If the Web is the City, Are Apps the Gated Suburbs?

I’ve recently read, with interest, a book by Virginia Heffernan entitled Magic and Loss: The Internet As Art, and it seems to mesh quite nicely with some of the exploration that had been done in the Networked Narratives experiment. As the title suggests, Heffernan proposes that we view the Internet itself as a huge canvas of realistic art, and then she dives into elements like design, text, images and more to explore these ideas through a networked lens.

In the chapter on Design, she notes that because the Web is both a commercial space and a collaborative space, it has become a messy sprawl of links, images, advertisements, and more. As a result, the experience of many users is far from ideal.

“The Web is haphazardly planned. Its public spaces are mobbed, and urban decay abounds in broken links, ghost town sites, and abandoned projects. Malware and spam have turned living conditions in many quarters unsafe and unsanitary. Bullies, hucksters and trolls roam the streets. An entrenched population of rowdy, polyglot rabble dominates major sites.” — Magic and Loss, page 45

Heffernan then goes on to develop the metaphorical supposition that this messy reality of the Internet gave rise to the closed and contained experience of Apps, which pulled us away from the Internet and created a sort of Gated Community. She talks about this as the “online equivalent of white flight.”

“The parallels between what happened to Chicago, Detroit, and new York in the twentieth century and what happened to the Internet since the introduction of the (Apple) App Store are striking.” — Magic and Loss, page 45

Is this true? Does the metaphor hold?

I guess I had never really considered the connections but she raises some intriguing points. So, as we talked about the nature of “civic imagination” in Networked Narratives and built our own “Arganee World,” we also considered what we meant by public spaces. A further point of discussion might have been how to “design elements” can play a larger role in the permanence of online spaces, and is connected directly to how much a user invests in the experience.

I guess one of the larger questions remains: What do we give up when we move into any gated community? What do we trade for our security? There is a certain beauty in the chaotic mess of the Internet — the expected discovery or connection — as well as some real ugliness — trolls and negative comments and attacks — and we cede some authority to app developers when we move into the app on our mobile device.

During one summer’s CLMOOC, we explored the idea of the Internet as Public Sphere. I wrote about it here and here and here.

Peace (in all spaces),
Kevin

 

Inventing a Mirrored Self in a Mirrored World

Pensato WebHome

As Networked Narratives hits the last lap this week (it has been an interesting exploration of digital narratives, with a graduate class at Kean University and a bunch of folks, like me, out here in the open), I want to reflect on a project that took hold in the last weeks of NetNarr.

Specifically, the invention of an alternative, or mirrored, Self in the NetNarr world called Arganee. When I say “World,” I want to be clear that we never did enter or create a real fictional world – like video games do, for example — but one of creative imagination, through an online portal into Arganee. (Essentially, a blog site with hidden doors and strange text features). We imagined it a world.

Our task was to create an alternative personality for the Arganee World, and after some thought, I created a character called Pensato Scherzando. Both words in the name are musical terms, which come together to create a definition of “imaginary music created, playfully.” Or something like that. Music. Play. Imagination.

We created a “home” in the Arganee World site, and created a Twitter account for our characters, and our health and growth was tracked based on interactions with others and how much writing and media making we ended up doing. I also created an alternative home elsewhere, as a collection point for media files.

Prompts encouraged collaboration (although I never really found a place to collaborate) and connection, and the overall theme of Civic Imagination and Social Activism (through World Building) emerged in the final days.

I found it intriguing to invent a persona out of the blue, and although I had some ideas for her, the voice of my Pensato emerged rather on its own.

Pensato became a collector of sounds, a remixer, whose Sound Collector Array is pointed to the Universe, seeking music and messages from somewhere “out there” in hopes of some larger understanding of the world(s). I tried to infuse her speech with metaphysical tics, always urging her readers to “listen” to the Universe.

Pensato is a collector, a poet, an interactor, an actor on the virtual stage, an optimist with hope that there are ways to mend the fabric of the world(s), if only we pause and listen and help each other.

