Engaging an Audience: A Media Theory Perspective

Video Script with some additions and sans some ad libbed parts:

Ever since I started making videos there’s one thing that has always bothered me. I’ve talked about this before, and that’s this graph of user retention. It shows that people tend to watch my videos till about 2-3 minutes in and there’s a steep decline in the number of people who watch my videos till the end.

I’ve been listening to the feedback that people have for me and I’ve been making changes in every video that I make, but there’s still that statistic, that low engagement with the video that sticks with me as something I need to improve on.

With that in mind, I began looking at the usual tips and tutorials online on how to be a more effective communicator, but that felt like I was just scratching the surface. So, I decided to read up about media theory. The first thing that came up was the well-known work of Marshall McLuhan who famously said “The medium is the message”.

What he meant was that the medium of communication shapes how the message is perceived, which in turn also shapes behaviors and has an effect on society as a whole. He divided history into four epochs: Oral, where information was communicated solely through the spoken word, then there was the literary epoch, with the invention of writing and the creation of manuscripts. The third was the print epoch which came to be after the invention of the printing press and movable type, and the fourth is the electronic epoch, which is today’s society.

As mankind moved through these epochs, the invention of new communication mediums changed how we thought and remembered things, and also changed how societies were structured.

I want to talk about an aspect of McLuhan’s theory, the concept of Hot versus Cool media. Contrary to what you’d expect, he described hot media as the one you passively accept, and cool media as the one you actively participate in. To explain further, hot media engages one sense in a high definition way and has a low level of audience participation. Radio or printed books are examples of this. Radio engages the auditory sense while books engage the visual. Cool media, on the other hand, involves the use of multiple senses at once and involves “filling in the gaps” with your own thinking and cognition. An example of cool media would be watching TV, where you have to absorb the visual as well as the auditory information at the same time, while also forming thoughts and opinions on what’s being talked about.

I looked at the two things I usually create- blog posts and videos- and tried looking at them through this lens of hot or cool media. I realized soon that this binary classification wasn’t quite enough to fully understand how people engage with these things. You could oversimplify and say that blogs are mainly text-based and more “hot” media and videos are more “cool” because of the audiovisual information. Here’s the thing though- blogs are not plain text like printed books, they are purely digital and you can add pictures and other forms of media into them. You can also allow people to comment and share them. Also, I make videos, but the platform I use for them is youtube, which has its own design features and caveats. When you think of a youtube video or a YouTuber, you think of a particular archetype of person, a particular style of delivery, and a particular set of calls to action (like share and subscribe!). Not to mention all sorts of other “tropes” that have emerged- making things appear organic and less “high production”, building a sense of community, and the often mentioned parasocial relationships… the list goes on. Link in the description for a playlist of the videos I watched, as well as some articles I read.

I remember when I started making youtube videos a lot of people told me I was softspoken- they sounded surprised about it like it was different from what they expected. It was as if there’s some unwritten rule about how you present yourself that says you have to be loud and boisterous and “always turned up to 11”. As if there are unwritten rules of how to engage with the audience on this platform. Again- youtube isn’t just a video viewing platform, it’s a video delivery platform: there’s an algorithm to suggest videos to you, a comments section, a whole bunch of communities and followings- it’s an ecosystem unto itself.

Another way the Hot/Cool dichotomy breaks down is to think about it from the perspective of a viewer. I watched a video where there’s a discussion of how what’s hot for one person may be cool for another person- just because of how they interact with or consume the media. For example, I may listen to a podcast attentively, or I may just have it on as some background ambient sound while I do something else. Also, people may “heat up” or “cool down” based on the media type, the platform they are on, and a whole bunch of other factors.

So when it comes to the original question of engagement, it looks like I’m back to square one. Not quite- I did learn a lot about media theory and this exploration got me thinking a lot about how people engage with media. The most important lesson was the true meaning behind the words “the medium is the message”.

This does raise a few questions though- should I start using these tropes? Should I start having a high energy boisterous presentation with the goal of forming a parasocial relationship with my currently unnamed “fanbase”? Or should I continue doing what I’m doing and hope that youtube’s algorithm decides to bless me one day? For now, it’s the latter. But I am open to suggestions and feedback, and who knows, maybe I’ll stumble upon something that both engages the audience and gives me creative fulfillment.

