Amanda Koster

thoughts and experiences of an international documentarian

Archive for the ‘presentations’ Category

‘The Social Network’ and the imitation American Dream

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Just flew back from the east coast after 10 days doing the holidays with dear friends and family, which was awesome. Watched ‘The Social Network‘ on the plane. Fascinating movie. Exciting glimpse into the ivy league start-up success Mark Zuckerburg, founder of Facebook… or sort of founder… and about the creation of the company.  The 21C maverick rock star, kind of a today version of  ‘Less Than Zero’ meets start-up, fast and lonely lifestyle riddled with a destructive desire for power, wealth, sex, recognition, greed, stuff like that, all wrapped up into a truly ‘cool idea.’ I liked how ‘real’ and current it felt especially since Facebook is on the tip of our tongues. After the whole thing the friends all sue each other, relationships are shattered, billions are made and Mark is still lonely, hitting refresh over and over impatiently (neurotically?) hoping a woman will friend him.

I’ve dated this guy (s). No not Mark Zuckerburg, but that start-up entrepreneur guy, that guy married to his work, starving for recognition, wanting to please his dad, desperately needing to impress his x-girlfriend or x-wife (or eeeww- daughter), needing a few more million so THEN he can start his life… on and on. Hamster wheel. I didn’t totally get this from Mark, he seemed to be innocently obsessed with Facebook, pretending to be an as*hole though actually hiding and protecting that he is really a softie who just wants to be loved and accepted. But I have met this guy before and foolishly thought, at times, that we were in a relationship. I unapologetically loved them cuz that’s just what I do, clearly to a fault.

With Mark’s character in the movie and with the men I knew, each situation breaks my heart. It breaks my heart when love shows up and then is eventually extinguished by fear, addiction to money, power, slave to anything other than gratitude for the amazing gift of love itself. It truly breaks my heart.

Unfortunately I think this beast is in us all. It is inescapable, it is the imitation American Dream. Not what our forefathers fought for, not what Martin Luther King dreamt of, it’s this get rich before you’re 40 or 30 or whatever pick a decade, before you’re ‘someone.’ .. lie that enslaves so many of us. Before  _______________ can start in your life. Fill in blank. Complete with the messed up hair, clad in North Face outerwear and ‘f*ck-you’ flip flops…  Same as Mark. And with each of these boyfriends I have either watched them or dealt with remnants of them falling apart chasing that dream, many ending up with plastic love.

One had a mental breakdown + became an alcoholic (ironically one of his later x-wives contacted me via Facebook to tell me all about their terrible marriage), another is so emotionally locked down after his wife had an affair and the marriage fell apart while chasing the dream he claims he may never warm up again (and told me that persuing a long distance relationship with me still wouldn’t exceed his annual golf budget), another after pursuing me for years just couldn’t keep it in his pants after the divorce where his work ripped the marriage apart, another here on a very long visa (or American ‘marriage/divorce’) long enough to attend an ivy league school, make a ton of money or at least have us think so, ride out the American cowboy lifestyle boots and all (except after a hike the 1st thing he’d do was look at himself in the rear view mirror- not too cowboy) until he cashed in/checked out when his Indian parents roped him back to India for an arranged marriage.  Most likely all part of a plan that he ooops, forgot to tell me. But hey, thanks a lot for leaving me your … microwave… ?

Each situation break my heart. Separate from these men it is the infectious, cold fear that breaks my heart. That fear of being truthful, loving and graceful with each other. Instead we are dismissive, unavailable, we lie, avoid, quit. This is why my heart aches and is ultimately the driving force behind my ferocious hunger for truth and connection within my personal life, through my work, it has become my mission in life.

[breather]

Anyway. It was interesting to re-live the ups and downs of another start-up entrepreneur dude… this time on a screen which was much easier to deal with.  Besides addressing that the standard chasing-the-dream may include sex drugs and rock and roll, that seemingly priceless-pat-on-the-back from ‘ol dad and past women, covering how greed kills friendships, showcasing the genius geek as the new maverick rock star… besides all that the movie addressed something else that I have been thinking about for a while. Social media and where does it leave us.

