-despised oil rigs. Since I also used to share this mindset, I wanted this story to shed some light on the natural beauty that lies right underneath these giant man-made structures. The fact that human industry was able to accidentally produce a thriving ecosystem in its mission to drill oil from the ground displayed a beautiful form of irony for me, and I wanted to share that.

The daunting task of achieving this was a difficult process for me. Learning to utilize multimedia in my writing proved difficult from the beginning all the way through to the end. I realized that my habits of writing had been constricted by the academic structure I’ve grown so accustomed to had thoroughly limited me in the beginning. My first draft came out like an awkward academic non-essay that read terribly, and thankfully my final version wasn’t nearly as unreadable.

This class forced me out of that hard training and allowed me to write creatively, which is something I hadn’t done in so long that I had nearly forgotten how!

The lessons taught in Mediated Me helped me articulate the many challenges I faced by illustrating how “digital media breaks down barriers that used to divide literary practices…they facilitate new ways of distributing out attention…” I’m still not sure I was able to break down the barriers and distribute my readers’ attention in the exact ways I had planned, but I now know where to begin the next time I get a chance to write a multimedia story. There’s a high level of respect I gained for the process of writing with multiple forms of media, and I realize that it is something I would need to work at for months if I ever want to produce a truly excellent and compelling story. The oil rigs simply didn’t get enough credit this time!

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