This is the end of the video, so I’d like to thank you all for watching, I’m very close to 100 subscribers which is a milestone (for me at least) and I’m very grateful for all the support. Be sure to like this video, subscribe and hit the bell icon if you want more of this content, let me know what you think about this video in the comments, and remember:

“Anyone who claims to know all the answers has lied to you once already.”

[VIDEO] Giving and Receiving Feedback

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Paraphrased Video Transcript:

Today I want to talk about giving and receiving feedback. When I first set out to make this video I wanted to talk about a couple of life experiences and what they taught me about giving and receiving feedback, but I soon realized that the subject of feedback has a lot of nuances that I couldn’t do justice from my own experiences alone. So I decided to get some, well, FEEDBACK from a few people, and I got a lot of different perspectives from them.

First off I realized I have to define the scope of what I’m about to say. I want to talk about giving and receiving feedback on someone’s creative expression. I’m not talking about getting feedback in a work environment. I’ll tell a story about it- I wrote a blog post about something I learned in grad school called self-determination theory and sent the first draft of it to the professor who taught it to me. I was expecting some criticism of what I’d written, but in the email, he sent me he started off with the sentence “Your writing needs work”. He then proceeded to completely eviscerate my writing. I mean I hadn’t seen that many red lines since I was in elementary school. He did, however, say that he really appreciated the amount of thought I’d put into the piece.

I’d like to pause the story here to talk about some lessons that I took from that experience. The first lesson, keep in mind the relationship between the feedback giver and the receiver. In this case, It was between my college professor (giver) and his former student (receiver). Second, context is key – he was giving me feedback from an academic perspective, thinking from the mindset of writing a paper or academic piece, while I was writing from a personal perspective. With that in mind, we discussed it over a few emails and hashed it out.

But I remember being very shaken by that experience. For the next several months I felt terrible about it. I’d created a sense of self-worth around being a writer and that was my self-identification, and it was all shattered by four words – your writing needs work. I introspected and realized that maybe I really wasn’t looking for feedback; maybe, I was looking for validation. That’s what really happens these days- you post something online, you wait for the validation from social media- you have the words “feedback welcome” in your post but you really just want people to encourage you, and when someone does the opposite, you entrench yourself further into your own mindset and try to find things that support it (Confirmation Bias). The important thing is to understand this impulse and curtail it.

How I got out of that negativity was by trying to improve myself- I began working on my public speaking skills through Toastmasters, and I found a club that gave me feedback but also gave me a whole lot of encouragement. It also opened my mind up to different avenues of expressing myself. Maybe if it weren’t for that email my professor sent, I wouldn’t have been here making videos!

Speaking of videos, I also realized that it’s important to have a thick skin when you put yourself out there on the internet and to anticipate and prepare for situations where people are being especially mean or hateful.

I’d like to talk about another story that happened recently, where I had a completely different experience with getting feedback. I made a new banner for my social media and posted it online mentioning that it was my first attempt at creating one. Check out my website, my twitter page, and subscribe to my youtube channel while I’m on this topic. I got some feedback from my peers in the User Experience biz, telling me about things like the contrast ratio, font size, and other things about the visual design that I could tweak to make it a more effective banner.

I felt the impulse of retorting, of defending my design, but I realized I’d been in this place before. I decided to look at their feedback objectively. I thought about the goal of a social media banner; it’s about spreading the word, making sure people get the information on it as quickly as possible. I realized that if peers in the User Experience business are giving me feedback about a design I’ve made, they’re taking time out of their day to look at what I’ve created and suggested ways in which I can achieve the goals of the design in a better way, then that’s a good thing.

So I took their advice, made some tweaks, and thanked them for their feedback. To my surprise, someone told me that it was a pleasant surprise for them, and that people tend to stick to their guns and be very defensive about things, and that it was a breath of fresh air to see someone being receptive.

This whole thing was a complete 180 from the time I felt a shattered sense of self from four words by a professor.