In the last several years millions of us dived head fist into a cesspool of umpteen social media sites, landing for now on Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, used to be Freindster, Myspace and a few others we chuckle about now. When Facebook came I started to see something, along with speaking at social media conferences on behalf of SalaamGarage.  Facebook in particular, and this is not an original thought, clearly taps into that insatiable, narcissistic rock star we idolize, infecting and devouring our precious minutes. That need to be recognized, important, loved, the hope that someone out there is really listening, that someone actually cares and is loosely a part of our lives.  And that in the end, no matter how many ‘friends’ our profile says we have, this does not by any means substitute a real live friend in person, or the friends we truly have, real friends, that we can if we are lucky count on two hands. And further, Facebook may actually be keeping us from being with those friends (not to mention a growing deficit in productivity), because instead of just calling them and committing to facetime (fyi: the url is already taken), we are obsessed with everyone else’s lives, making new friends, suggesting friends, racking up friends, being friended, etc. Ironically not really being a friend. And it is a huge time suck. What did we do with that time before it took over? Facebook has definitely helped me to keep in touch with and locate old friends, build a business, accomplish heaps of great things. But I still consider myself blessed to be able to count my true friends on two hands, roughly 7-9 fingers. No matter what my profile says no more fingers have been spoken for since accepting Facebook into my life.

Facebook also taps into the dark ugly beast of loneliness. How may of us flip though profile after profile, looking at one bad party picture after the next. What are we looking for? Why are we doing this?  We are lonely. We want to ‘be there’, we want to ‘know them’, we wish we were with them right now, anywhere but living our own real-time lives. We don’t call. Instead, we comment.

The movie ends brilliantly. Mark briefly connects with a woman versus his typical M.O. of ignoring her or dropping obnoxious, condescending remarks. Once she leaves the room he immediately looks up her Facebook profile, goes to ‘friend her’, pauses at his own creation and then does it. Then he sits there, in a super classy boardroom, in his version of a dress up suit (no Northface) all alone. After loosing his best friend, millions of dollars… here is the worlds youngest billionaire sitting there hitting refresh to see, I am guessing, if she accepted his friendship request.

Brilliant.

Click, click, click. Hooray for such a dark, human ending that begs at least one question: what was it worth?

I often wonder what it must feel like to be in the midst of such success, look over  your shoulder and see a trail of broken hearts.

Truth is, we have all been in both positions: the breaker and the broken.

It reminds me of what I told each of those boyfriends. Even some male friends in my life now, all have spent some precious face time trying to convince me (or themselves) that chasing the dream is worth it, don’t I understand? That “Once I get __________________ then I can _____________________”, and my trying to convince them (or myself) that is all a farce. Life is NOW. It is arrogant to think everything will go our way. There is no guarantee that all of this will fall into place they way we want it to. We just don’t have that much control. I watched each of them charge into completely unforeseen circumstances: a mental breakdown, booze, a divorce, affairs, major health issues, abusive x-wife who hits their daughter, another suicidal daughter, etc. This is not exclusive to .com. Their fields ranged from bio-tech, law, oil and natural gas to yes (surprise surprise: the Indian), a software startup. All amazing teachers though none of them factored life, life-ing into their get-rich American Dream rock star equation. Not one and yet they all ended up facing something huge that money couldn’t buy.  Most of their wives cheated on them and it broke them. The last man in my life… I pleaded… ‘Do not end up like these guys, don’t wait for your bank account to reach $X so that you can finally love loving. You have no idea what will happen.’ I had tears in my eyes because I don’t think he was listening.

A month later his dad was diagnosed with a very very serious brain tumor.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…”

Go see the movie.

Written by amandakoster

January 4, 2011 at 6:16 am

Thinking about TEDx

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I finally submitted my TEDx title.

“In Steve Biko’s Backyard”

When I returned from South Africa Kathy Gill and I finally had made time to meet. We’d been trying since we met after my presentation at Gnomedex in 2008.

“Tell me about South Africa!” Her eyes were completely lit up over a latte.