I went about creating audio files from the Universe that Pensato could share out (I don’t know if anyone was really listening, though).

My aim was to find ways to create music and mystery, never quite giving away what Pensato was hearing. I wish I had had some master plan that would have ended in some symphonic conclusion but alas, I was winging it.

Her voice was my voice, but not yet my voice. She became herself, or at least some projection of what I hope we could all become if we just took the time to pay attention to each other. Listening requires attention.

We don’t listen nearly enough. Pensato did, or does. For a final assignment, she wrote me a letter. You can read it, too.

Peace (the Universe beckons),
Kevin

PS – Special thanks to professors Mia Zamora and Alan Levine for inviting us to join the graduate students on this adventure.

The Dilemma of Digital Texts: Who Owns What’s on the Web?


Close Open flickr photo by Kaarina Dillabough shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

An interesting, and quite challenging, discussion unfolded on Twitter this past weekend that centered on the concepts of crowd annotation tools and content that can found on the open web. Tools like Hypothesis (which I use pretty regularly) allow you to annotate most websites and blogs, creating a digital margin side area for discussion. The benefits seem obvious to me: crowd annotation provides a space for engaging group discussions about specific texts and ideas, generating new and expanded understanding of the digital pieces that we are reading.

But the provocative question was raised by a writer with a large audience (one whom I read regularly and support via Patreon): Who owns that original text (that content which is being annotated in the digital margins) and how much say do they have over whether the annotation should even happen in the first place? This particular writer used a web script to shut down Hypothesis and other annotation tools at their site.

It’s not a clear-cut issue, at least in my mind, and a long discussion on Twitter between nearly a dozen people (including the writer, for a bit, before they became angered by the discussion and asked to be left alone) revealed the complexities of ownership of content, and what relationship the writer has with their readers when posting something to the open web.

I find myself appreciating a writer’s desire to be able to control what is being done at their website or blog, and understand the sense of being concerned about what people are doing in the margins of an original text. Sure, comments potentially do open up that discussion, too, but let’s face it, the comment sections of many sites — particularly those run by women with strong opinions — often get overrun by those with nothing better to do in their petty lives than leave vicious comments and provocative, and perhaps profane, words.

The worry is that someone writing in the digital margins will be malicious, too, and the writer would have little (at this time, anyway) recourse. This is a legitimate concern, as any perusal of comments at YouTube will tell you. (Hypothesis is close to adding some new functions for flagging content and has been mulling over this very concept of writer’s rights). To be honest, I have yet to come across anything like that in Hypothesis.

Still, as much I can see the point of protest, another part of me (maybe the naive part of me, that voice that says look to potential and possibilities with digital writing) thinks, if you post something to the world via the Web, you can expect (hope/intend) that maybe someone will want to read what you wrote and maybe react to your words. Why else post your writing if not to engage a reader? (The argument against this viewpoint is that people do the writing, not technology, and writers should not be held hostage to the potential aspects of technology. Or something like that.)

I believe tools like Hypothesis give space for collaborative discussions, allowing the margins of the text to come alive with conversation and questions and associative linking that extends the thinking of the original writer. It empowers the reader, although perhaps that empowerment comes at the expense of the writer’s authority over their own words at that point.

Personally, I use Hypothesis to closely read online texts, to examine and think, and to bounce ideas off the text to others in the margins, who help push my own thinking forward or force me to re-examine my beliefs and ideas. Your text, if posted to the web, can become a source of inspiration for me, and others. That’s a real gift to your readers.

Clearly, not everyone thinks this way.

What do you think?

Who owns the text once a writer makes it public on the Web?

Peace (thinking),
Kevn

PS — There were other nuances to the Twitter discussion that I did not capture here — including the right to be forgotten in a connected world; obligations and compacts (or not) to readers who financially support the writer who is not wanting to be annotated; and what role a text has in the public sphere.

PSS — I purposely did not name the writer because they clearly were upset that their decision was being questioned, and I did not want to make their situation any worse. Besides, the individual case here is less important than the larger discussion.