All in all, these were two life experiences and two completely different approaches to receiving feedback. I feel like I grew as a person in the interim of the first experience which was a few years ago, and the second experience which was just a few days back.

[VIDEO] Life Update: Explaining the lack of uploads

Here’s a transcript (sort of) to go with this video, where I explain why I haven’t uploaded any new videos in a little over two months. In a way it also explains why I haven’t posted anything to my blog in a while, but my blog posting frequency has been sporadic at best, so I digress.

Video Transcript (Paraphrased):

Hi! Welcome to Shriviews. It’s been a while since I made a video and I wanted to talk about that before making any other videos. It’s been over two months and a lot has happened since then. 

I tried recording this video a week ago and I decided to re-record- it’s like I’d forgotten everything about speaking to a camera. It was a lot of starting over, a lot of pauses, a lot of looking away from the camera… but I just had to get in front of a camera and go through the motions for it to come back to me. It helped shake off the cobwebs.  Almost like riding a bicycle. 

Anyway, the main reason is that I moved to a new city in a new state for work. It took a little while to set up my new place and get settled in. I even have this new backdrop that I thought would look cool for videos- let me know what you think about it in the comments. 

Another important reason is, as I’ve mentioned in previous videos, that with all that’s going in in the world, especially in the past few weeks, it’s difficult to bring yourself to create something. Sometimes the best thing to do is to be quiet, to listen, and to learn. 

So that’s what I’ve been doing this past couple of months. I have a few ideas for videos and blog posts that I’m thinking about at the moment. Let me know what you’d like to see me talk about in the comments. 

Until next time, take care, stay safe, and remember: for every action, there’s an equal and opposite distraction. Goodbye!

Balcony with a laptop on a table, with food.

[VIDEO] Working from Home: Productivity and Creativity

We live in unique and interesting times. One of the effects of the times we live in is the need for working from home. While it looks pretty straightforward on a surface level, there are certain implications on productivity and creativity, that need to be discussed.

Please watch, and let me know what you think in the comments!

I talk about these issues in my latest video. To summarize it briefly:

  1.  Since there is no spatial separation between the home and the office (they are both in the same place), there needs to be a temporal separation (you need to separate work and non-work hours)
  2. It’s perfectly fine not to be able to be creative in times like these. The current times are on everyone’s minds, and there’s an innate expectation in a lot of people, that staying at home will usher in a creative renaissance, an expectation that isn’t coming to fruition, which leads to frustration
  3. The key is to know to give yourself time. Staying at home gives you the illusion of having more time for yourself and your pwn personal endeavors than you really have. So go easy on yourself, and cut yourself some slack

If you liked this video, make sure to hit like, and subscribe to my channel.

[VIDEO] One Year of ShriViews Videos!

I uploaded my first video on February 9th, 2019. In the year that followed, I’ve learned a lot about the process of video creation, and it has influenced my creative process in more ways than one. In this video, I talk about the main takeaways from a year’s worth of videos.

One takeaway was that only 30% of the people who watch my videos are subscribed to my channel. If you’re reading this and aren’t subscribed, please go ahead and hit that subscribe button!

The top 2 countries where my viewers reside are India and the United States. It is tough to think of topics that both audiences can relate to, but I try to mostly talk about my experiences living in the United States as someone who moved here for higher education and to begin their career. I am open to more suggestions though!

Related to this point is the fact that different audiences want different forms of content. Some prefer longer form (20 minutes and above) content, while a lot of others prefer shorter content (3 – 5 minutes). This is corroborated by my retention statistics. On average, people tend to view about 3.5 – 4.5 minutes of the video before they tune out. The solution to that, of course, is to make the videos engrossing enough that people stick around and to ensure that the videos don’t go on for too long. 

An effect that making videos has had on me is that it has rejuvenated my creative process. Writing for videos requires a directness that the written medium doesn’t always need. 

Those are the 3 major talking points in the video. I hope you watch it, and I also hope you suggest some topics for me to talk about in the future. Here’s to more years of making videos and writing blog posts! 