I was quiet. Reminded me of when Becky asked me the same thing.  It took awhile because it was, as most of my trips, pretty darn intense. I need to process through writing, speaking, exhibition in order to causally chat about anything. “You know Kathy, I  can now.”

Post Apartheid South Africa really had my head spinning. I went to South Africa December of 2009 to work on a pilot of “African Women of Empowerment.” (under construction) We were to photograph, interview and document the life and work of Ms. Bandi Biko, 1 of 20 amazing African women. Bandi is an amazing woman on her own. Through her I witnessed patience, listening, community and soft leadership on a whole new level. Through her I met more amazing women ranging from Nommalindi and Mamphela Ramphele, both absolute genius human beings contributing at full capacity.

However one cannot ignore the last name, Biko. Bandi Biko is the sister of Stephen Bantu Biko. (Stephen) Biko has been one of my top 5 heros since my brother Evan told me about him in the mid 80s.  Evan wrote his senior high school paper on the apartheid regime in South Africa and since then Africa has fascinated me remaining very near to my heart. I was entranced by what my brother had discovered and then shared with me. He was obsessed and subsequently we all were. Then came Live Aid, then U2, Bono, Sebastio Selgado, etc. Case closed, Africa was officially on my radar.

Then came the movie Cry Freedom and the song ‘Biko’and I broke down. They left me speechless, in a blind range, drenched in tears, disgusted, obsessed… and they were also a window for me. For me this took storytelling to a whole new level.  I felt it was a paradigm shift that enabled Donald Woods to write the book and get the manuscript out of the country, to us all. I wept, felt totally insignificant and then in a puddle on the floor, strangely empowered. What can I do? A lot.

After about decade and a half later I resurface as a professional storyteller, building countess projects; some very successful, some complete duds, I find myself on a skype call with Bandi Biko. We are planning the project, scheduling  this and that … then I drop the bomb: “I want you to take us to where you’re from.”  The call got real quiet. You can see the audio levels of each caller on Skype and they all went down to zero. I’ve written about this already: https://amandakoster.wordpress.com/2009/11/05/stay-in-your-dreams-dreams-can-not-hurt-us/

Fast forward to South Africa 12/09, I squat in the backyard of Bantu Stephen Bikos backyard in the Ginsberg Township of King Williams Town, recording audio of the family and friends preparing for a Xhosa wedding. I am utterly silent a: because when you record audio you have to be and b: in a trance. I am hearing the scraping sheep heads, slapping of ‘rostiles’ (bread), I hear laughter, Xhosa language, singing, slurping of beer, feet dragging, cell phones ringing, cars honking…. can you hear it?

Why am I in a trance? I’ve been in these situations before, out of my element, a new unfamiliar culture, etc. This is WAY different. This is Steve Bkios backyard, his family, his son getting married tomorrow. This is Steve Bikos Backyard.

And before me I am watching joy, pure, simple joy. A family and friends getting ready for the wedding of a beloved family member. I am watching culture, tradition, laughter, happiness.  I am watching what every human desires,  Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in action, a sence of belonging, love, culture, safety, peace.

So again, why am I in a trance? I’ve seen this before as well. I am in a trance because something swept over me like a slow, heavy, mighty, sand storm. It was because of exactly WHERE I was sitting.

“How can any of this be wrong, bad, subhuman?” “How can ANYONE call this less than?” “How?”

Well apartheid did. This was’ non-white’ to apartheid and therefore not equal. I searched everyone where in my soul, my entire hard dive in external and external and there was no where, no thing, no place that told me this was anything other than fantastically human. And that is where I continue to stand.

“Can you say that in 18 min?” Kathy asked.

“Yes I can… and there’s more.”

Written by amandakoster

March 29, 2010 at 6:31 pm

why ignite kicked my butt + why i want more

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‘are you nervous’ becky asked me. ‘you can’t be, you do this shit all the time’ nick laughed and poked more spaghetti into a gumdrop. i was quiet. this felt different.