#NetNarr: Social Lifestyle or Ad-fueled Construct

via http://van-life.net/

I don’t know what to make of the piece by Rachel Monroe in The New Yorker about #VanLife, which focuses on people who have taken to living in their vans (mostly VW vans) for all sorts of reasons — economic, lifestyle, etc. These #VanLife folks then share their travels and world via social media, often with the hashtag of #VanLife, and mostly on Instagram.

That’s fine.

Our world is one built on sharing and community practice (yes, there is a #VanLife network of people) but where I started to shake my head and wonder is when the article shifted to the money being made by those who are living in their vans. Many now enter into financial deals with companies and organizations, and we watch in the article as the young couple in Monroe’s focus sets up photographic shots with product placement and endorsements in mind.

The collapsing distance between brand and life has led to social-media influencing, in which advertisers pay for endorsements from people with strong online followings. Celebrity endorsements aren’t new, of course, but influencer marketing expands the category of “celebrity” to include teen-age fashionistas, drone racers, and particularly photogenic dogs. Advertisers work with people like Smith and King precisely because they’re not famous in the traditional sense. They’re appealing to brands because they have such a strong emotional connection with their followers.  — Rachel Monroe, from #VanLife, The Bohemian Social-Media Movement, via the New Yorker.

For so many reasons, that just sits the wrong way with me.

Maybe I am thinking of authenticity in the world (so, they want to live in van to escape the pressures of a stable life but then sell themselves off the company with the biggest wallet?) and the authenticity of the stories that we are creating with social media (some would no doubt argue everything we do is a social construct made larger and magnified by social media). I don’t wander around social media sites with my head in the sand but I also don’t buy into the notion that everything we do is for sale, either.

Imagine if we started to put placement ads in CLMOOC or DS106 or Networked Narratives (although spoofing that in those spaces might be sort of interesting and often is) and made money off the creative energies of the people in those networks?

Ack. I’d leave those spaces in a heartbeat. Here, these folks court and encourage advertising, fit their social selves into the schemes of advertising, and seem to live through the lens of advertising.

Not my cup of tea (I won’t tell you what brand I drink, either).

It’s fine. Go live in your van.  Take pics. Share them out. But don’t sell me some “experience” if it is sponsored by Coco-Cola or Pepsi (god forbid) or whatever. Keep that part of your journey to yourself.

Peace (homebound),
Kevin

#NetNarr: Maps as Stories/Stories as Maps

 

Thanks to my friend, Daniel, for sharing this intriguing map-building/story-telling site with us on Twitter called Story Maps a few weeks ago. As we continue to dive into  Networked Narratives (NetNarr), I wonder if this kind of mapping site might be a useful resource for building maps and worlds, with stories.

I like the site seems to be open-source, with plenty of links for tutorials on how to build and share story maps.  The map that Daniel shared — Bruised Borders — looks at places where disputes over boundaries of countries have erupted into conflict. (The embedded materials aren’t great here … I suggest following links to the site itself for full experience. If your browser won’t load the embed, you might need to allow for unsafe scripts.)

 

Or this one, about economic inequities in American cities.

I am not sure how this Story Maps site might be useful for consideration of Networked Narratives — which has shifted into interactions around fictional worlds.

But the underlying idea is to nurture a “civic imagination” so that we can make the world a better place (or that’s how I am understanding it right now) and maybe these kinds of maps as stories might allow us another entry into that concept..

Peace (on the map and beyond),
Kevin

The Daily Arganee: A Slanted View

Daily Arganee video

I spent a good part of the first 100 days of the Networked Narratives adventure trying to do the Daily Arganee prompt just about every day, both in my guise as The Internet Kid and Horse with no Name, and as myself, using an app called Legend to create short bursts of creativity. I stopped at the 100th prompt but may soon jump back on board. (I hit 98 with the Kid/Horse combo but only 79 as myself, according to the Daily Araganee leaderboard).