[VIDEO] Sedanocalypse: The Crossover SUV Trend

As a video content creator, I’ve always been interested in trying out new things, and dabble in new formats. I felt like it was time to explore interviewing someone. I had a discussion with my colleague Shasank “Shank” Nagavarapu, where we discussed the latest trend in the US Car Market, which is the trend towards buying Crossovers or SUVs instead of traditional family Sedans.

You can view the playlist here, or you can click on the links below.

Part 1 goes into explaining the trend and the key factors behind it.

Part 2 dives deeper into the key trade-offs people make when they decide to go for an SUV or a Crossover.

Part 3 concludes the discussion with a chat about the future of the US Car Market.

Let me know what you think in the comments! I would appreciate any constructive feedback.

As always, please subscribe to my YouTube channel, and follow Shasank’s work on his website, nomadunplugged.com.

[VIDEO] Craft Beer, Fandom, and Serendipity

One of the things I haven’t talked to you guys so far is that I’m a craft beer fan. I really like finding out about local breweries, trying out what they have, and occasionally go out of my way and hunt for a beer that’s hard to find, or a seasonal exclusive. I wanted to talk about how I started this journey as a beer hunter.

Check out the video I made on this topic, and as always: like share, and subscribe.

The story of how I decided to get into craft beer

My story as a craft beer enthusiast began in the summer or fall of 2015. I was a 23 year old in grad school and it was just another weeknight- kicking it, shooting the breeze with some friends, some 90s Bollywood music on the TV, and of course, some run of the mill beer. The beer in question was a Corona which wasn’t particularly good, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

I still get video clips of 90s music starring Bobby Deol.

Anyway, I remember I hadn’t had the best day, and I was hoping to put it behind me. Unfortunately, this unwinding time wasn’t going as well as I had hoped. The tunes on the TV were mostly b-movie fare that my friend put on because they thought it would be funny in an ironic way (it wasn’t). Also, I was texting a girl but it really wasn’t going anywhere- you know when you’re trying to have a conversation with someone and there’s just no substance, and you feel like just typing out words on to a screen and nothing has meaning? It was one of those dead-end conversations.

But I was about to put all those worries behind me, I had a beer in hand, a Corona, (no lime) and in just a few moments it was going to help me take the edge off and unwind.

…and the beer had gone bad. It tasted funny and it smelled like skunk. As I sat there, thinking about all the things that had gone wrong, I just kept saying to myself, “There’s got to be something better than this.” I looked at the TV and I said there’s got to be something better than this, I looked down at my phone and I said again, there’s got to be something better than this, and then I looked at the bottle of Corona, the icing on this cake of misfortune, and I said

“There’s GOT to be something better than THIS!”

When I went back to my room that night, I decided I wanted to change something, starting with something simple, like the beer that I drank. Thus began my journey as a craft beer enthusiast.

Getting more into the enthusiast space

Shout out to Sun King Brewing, the first craft brewery I went to.

So I began to do some research about beer- watching videos, reading books about history, how it’s made, and the different types of beer that exist. I went to local breweries and started trying to chat up the employees there about the different beers they had and what went into them, I even have a spreadsheet where I write down what I think about all the unique beers I’ve tried.


All of this made me think about the enthusiast space in general- how you go from having a cursory knowledge about something, and how over time you learn more about it and there’s always just more to learn the deeper you dive into something.


My friends didn’t share this enthusiasm at first- they thought I was being a bit of a snob when I started bringing my own beers to parties. In time I was able to show them the way, though- now they too source their libations from the local brewery, by the growler, and sometimes even by the keg.

Serendipity

Being an enthusiast is all well and good, but sometimes it helps you in ways you don’t expect. A couple of years ago, I was giving a job interview at the company I work at currently, and my to-be boss asked me what I like to do for fun. At that moment, I decided not to give safe answers like reading or writing or being outdoorsy, I simply told him I was a beer enthusiast, and started talking about the experiential qualities of beer and how beer isn’t just beer, that it’s so much more. The gamble worked, it really resonated with him- turns out he was an investor in one of the major craft breweries in Columbus!

I like to think that the answer helped seal the deal for my employment.

In conclusion, I think that fateful night in 2015 was one of the turning points of my life in a bizarre way. Life takes unusual turns sometimes, and you never know how certain things will end up working with other things in synergy. I guess that’s what they call serendipity.

