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Experience 2: (Insert Surprised iPhone Emoji Here)

// Posted by on 09/22/2014 (1:45 PM)

When our “Top Secret” group decided to develop a simulation for the class experience we were to lead last Wednesday, I was excited that we would be assigning characters to each individual student, and thrilled that we would be making… Read more


When our “Top Secret” group decided to develop a simulation for the class experience we were to lead last Wednesday, I was excited that we would be assigning characters to each individual student, and thrilled that we would be making our experience into a kind of game for everyone in class to play.

We sat in the group meeting and I continued to internally brainstorm how we would have rounds for the experience, how we could potentially eliminate players and how we could have chosen a “winner” to be made out of one of the many players in our game of cyber security versus cyber freedom.

Obviously the initial ideas I had did not come to fruition; this was for various reasons and I don’t intent to suggest that there was conflict in our group. It just worked out that our experience remained more of a simulation within the framework of the eternal debate between cyber security and cyber freedom. Students still adopted the role of their character and were able to represent that character’s individual interests in the simulation, but it was more of a discussion focused on critical thinking and decision making than a lighthearted game between some very real players in the world of cyber security.

Of course, when the experience was over, I was very pleased with the results of our group’s idea and planning. I was particularly comforted because I entered the experience very nervous for how it might go, and concerned that this wasn’t something I could entirely predict. When you’re counting on others to come and be prepared for something you’ve planned, you’re relying a lot on their preparation for a successful execution, and that made me nervous. Fortunately, as I said, I left the classroom thinking that things went well and was happy that we designed the experience the way we did.

Then I ran into a fellow Digital America classmate, and everything changed. I joked lightheartedly, asking her how she thought the experience went and congratulating her on having done a good job and having a great costume. She said that she thought it went great and she was thankful I was there to add some “personality and charisma” to the experience.

I was pretty shocked when she said this. It wasn’t necessarily a negative or defensive reaction, but it did surprise me that this is how she described my role in the discussion. (No offense Emily!) Then I realized that she was right—I laughed a lot, and especially when I was speaking in character as Silicon Valley, I adopted a tone of silliness and exaggerated my voice. I used the example of an executive’s obsession with his BMW, which is probably a fairly accurate stereotype, but is more mocking of my character than it truly represents Silicon Valley executives’ priorities and business decisions.

Afterword, I was thankful that I had this encounter with my peer and had the opportunity to reflect further on my role in the experience. Again, I had never considered myself as having played the role she was describing, and yet at the same time I could see myself doing it. Was it in the name of avoiding awkwardness or conflict? Was I just trying to keep it light and fun? Was this a reflection of my initial idea to make the experience into a game? Truth be told, I’m not sure why I adopted a sort of “class clown” role, or why I felt the need to laugh at Damian (In the nicest and friendliest way possible, of course!) when he went on rants about the political interests of his character, the government of Hong Kong, and tried to sound entirely diplomatic in “negotiating” with whistleblowers like Snowden and other countries like the U.S. and Russia.

More questions remained in my head: What if it had been more serious, and we as a group (myself especially) had tried to make the tone more realistic? Would it have been even less awkward that way? How would it have worked if the experience was set up as more of a game? Would my jokes and lighthearted tone have been more or less appropriate?

Of course, I still can’t answer my nagging questions, and yet overall I’m happy with how the experience turned out and how the class was able to engage our discussion. I think one of the biggest takeaways from this that I have as one of the organizers, as I wrote in my evaluation email to Dr. Rosatelli, was that it’s difficult to control the outcome of an experience like this. And even though I wish I had spent less time stressing about the success of the project before it happened, it’s true that as the leader it’s hard to anticipate how the plan is going to play out. In this case, I failed to predict or control how seriously people (even myself!) were going to take the simulation. But truth be told, I see that as part of the beauty of the creative process and of dynamic class assignments like these experiences: it can seem that they’re very meticulously planned and detailed, but the actual results and situations can still surprise you.

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