***

what went thru my mind last night on stage:

“crap! my slides are screwed up! and crap! i just spent way too many seconds thinking about how my slides are screwed up! crap, while i was thinking about how my slides were screwed up, they keep advancing anyway… wtf… i better quit this thinking crap….!”

man, everyone ought to try it. what i love about ignite is pure passion. and i love pure passion. there is a rawness to the event. the venue was cold, sticky, dusty and i was nervous. yes, pretty darn nervous. i could hear it in my breathing.

why was i nervous? i speak all the time? huh?

few things: 5 minutes is a flash in the pan + eternity, i could not see the audience… seriously: the audience was pitch black and it felt like no one was out there, like speaking to a black hole… (is anyone friggen’ out there?)  the slides auto-advanced every (kind of) 15 seconds, my slides were screwed up (uh- they worked on my computer/s), i was in my home territory. i know the audience (even tho couldn’t see them). i have a crush on a few of the guys in the audience (they have no idea), i am used to talking to hundreds of strangers most of who i will never see again. this crowd knows me, i play with them, and they are ready and willing to give feedback (thank you kathy gill and brian dorsey… i truly loved that!)

and why was that awesome? because being nervous, feeling harmless fear is wonderful thing. it means i was challenged verses being on auto pilot. i felt like i was ‘just starting out’ again last night at ignite. i was out of my comfort zone on home base (seattle). oddly cool. delicious.

what an experience. to sit amongst the other speakers, feed off their nerves, passionate energy. the talks ranged from:  ’huh?’, ‘yer kidding’, ‘i don’t get it’ to ‘i really have no idea’, to ‘wow’, to ‘that’s hilarious’ to, ‘are you serious’ to…. wtf.

i loved them all. all the speakers, the energy, brady so diligently summoning us right before we spoke, the ignite team managing what someone called a ‘mac orgy.’ all of it. i simply love ignite. in some odd way it was a love-fest. i knew the people, many of them have seen + helped salaamgarage (and me) grow from where it was to where it is now, it’s a community that immediately embraced an outsider like me: a photojournalist and writer without an iphone (gnomedex) who gives a shit.

who are these people, where did they come from? how is it there is a community of people who are  willing to  listen to god knows what on a tuesday night, cheer you on, and forgive your screwed up slides? imagine.

ahhh. for me ignite is like a platform and a lasso for reckless creativity and passion. a little welcome love mat with subliminal messages that say ‘i love you, say what you gotta say, deal with the screwed up slides and make room for the next guy. and i still love you.’ and man, was i nervous up there and man, would i do it again in a heartbeat. it would be an honor.

thank you ignite. thank you for doing what you do and for opening your arms wide to anyone who says ‘this is what a geek looks like, give me 5 min. let me do my thing.’

Written by amandakoster

March 5, 2010 at 11:20 pm

Passion to tell a story is the jet fuel behind citizen journalism.

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“drocolate” of in-this-economy.com wanted to ask me (Amanda Koster) a few ?s about sxsw. Thought I’d share:

1. Why should I attend your core conversation at SXSW?

One example. Compare the velocity of media and societies responce of Katrina vs. Haiti.

listen to this:
http://salaamgarage.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/AmandaKoster_podcast_sxsw2010.mp3

Let’s see how far can we take this.

2. What makes you the right person to be conducting this convo?

I’m an outsider. I’m not from the tech arena. When I presented at Gnomedex in 2008, I did not have an iPhone, Twitter account nor did Facebook make much sense to me. I thought FB was innovative online dating. Since then I have been able to harness storytelling, social media and passion all for social change. If can d that, anyone can.

The passion to tell a story is the jet fuel behind citizen journalism. And it has been passion, not assignments, that got me here right now. I’ve been working as a photojournalist, writer, author for about 15 years though it has been my personal projects, again not assignments, that propelled my career and life beyond where I ever thought it could go.

Citizen journalism is more powerful than it could have ever been imagined and this is growing. The pendulum is swinging far to the left, and is still swinging.

Because I believe in these things makes me the perfect person (and Amanda Rose of Twestival) to lead this conversation.

3. What advice would you give to aspiring citizen journalists (other than attending your convo at SXSW, of course)?

Your personal stories and perspectives are more valuable than ever. Make GOOD content and get it out to a relevant audience. And, there’s more to it than that:

Have a plan. SalaamGarage builds relationships/projects/plans with NGOs farin advance. We do not advocate what I call ‘drive-by-shootings’  (just showing up, shooting photos, then jet).

