Trading Privacy for Profit When You’re the Product


Processing 06 flickr photo by crstnksslr shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

Funny. This post is NOT about Facebook. But it could have been …

We had a disagreement brewing in the kitchen the other day. My wife and I, and our three boys (the oldest, in college, and the youngest, in middle school). The whole family. The dog watched.

We were arguing about privacy, and technology, and the split between my wife and I (we both try to guard our privacy from apps and technology companies, and we both teach our students to do the same) and our sons (who shrug their shoulders, and accept that they give up their data to use technology) seemed striking to me.

At issue was MoviePass, a subscription service that allows you to pay a low price and access movies throughout the month at the theater (only 2D movies), one per day. It costs $6.95 a month (oops, now back to $9.95 a month), and we thought about getting it for our middle son for his 18th birthday. But as I looked deeper into the service, spending time digging into how the app and system works, I started to wonder how the company was pulling off such a thing — the price seemed to low for them to make any real money.

Too good to be true?

Yes, I think so.

A little research found that the MoviePass app sucks up data off your phone, about your location and other using habits, and uses that data to sell info about you, and makes money. Of course. Now, that makes sense. The moviegoer is the product. Sound familiar?

We told our son, no on MoviePass, which led to our heated discussion in the kitchen of parents vs. children, with our older son saying he bought and installed MoviePass and, and uses it regularly at college, and while he calls the gathering of data “kind of creepy,” he accepts that trade-off for movie access.

“Everyone is gathering all of our data, all the time, anyway,” was the response from the older boy, to which I nearly lost it, because while this is true (I’m looking at you, Facebook), it doesn’t mean we have to accept it. We can NOT use an app or technology. We CAN find alternatives, of different flavor maybe and perhaps not of the same range, but we can find alternatives.

Trading our personal information for convenience is a false bargain, I told my kids, when companies make us, our lives, our data, their “product” but even my kids seemed to have already tuned me out and accepted that this stance is a Lost Cause of the Modern Age. Perhaps this is another generational battle, with the old folks holding on by our fingernails to some sense of privacy.

I was listening to a piece on NPR with folks from the Pew Internet division, which does all sorts of interesting surveys, and the researcher noted that there is indeed a difference between older and younger users of technology. But not like we think. He noted that younger users do worry about privacy with technology but they are more apt to keep tabs on how their data is being used, and more apt to change privacy settings. They are also more apt to accept the devil’s bargain of data/privacy for access. Older folks complain and worry but do little other than not decide to not use the technology, or abandon it. They don’t monitor their activity as much as younger people, until something hits the headlines.

… younger people are much more active online, much more forgiving of some of the circumstances when their data are captured and used in some ways to deliver products and services to them. But they’re also more vigilant than their elders in monitoring. They watch what’s posted about them, they watch what pictures their name is tagged in, and they’re very concerned about the way that they present themselves online. So they curate their identity and their reputation very aggressively. — Lee Rainie, director of Internet and technology research at Pew Research Center

I don’t think this push against privacy intrusion for profit is all a lost cause, but it does feel like an uphill battle so much of the time and we can’t wait for Congress to take action (because we know how that story goes).

We did not get MoviePass, but instead, we paid what it would have cost us for a year into a gift card to the movie theater for our birthday boy.

“I’m just going to get MoviePass myself anyway,” the boy announced.

Sigh.

Peace (and protection),
Kevin

 

Upon Reflection, Part Three: Creating a Virtual Gallery of Digital Art

Alchemy Lab unofficial object tally

As I write this, a week after launching the Alchemy Lab of Digital Objects, I am looking at stats for the immersive space. The space has been visited nearly 300 times and objects within the lab itself have been “clicks/viewed” nearly 700 times. Not everything worth writing about is data-driven, but at least, the numbers show us that people are giving the Lab a look, which is satisfying.

start here and go there

The other day, I posted the first of a series of reflections about digital storytelling and media creation. Yesterday, I posted about collaboration, participation and the platform technology. Today, I am reflecting on what might happen next with the Alchemy Lab after writing about the experience of making a vision become a reality (even if the reality didn’t quite reach the vision.) We had nearly 20 people, making nearly 50 digital media pieces in the Lab.

