Lost and Found

About five years ago (and likely well past my bedtime) I stumbled across a music video, linked from a now-defunct web forum:

The video delighted and ensorceled me. The music, the dancing, the costume, the dramatic minimalist synth playing, all of it coalesced into something that made me perfectly happy.

I showed it to my spouse in the morning, we laughed about it, and I closed the tab, confident I could easily find the video again when I needed it back in my life.

This would not prove to be the case.

At punctuated intervals across the intervening months and years, I would spend hours and hours unsuccessfully trying to locate the video again, based on my increasingly-hazy recollection of it.

Here’s what didn’t work:

  • Locating the original forum post (it was gone).
  • Searching through my browser history (too extensive).
  • Searching through my YouTube view history (a sobering journey).
  • Googling many terms about the content of the video (many of which were based on my inaccurate memories).

My confidence shattered (I’m a trained librarian, by gosh!), I abandoned the search for years, until two nights ago (again, up too late), I was struck by the desire to take another crack at it. 

As the embedded video above suggests, I was successful.

Information Literacy Sidebar

This is an important lesson in web searching; one I should have remembered. When trying to find a media artifact, don’t necessarily search for what is represented in the media, or the meaning it carries. Semantic searching is difficult enough when an artifact has semantic metadata attached to it (whether it be by the curator, or by a community describing in comments or social media), but practically impossible when:

  • The semantic metadata doesn’t exist (this video was relatively obscure).
  • What semantic metadata there is mostly in a language the searcher isn’t fluent in (German). 
  • The searcher is basing their semantic searching on false premises or false memories (Example: I remembered the performer’s costume as silver, not black, and based my initial searching on that).

Instead, start filtering immediately via factual information.

  • If you are near-certain about a unique phrase, put the phrase in quotes (“where are you”).
  • Identify the kind of artifact it is (music video).
  • Filter by any other quality of the artifact you are near-certain of (it was German).
  • Don’t stop on the first page of search results!

It was that search string: (“where are you” music video german) that finally led me to my prize, several pages of search results deep.

End of Information Literacy Sidebar

Was it worth it? Did the video hold up to the immense significance my years of fruitless search had lain upon it?

The video is wonderous, of course. The resolution of the journey itself was exhilarating. Yet I’m not certain it was worth all the hours I spent in fruitless search….

…or I wasn’t certain, until I stumbled onto an additional discovery that had me smiling for so long my face literally hurt.

Coda

This requires a little more personal context: I hate almost all web comments (because I can’t resist reading them, and nearly always feel sadder and dumber as a result). To that end, I run a variety of browser extensions to prevent them from appearing on most websites, including YouTube.

When I rediscovered 16 BIT – Where are you (Long 12” Version Video Clip), it was on my computer browser, where I could not see any comments on the video. When I stayed up too late again last night, I decided to watch the video again. This time, I watched it on my phone, which does not have any of these comment-blocking browser extensions.

Because, of course, I could not resist doing so, I swiped down to read the comments, scrolled past the following comment, then slowly back up to it again.

A youtube comment from the performer: "ups... just discovered that old video here on youtube..nice times..almost forgot my little dance than... at least..still got the costume (and still new the lyrics by heart..)"

The comment was made only 7 months ago as of the date of this writing. Had I found the video before now, during one of my previous fruitless search sessions, I wouldn’t have seen it.

Via the commenter’s username, I looked them up, and from a large photo portrait featured the website of their Berlin-based relationship coaching practice(!), I confirmed that it was the same person, 20-odd years later, though not so futuristically-garbed or silver-faced. They looked happy and healthy.

What began as a strange artifact of cultural runoff, and became an inane personal obsession (one I was finally able to satisfy), has yet further transcended for me into an oddly-meaningful human connection across time and space, a silly statement on time, ageing, and memory.

I’d lost something, and when I found it again, it ended up being even more than I’d dared hope for. Something really, really absurd.

“Buy-in as Infrastructure”


“How often do you get to gather a group of faculty and other academic stakeholders from across your institution in one room and have them talk to each other about how they teach and what they need to serve their students well?”

From Michael Feldstein’s 
Toward Operational Excellence at Student Success: California Community Colleges

Let’s assume that creating positive, sustained, and effective change at a university level involves:

  1. Getting the right people, in the right place, at the right time, to establish shared goals.
  2. Collectively communicating those goals and carrying them out over time. 

The reason this is so hard is that every single part of that process is difficult, particularly within the existing patterns of work and life for busy, productive faculty, students, and staff at a modern university. 

“Buy-in” is a holy grail, an idealized state, though sometimes this descends into notions of “incentives,” “carrot and stick,” or “removing obstacles.”

What if, as Michael Feldstein writes in the quoted article above, buy-in could be culturally re-framed not as knocking obstacles aside, but as building infrastructure?

For an example of one approach to “buy-in is infrastructure” look to  this 2017 white paper out of Georgetown University, Lessons from a Change Process. In this paper, Catherine Armour and Randy Bass talk about “the viability of experimental and creative curricular work in a culture designed for deliberative shared governance and slow change.”

“We developed strong stakeholder involvement as part of our iterative design process—one that frequently included associate deans, the registrar, compliance officers, and financial aid representatives—early in each project’s development. Likewise, we communicated well and regularly with our board, alumni, and donors.”

Even then, sustaining and maintaining that infrastructure sometimes fell by the wayside, much as it does with actual civic infrastructure:

“We do not give ourselves as good a grade on continuous communications with faculty. Early on there were many open invitations and speaker events, and a drumbeat of updates. As the work became more intense and demanding, we focused inward, and neglected to continue to reach back out to this important community. We learned it is absolutely critical to spiral communications outward, and to be as inclusive and open as possible, especially as the work takes specific shape within a core group.”

This is hard to do! Even starting from a firm, stable footing only goes so far without monitoring, maintenance, and reaffirmation. None of those concepts are alien to the work of the university, but they do require a reshaping to day-to-day priorities.