Potter Avoids Muggles, Tamara’s Research Endeavors, Brown Bag

Potter Avoids Muggles: A Geocacher’s Life for Me

“I love geocaching,” read the stickers plastered to the vehicles shuttling swarms of boy scouts across the IU campus. Oblivious to the term, Professor Rob Potter dismissed it as some “dorky scout thing,” before forgetting about it completely.  In only a few short weeks, he would be on sabbatical in Perth, Australia, away from IU, away from his intensive freshmen seminar, and away from all those invading boy scouts.  His wife was already over there.

Before she left, they had talked about purchasing a GPS in order to navigate the land down under, but they decided to wait and buy one when they arrived. That was before Potter got a message from his wife. “Electronics in Australia are too expensive. Buy a GPS before coming over.” With little knowledge about GPS devices, and little time, Potter took to Twitter to ask for recommendations. Based on those responses, he bought one, and in a moment of realization (considering he believed Twitter to be rather worthless), acknowledged Twitter’s usefulness and thanked those who had provided their recommendations. Then it happened. Mary Beth Oliver from Penn State left him a reply.  “Rob, congratulations on figuring out which GPS to buy. You seem like someone who would really dig Geocaching.  Australia is really into it. Check it out.” Geocaching, the same dorky activity advocated by those pesky boy scouts was now being advocated by a colleague. After a little bit of internet research, Potter was in. “It was just geeky enough for me to try.”

Geocaching, in essence, is a high-tech treasure hunt. Armed with a gps unit geocachers plug in coordinates where a cache is hidden and then go find it. The cache, a container varying in size and very often cleverly hidden, normally contains a few items, and a log of all those who have found it. When a cache is found the person that finds it signs the log, takes one item out of the cache, and replaces it with an item of his own. In some cases the items are trackable. By entering a tracking code found somewhere on the item online, the geocacher can find out where an item has been and how long it has been in circulation.

Due to the public nature of geocaching, certain rules must be followed. Caches can only be hidden in public places and in private places with the landowners’ consent, they cannot be buried, and they cannot deface, or cause the searcher to deface the landscape. However, geocaching is very much an underground/alternate reality activity. Geocachers often refer to those not geocaching as muggles, and geocachers must complete their activity without tipping off the muggles as to what they are doing.  While the designation adds a stealthy element to the game, the reasons for it are more pragmatic. People who find a cache and don’t know what it is may take it, steal it, throw it away, or move it, making the activity impossible for future geocachers.

While much of the work of geocaching is performed outdoors, the communal aspect of geocaching is performed online at the geocaching hub, geocaching.com. On this site, geocachers can create a digital log of the caches they have found, participate in forums, track items found in caches,  find the coordinates of new caches, and submit new caches for geocachers to find. Premium members of the site gain access to even more features such as statistics, favorite ratings, and real time updates on new caches.

Geocaching is more than just a creative way to kill time. In the case of Rob Potter, geocaching provided a kind of crowd-sourced tourist guide to Australia. “The draw for me initially was very much based on Australia. I’m going to a place that I don’t know, where outdoor recreation is big, and I don’t know where to take my family. So it was a way of saying ‘ok Australians, tell me where is cool.’” The nature of geocaching requires geocachers to get down and dirty with, well, nature. Because caches are not meant to be found by those not looking for them, the geocachers must explore the landscape, often painstakingly so, in order to find the cache. As such, geocaching’s experiential yield is much higher than that of a guided walking tour. The subtleties of the landscape, from floral arrangements, to architectural refinements, to native flora all potentially contribute to finding a cache, but those whose view stretches wider than that of the prize are often rewarded with exposure to the wonders, both nuanced and grand, of local environments.

Now that Potter is back in Bloomington, geocaching has taken a backseat to the complexities of life. “I don’t have time to do it very much, now that my wife and kids have stuff to do on the weekends, and our weekends aren’t empty anymore, very rarely will I force myself to do a geocache. Now it’s a must schedule.” However, geocaching opens up new possibilities at conferences. Recently Potter attended a conference in Boston and took some time to log a cache. On the south side of Boston Potter found a nano-sized cache with a tiny, tightly rolled up log inside attached to the backside of a handrail ornament. Not a bad way to explore the city.

Caches are hidden everywhere (there are a number of them hidden all over campus, and the surrounding Bloomington area) and finding them is often fun and challenging. For those like Potter though, geocaching is more than fun and games, it open up new possibilities for discovering local environments.

For more on Rob Potters geocaching experiences in Australia, check out his post on geocaching on his blog here.

Tamara Kharroub Studies Effects of Arab Television

PhD student Tamara Kharroub has embarked on an interesting research path.  Her interests involve the effects of the transnational Arab television industry.  The industry has a market of 300 million viewers across two dozen countries that share a common language, but vary in their cultural, religious, and ethnic identities as well as their social, political, economic, and historical contexts.  The content of programs is shaped by a complex interplay of two factors.  On the one hand, Saudi viewers are considered commercially the most desirable, and consequently, content is produced with their conservative tastes in mind.  On the other hand, there is a growing trend towards the creation of a new regional television identity that appeals to viewers across various Arab countries, such as historic genres.

Tamara first got interested in this line of research as a result of her work experience and passion about issues related to social justice.  She is particularly interested in media portrayals of women and minority groups and their effects on viewers.  Arab television is one of the most ubiquitous forms of media in the region, with 538 transnational Arab television channels available free via satellite.  However, the effects of this industry have not been studied quantitatively or transnationally.

Tamara has used coursework in the department to develop a cohesive literature review of theories relevant for this research. Over the summer Tamara completed a quantitative content analysis of serial drama shows, containing a sample of programs from various countries and subgenres.  Currently, she is developing a study that examines viewers’ social identification with diverse television characters.  This is to be followed with studies exploring the formation of identities and beliefs.  Tamara will eventually look into other genres of content and mediating factors.  By all accounts, this looks to be a truly promising line of research.

Brown Bag

This week’s brown bag provided quite a history lesson about how the relationship between Journalism and Telecommunications at Indiana University-Bloomington evolved over the years.  It featured a panel of current and former faculty to discuss history, research programs, and directions for the future.  From Journalism, former Dean Trevor Brown and Professor Owen Johnson provided an overview of their past experiences.  From Telecommunications, Professors Ron Osgood and Herb Terry shared their stories from over the years.  Professors David Weaver of Journalism and Walt Gantz of Telecommunications  served as moderators of the forum.

One interesting story to come out of the session involved the identity of Telecommunications, which was earlier called Department of Radio and Television, and Journalism, which was earlier a department in the College of Arts and Sciences. When both departments were in the College, before Journalism became its own school, courses from Journalism, Radio and Television, Home Economics, and Social Work were not counted towards general education distribution requirements.  They were deemed to be skills courses.  Since then, we have seen the Department of Telecommunications and the School of Journalism become two driving academic forces on the Bloomington campus.

This storytelling session uncovered some of the mysterious aspects of the relationship between Journalism and Telecommunications.  Over the years Telecommunications and Journalism have both collaborated and competed at times.  Once Journalism left the College and became a school of its own, the patterns of interaction between Journalism and Telecommunications changed.  Now looking to the future, all on the panel were in agreement that for the relationship between the programs to strengthened, a new, shared building must be constructed, providing facilities and opportunities for open discussion and collaboration among faculty and students.  As media production and research continue to constitute a major part of IUB’s identity, these issues and concerns are ever present and open for debate.


Mike Lang:  Potter Avoids Muggles

Nicky Lewis:  Tamara Kharroub Studies Effects of Arab Television, Brown Bag

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