I’d like to end by repeating a quote often attributed to Benjamin Franklin:

“Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

Image of a desk and computer setup.

[VIDEO] Life Update- I moved to a new apartment!

I uploaded a life update video to my YouTube channel recently, and I wanted to write a companion post for it. I moved to a nice apartment a few days ago, after three years of living next to a very large university campus.

When I moved to Columbus, I didn’t give myself enough time to do a proper “apartment hunt”- I had to make a decision within one week, and not having any friends or family in this new city added to the challenge. I bet on there being plenty of housing being available near a campus area, so I set out to search for one near the campus of the Ohio State University. Sure enough, I found a few and made a quick decision. It really was quick- I took a Greyhound bus from Indianapolis to Columbus in the morning, looked at about 5 apartments, picked one, gave them my application, and took the evening bus back to Indianapolis the same day. I moved to that apartment about a week and a half later.

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I was just out of grad school at that point, so all my stuff fit into the back of a minivan. I moved once, and I had a brief idea in my head that I’d move into a nicer apartment sometime the subsequent year. Well, life happened, and I ended up staying there for three years.

The apartment itself was good enough- the building was constructed in the 1950s and the interior was renovated, so in places, it was retrofitted to be contemporary, but the main framework was more mid-century. The real issue I had was the location. In my hurry to find a place to live, I had forgotten to have a look at the surroundings. I’d chosen an apartment with windows facing a busy street, right next to at least 5 campus bars, and within walking distance from a gigantic football stadium.

futon on wooden floor
Humble beginnings

For the next 3 years, I couldn’t escape the vagaries of campus life, even though I’d already graduated. I heard the drunken revelry of loud college students. I heard the babbling rants of drunk drifters and vagabonds. I heard every passing car on the street, and every skateboard on the sidewalk. I heard the game-day tailgaters and their loudspeakers blaring country music and top40 pop from morning through the night, every boisterous shout of “O-H” followed by every equally enthusiastic “I-O!”. I even heard the wannabe boy racers with their speaker systems cranked up to the highest bass setting, and my ancient windows rattled to the beats of trap music each time those speaker-towers-on-wheels passed by.

Despite all these sounds and the resultant disturbances in my sleep pattern, I continued living there, for a myriad of reasons. One was laziness. Every time renewal season came around, I began to half-heartedly look for places to live, but was discouraged by the lack of options in the time frame I wanted and was also discouraged by how I’d have to pay more than what I was paying at the time. Then there were also all the things I’d have to do, like move or change utilities, and of course, move all my stuff, which I had much more of and wouldn’t just fit in the back of a minivan anymore.

Another reason was that I had a protracted visa change process from a student to a work visa, which really pushed plans of moving several months down the road, and I had to stay a little longer as a result.

I ended up just waiting till the decision was made for me- campus apartments are highly sought after by students, and they immediately snapped mine up after I didn’t renew my lease in a few days after the renewal period started. That’s how I finally set in motion the plan to move to a new place- something I’d had in my to-do list since 2017.

I realized how overstated my fears were about the logistical aspects of the move after I began the process a few months ago. Porting over utilities was mostly online and a bit of being on hold on a customer service call. Canceling services wasn’t as much of a headache as I thought it would be.

The actual physical move wasn’t bad either- I was able to get help from a couple of friends (thankfully I was able to make friends and luckily some friends from grad school have moved to the Columbus area since I first arrived here), and renting a moving truck was simple enough.

What I got from all this was a great sense of “Why didn’t I do this sooner?”. Hindsight is always 20-20, but this does tell me I need to stop thinking of hypotheticals that are in my own head sometimes, some unknown obstacles that exist only in my mind. Perhaps I should stop waiting for decisions to be made for me, perhaps I should stop simply continuing to exist in the status quo because of the comfort that exists in certainty and deferring decisions and actions.

In the end, I’m just glad to finally able to live out a desire I have had for a long time. A nice apartment, a lot more peace and quiet, and the fact that it makes me feel like I’m more of a “big boy”, now that I’m completely untethered from the campus lifestyle.