Good afternoon faculty, family members, and graduates of 2020,

Raise your hand if you’ve heard the phrase “uncertain times” used to describe our current moment. These are uncertain and unprecedented times.

But when were they not? In 1963? 1929? 1941? 2001? 1918?

That’s JFK’s assassination, the stock market crash, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the attack on the World Trade Center, and the Spanish Flu epidemic, respectively.

Looking at the last hundred years, I could’ve selected 2015, 1945, 1928, 1989, or 1969 as well. …


A few months ago, I found an old box of papers from my grandfather’s sister. A career stenographer for most of the 20th century, my mom’s Aunt Doris regular dashed off messages to family, friends, and local opinion editors by spinning paper into a typewriter.

“just as intimate as anything traced in script”

When we think of the intimacy of letters, we tend to picture a handwritten message. My great-aunt however, punched her pastel stationary with black ink using steel typearms. She only calligraphed a closing and her signature with a ballpoint pen.

Still, her missives prove just as intimate as anything traced in script — just as…


A game is a framework for play and interaction. It’s an effective set of rules to direct our many forms of individual and group exercise.

Sports games focus on our physical muscles. Table games build our mental strategies. Video games show increasing potential for bridging the two — body and mind — as controllers and headsets place us further into virtual roles and simulations. Some people even played arcade games with their whole bodies.

“Simulation” is a helpful metaphor for a game. Many definitions of the word “game” include an awareness of a “fictional space” where the rules differ from reality, whether that’s a physical tabletop board, an athletic playing field or course, a Dungeon Master’s dungeon, a first-person shooter’s field of view, or simply…


On New Year’s Eve 2002, after living and working next to Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan for 16 months, I moved out of my hard-won, one-bedroom apartment in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn and left New York City.

Every one of those 16 months had been a conscious decision to remain, until I was no longer sure what my determination represented. Friends who worked in midtown had no desire to come closer to the grave site. …


A recent promotional blog post on Medium from the startup Tagboard promises, “6 Ways to Increase Your Interactive Storytelling in Higher Education.

Not one of the six recommendations mentions education, classrooms, or professors. The article advises college and university administrations use Tagboard’s software to enhance recruiting events, alumni outreach, and campaign fundraisers.

Marketing is essential, but let’s break down how and why Tagboard missed a big opportunity to connect with higher education’s mission.

Tagboard — like Everwall, Flocklr, and Hootfeed, among others — creates social media walls. …


When I started teaching media creation to Web designers, the first text everyone handed me was Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug. It’s a fun, quick read. Krug explains that a good website or any other computer interface shouldn’t call attention to itself.

“Making every page or screen self-evident is like having good lighting in a store,” says Krug. I’ll take his metaphor a step further. A good website leads us through its pages like a supermarket sweeps us into its aisles and past its displays.

Yet Krug’s title — Don’t Make Me Think — makes us stop and…


This January, I noticed a lot of ads, links, and email subject lines with the cliché, “New Year; New You.” The copywriters weren’t even trying. The standard articles on resolutions had an air of exhaustion too: “Here’s Why They Don’t Work,” etc.

One meme was more honest: “New Year; Same You.”

We don’t have to take this cynically. Understanding resolutions are too short-term as a solution could illustrate our greater self-awareness. The long-held metaphor of a human being as a “blank slate” we can easily write upon has been a philosophical and scientific fixation for centuries.

Steven Pinker at Harvard…


My father is an engineer. For a time, in the 1960s, he worked on the heat shield for the Apollo modules that took us to the moon. When the missions stopped, he took a job in public works and spent the rest of his life there, raising our family.

Dad was skilled at maintaining a home. He built furniture for the house, kept the yard beautiful, fixed what was broken — and always worked with a small pad and pencil nearby.

Left-handed, his dark pencil marks slashed at the thin paper with conviction. The tiny plan of a room, a…


I loved teaching in front of live classes again this winter.

It didn’t change my mind about teaching online. On the contrary, it reinforced my belief that I can reach students whether facing them in person or reading their words on a screen. If you connect with students — if you do the hard work of listening and meeting them as individuals — how you connect doesn’t make a huge difference.

We embrace the media of our time and are inclined towards it, but a hand-written letter is as good as a phone call is as good as texting on…


The Interactive Voice is the name of my first course and book. Choosing a title is always tough, but I’m confident now; I chose the right two words. Last week, I spoke about the first word and now, I’d like to talk about the second.

Watching the royal wedding at St. George’s Chapel this week made me think of a different exchange at a different Church of England.

“I have a voice.”

As a piece of dialogue in a narrative, that phrase is terribly obvious. Who would say such a thing in real life? …

Robert Kalm

Producer and professor exploring writing and communication online. I blog about better interaction here and at bumpspark.com. Follow my course hashtag, #506iv.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store