Free Online Video Can Change Lives, Even a World Away

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One girl, whose two younger sisters are also at the orphanage, is now in college studying marketing. She uses Facebook to post day-in-the- life videos around the orphanage. Last year, I spent a few hours in the welcome coolness of twilight, balancing an ancient laptop on one knee and a small point-and-shoot camera on the other, showing her how to use an old version of Adobe Premiere Elements to edit the limited-quality 640x480 15-frame-per-second movie recordings she eked out from the somewhat antiquated camera.

This year, I hear she wants to advance her skills, so I suspect we’ll talk about how to shoot HD-quality video in a widescreen format on an inexpensive Flip camera or even a DSLR—if a potential donation materializes—as well as how to minimize the risks of having the donated camera stolen when she’s shooting video in areas rife with drug-war violence.

Another orphan, who is almost 21 years old and acts as the unofficial boys’ dorm supervisor, heard the Premiere Elements conversation and asked about Dreamweaver to make a website for the orphanage. So we walked through the pre-Creative Suite version of Dreamweaver he has on his laptop—a laptop that has to stay plugged in due to his battery dying long ago (replacing a laptop battery for an old laptop is almost an impossible proposition in Mexico).

Muddling through the old Dreamweaver, I remembered my laptop had Creative Suite 5—I admit I’ve succumbed to taking along technology now, as it’s apparent it provides motivation when used to teach. We walked through possibilities of what the orphanage website could contain if someone donated a version of that software, as well as a new laptop capable of using Creative Suite. I hear he’s now hoping to go to college to get a degree in computer science.

I’m looking forward to the 2011 trip, even as drug violence grows and severely curtails the tourism dollars at the high-priced and insular resorts a few miles—and worlds away—from working-class Caleta.

As Acapulco struggles to move beyond tourism as a primary source of revenue and Caletans face the potential of losing their maid and waiter jobs due to a dwindling American tourism base, the question in my mind is whether the skills provided by the technologies we work with every day will make a true social impact on the region.

Another few hours of lessons on the new version of Creative Suite, perhaps using the CS5.5 version of Adobe Media Encoder, may not seem a radical way to impact the social environment. Yet, by spending this time to explain how to generate content that can be played on mobile devices—the staple of Mexican online media consumption—it may open up additional job opportunities or even fuel a grass-roots effort to weed out drug violence through citizen journalism.

So what’s the point of these examples? Is it meant for personal gratitude or as an ode to the benefits of technology?

No. The point is to remind us that what we do touches lives.

From a technology advancement standpoint, I share these observations as a way to open dialogue around group video sharing and group consumption, something that we in the U.S.—with our personal media consumption devices and three TVs per household—are often oblivious to.

I also hope that these insights open up the conversation around intentional obfuscation of social media posts, such as blocking out citizen journalists’ account details when they report on events in violence-plagued areas such as the Middle East or the Mexican drug war zones.

Even if those two areas don’t take hold and yield technology advances, I do hope that we remember why it’s so important to set aside a portion of online video sites—which are trending toward pay-per-view models—for free video postings.

Even though free online video hosting isn’t necessarily a revenue generator, we need to remember that one of the initial intents of streaming was to allow for the very social impact we’re now seeing 15 years later.

Whether it’s to watch a far-away game or a breaking news event or just to upload video clips to connect family and friends, we create tools that transmit hope, motivation, and freedom alongside the bits. That’s worth getting excited about. 

This article was first published in the August/September 2011 issue of Streaming Media magazine under the title "Streaming for Free(dom)."

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