Be authentic. We want intimacy. I think people are tired of the slick, heavily produced story. We see through it. With the wildfire of social media and intentionally constructed social communities, impersonal, glossy stories delivered by a generic, safe personality is rapidly loosing ground.

Be relevant. Not worth telling a story about t-shirts to a dog trainer. Even if it’s the most compelling t-shirt story ever. Be relevant and focused.
Know your audience. Tell them a story 1) you care about and 2)they want to hear.

Care. There are ‘hot’ stories to tell, but you outta care about it. I travel all over the world all the time with SalaamGarage and as an free-lance journalist. There are stories that resonate with me, and other that just don’t. The advantage of being a citizen journalist is that you get to choose your story, verses being assigned something that is not dear to you.

DO SOMETHING with it. Share. Everyone is sitting on a novel, but if a tree falls in the woods….. I’ll leave it at that.

I am very passionate about this and have a lot more (not big on advice) ideas around this topic, though, this is the topic of our conversation so come join the conversation.

4. Where is your dream location to take a citizen journalism project? Antarctica? Atlantis? Detroit? Where?’

The White House.

And if you want to be known as anything other than “Amanda Koster” please denote that as well.
?
Amanda Koster
@salaamgarage
amanda@salaamgarage.com
is that what you mean?
Or… Amanda Koster: professional storyteller, founder of SalaamGarage


Written by amandakoster

February 25, 2010 at 5:28 pm

wading thru images

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whoa. i made 7808 images in vietnam. man-o-man. digital.

if these were film days it would have been half as many. easily. we paid (differently) for each click back then. hard cash. now we pay with time. this is photography, the other side.

the beauty of digital is that i get to re-live my trip several times, as editing is a multiple-session (2-4ish hours at a time) process. with help: red wine, jetlag and pandora. this is good. reliving the experience.

had dinner with my friend becky tonight. we sat down and she asked me, ‘tell me about vietnam.’ i smiled.

you see, when we were skiing 3ish weeks ago i had just returned from south africa and she asked, ‘tell me about south africa.’ i looked at her, paused and said, ‘i can’t.’ like any really good friend she understood, nodded and we skied on.

this time i could tell her about vietnam. why? because yesterday, when i got home i could see the top of this specific mountain. i saw  a presentation and decided to submit a presentation to ignite seattle about my trip to vietnam (it helps that brady forrest -who kicks ass-  curator of ignite and web 2.0 punched me in the ribs at the last ignite and said ‘i wanna see you up there’ … he gets it). i may or may not be accepted, though i now have a goal, a presentation, a project where i can share my trip with images. this is how i express. whew.

i told becky about my presentation idea and she got it with very few words. ‘artists need to create, they need to express their experiences thru their medium. it’s how they work through life.’

bulls eye. so good to have friends, lovers, partners, etc., who understand us, isn’t it? in fact, it’s vital (for me).

luckily, i was asked to talk about my south africa experience at TEDx. thank god, as this will help… with that. so i am a happy, busy woman. this is where i belong, this is how i contribute.

so, wading through these images has been pretty emotional for me. it always is. i have to carve out time to do it, right away, after any project. i have a few upcoming interviews and presentations that will help. believe it or not, these SalaamGarage presentations (upcoming TEDx talk: 4/16, SxSW: 3/13, a few schools and buzz bruggemans ‘tertulia’ (private event) on 3/9 in seattle) help a lot. For me it is a way to process, create, share, EXPRESS and complete. guess this is why i used to do photo exhibitions. however, life is moving pretty fast right now for me…  so public speaking is my new exhibition. my book (and next one) helps a lot as well. ah. just figured that out as i write right now. i am grateful for every opportunity to present my experiences, as it helps me to process what i just saw.

and man, what i just saw was potent.

stay tuned.

Written by amandakoster

January 27, 2010 at 7:18 am

please watch this!

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i could watch this every day and still cry. amazing.

Written by amandakoster

November 9, 2009 at 5:00 am