I stopped to take a breather when it started to feel like a chore rather than like fun. In addition, the NetNarr experience has shifted into a Mirror World element, and that has included new personas (I have another alternative fictional character in play) and different activities. I’ve been concentrating on that NetNarr aspect for now.

Using the Legend app gave me both some freedom (merging art with words and movement) and structure (limited text/characters) and I worked hard to try to see each prompt from a different angle, to come at it from the slanted view. I can’t quite explain what I mean, except that I never tried to directly address the prompt. Instead, I tried to come at it from an unexpected angle. Obviously, some days were more effective than others.

I have now gathered up many of the prompts that I responded to (although you can find them one at a time at the Daily Arganee site, too) , and put them into Animoto as a curated video space. I like the effect of them all together.

Take a look.

Peace (each day),
Kevin

Where Social Media Tumbles into Civic Engagement


Wired Laundrette flickr photo by mikecogh shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

I was recently re-reading an interesting article by Clive Thompson, in Wired magazine, entitled “The Social Medium is the Message,” (which has a different title online, for whatever reason) and some of what he writes about resonates with the connection between social media, storytelling and civic imagination that forms the core anchor of the Networked Narratives course.

Here are some bits from Thompson’s article that stuck with me, and then some of my own commentary afterwards.

“Over the next year, the mainstream culture will grapple, for real, with the civic and political effects of our lives online.” — Clive Thompson, Wired, “The Social Medium is the Message”

That’s a fact. Whether it will be a productive discussion remains to be seen. The opening days of this presidency are not holding out great hope, with talk of “alternative facts” and outright lies to the American public and media.

“The most effective disinformation usually begins with an actual fact then amplifies, distorts, or elides; ban the distortion and you risk looking like you are banning the nugget of truth, too.” — Clive Thompson

See above. Trump, as Thompson notes, smartly understands this piece of how disinformation can be used. I suspect media outlets will be under gun until they find a way to harness the power they do have to hold officials accountable for their actions, and their words, and their tweets. We’ve already seen that happening in some of the major news organizations.

“There are limits to what technological fixes can achieve in civic life. Though social networks amplify American partisanship and distrust of institutions, those problems have been rising for years.” – Clive Thompson

Which means it may not be technology, but us, the people, who need to find ways to make this new system work. We need to pressure social media to reduce our bubbles (don’t just share with me things I want to read) and we need to reach out to others. Obama’s quote of calling on someone, in person, to discuss differences of opinions? Yes on that.

“The old order was flawed and elitist and locked out too many voices; it produced seemingly consensus by preventing many from being heard. We’re still fumbling around for new mechanisms that can replace that order and improve upon it.” — Clive Thompson

It seems to me that the Networked Narratives is evolving at the right moment in time, and that while we are celebrating the notions of digital storytelling in a very connected age, we also have to acknowledge and grapple with the reality of darkness that comes with such a shift. This week, we saw some of that darkness emerge with Facebook being the platform for a murder, playing out for the world to see, and all of the ensuing questions that arise about responsibility and censorship and viral natures of digital platforms.

If we want ourselves, and our children and our students, to become engaged in civic life, then we need to find ways to harness the potential positive power of networks for the good of the world (even though what one person defines as “good” might be “bad” in the mind of someone else).

I’m curious to know what you think.

Peace (brimming through the wires),
Kevin

Experiencing the Art of Sound

It was by chance that my wife and I found ourselves inside Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum the other day, and I realized with a strange sense of “of course” that one of the exhibits was something I had shared out to the Networked Narratives world a few week ago, during our work with Sound and Story.

And here I was, wandering into the Art of Sound.

Stewart’s museum is intriguing, as the inside “palace” inside is chock full of all sorts of artistic wonders, and a few missing pieces (the museum was the scene of a great unsolved art heist many years ago). She was a patron of musicians, as is evident from collections of letter and music-themed art.

The Art of Sound is a series of sound pieces scattered about the museum (and other public spaces around Boston, apparently) that seeks to offer “new insights into the spatial, social, and aesthetic dimension of sound,” according to the museum information.

Each piece does have an interesting aural experience for the listener, and I appreciated how difficult it must be to create a sound experience in a museum built on the visual. One work, with LED lights and hanging crystals, reacts to your presence, giving off a sonic hum, as if enveloping you into the experience.

Stewart Museum sound

Another work is centered the purring of cats, which my wife and I found quite amusing. As you stare at huge close-up portraits of cats, who seem quite content to get their image taken, you listen to headphones of purring, and you move through the different tonal qualities of each cat’s individual purr. We found ourselves trying to remember the purr of our late cat, Coltrane.

Stewart Museum sound

In another piece, a massive room has been converted into a soundscape, where lights flicker on and off on the floor as a melody plays. The walls are full of speakers, set at different heights, to give an other-worldly element to the exhibit. We were there during the day, but I bet in fading light, the colors connected to the music would be even more interesting.

I found this video at the museum site, talking about one of the exhibits out in Boston that you can experience via an app.

Peace (listen),
Kevin

 

A Collection of Comics: The (New) Adventures of the Internet Kid

Daily Dda17

The other day, I wrote about reaching my 100(plus) comic for the Networked Narratives Daily Arganee prompt with The Internet Kid and his friend, Horse with No Name. I just uploaded all of the Kid comics that I had created for NetNarr into Flickr.

If it interests you, here is the Flickr album where they now reside:

NetNarr -- The Internet Kid and Horse comics

There are comics in the collection that require some context, which is what the Daily Aragnee prompts are about so I am not going to give context for each comic. Phew. But you can check out the Internet Kid’s collection of prompts, and the Horse’s collection, too, at the Daily Arganee site.

I also wanted to put out a few comics that I liked …

Daily Dda67

Daily Dda77

Daily Dda80

Daily Dda63

Daily Dda37

Daily Dda44

Daily Dda29

Rope wrangling

World4

Peace (shine a light),
Kevin

Five Voices in Search of a Poem: This is the Truth

This is the Truth in Soundtrap

Inspired by my friend, Sheri, and her Poem for Three Voices about a young writer that she, and I and Melvina recorded and shared last week, I wondered if I could expand that notion a bit and write a Poem for Five Voices, and get four other people from different geographic locations to use Soundtrap to record.

I did, and we did, and it sounds like this:

My aim in writing the poem was to offer up a critique of the media/news landscape, and try to discern some central point about the elusive nature of Truth. I am a former journalist, a writer of news, and an avid reader of news now. I am both disheartened by the declining State of Media, and heartened (in a very strange way) that Trump’s imperial presidency and Bannon-led attacks on Media have actually galvanized and strengthened the major news operations, and attracted readers.

The use of multiple voices in the poem is designed to show all of us, together, sorting out what is real and what is not, and what is spin and what is not, and calling out media and political leaders to account for the information flow. Yes, we all have a responsibility. That doesn’t mean we can’t do this together, and find a way to make the world a better place for all. THAT is the truth, from my perspective.

You can view my poem here and feel free to remix it, use it or ignore it. This screenshot is the first of two pages.

This is the Truth poem

Process Notes: We used the online site, Soundtrap, as a way to coordinate our voices. It would have been a whole long easier if we had been in the same room, same space, with poem in front of us. That wasn’t physically possible.

So, what you hear is some vocal dissonance, as our phrasing weaves in and out of each other. Recording a poem like this is complicated, we quickly found, and I edited audio tracks to fit as best as I could. We began with Melvina doing a master track, which we then worked off individually, and then I edited to make it sound like a whole.

Notice the different sounds of voices. Quality of microphones becomes a potentially technical hurdle, and I used compression and other effects to try to align them as best as I could. In the end, maybe that flattening didn’t matter. Maybe, in fact, the different sound qualities are part of the composition — showing different views through sound. I might be stretching here.

I want to warmly thank Sheri, Scott, Melvina and Terry for patiently following me on this collaborative adventure. We organized ourselves on Twitter, and then had our voices meet in Soundtrap. It was a grand adventure.

Peace (in poetry),
Kevin