A side note: the building of the Lab is part of an open project within Networked Narratives, a course being taught in the US by Alan Levine and in Norway by Mia Zamora. This is the second iteration of NetNarr, and I am part of the “open wild” of Networked Narratives — which means I don’t have to do any homework I don’t wanna do, and I can ignore Mia and Alan whenever I want. It’s great!

First, tour the lab:

In this post, I want to think out loud about further possibilities.

When we constructed the Alchemy Lab project, we wanted a “doorway” in and a “doorway” out. This entailed a lot of conversation early on, about how such doorways might help the narrative flow of the project. Again, we struggled with a cohesive storytelling narrative. In the end, we created a website entry point and, if you click on the E on the ceiling of the Lab, you can find an exit point to another website.

Here, Wendy set up a checklist of objects, in hopes that a visitor might realize they might have missed something and gone back into the Lab. We also set up a MediaJumping Padlet site, inviting visitors to the Lab to remix or make their own art. We’re still hoping ..

Made with Padlet

 

Todd also shared a bunch of links and an invitation to keep creativity flowing, with links to DS106 and CLMOOC and more. The idea is that the Lab is merely a stepping stone, leading to other collaborations and creativity projects.

Some of the chatter behind the scenes once the Lab was released was about reaction of offline work colleagues to the shared Alchemy Lab, and that had me thinking about how I can best share this project with my sixth grade students.

What might 11 year old writers think of Mr. H’s crazy project? More than that, how could I have my students contribute to a similar project? Luckily, we have the originals of everything we used — from Susan’s artwork, to the ThingLink 360 account, to the signing up forms, to the Twine invite, and more — and all can be adapted.

I am thinking of trying to get my students into the Lab before we head off on April break next week … and reconstructing the lab during our unit on poetry. What about if they choose an object, write poems about it (and maybe create media), and then rebuilt the lab as a space where Every Object Is a Poem?

Maybe. Just maybe.

Peace (in the make),
Kevin

 

 

 

Upon Reflection, Part Two: Creating a Virtual Gallery of Digital Art

Meet Voltar

Yesterday, I posted the first of a few reflections on the collaboration and thinking, and making, that went into the building of the online NetNarr Alchemy Lab of Digital Objects. This post is the follow-up, with more reflections on things that seemed to work and things didn’t seem to work (as well as I would have liked). One more post tomorrow will look at potential next steps and following up with the Alchemy Lab experience.

Visit the NetNarr Alchemy Lab to see what has emerged.

Read the first post.

Platform

Where it worked: Early on, we had a vision of an immersive virtual lab that visitors could wander around in, like a museum. None of us had done much with immersive media, but it was Wendy who found and then suggested we try out the new ThingLink 360 platform. Many of us have used ThingLink before — it allows you to layer information and links and media on top of an image — so this seemed like a good fit. Mostly, it was. Susan created the artwork of the lab — I am still in awe of what she did and how quickly she did it — and Niall was able to stitch the images together into a useable 360 degree image that ThingLink accepted. The immersive lab means that you wander around the lab, as you zoom in and out, and it works on browsers, and on mobile devices, and with VR devices like Google Cardboard. Some of the embedded media works better than others.

Where it didn’t work (and what we did): One thing I noticed early on as I moved individual media projects into the Lab is that things got rather crowded with the layered icons from ThingLink. Also, some media objects I could upload directly, and they worked fine, and some I had to host elsewhere, and embed, and some I had to create a portal that moves the user from the Lab to the site outside the Lab, which was not ideal. We also find that some of the media that works fine in one platform (like a mobile device) doesn’t always work so great in another platform (like a browser). I’m not sure of a solution to this problem, so we sort of accepted it as a condition of our construction. On a technical side, for some reason, my Chrome browser won’t play ThingLink 360 (but I am certain is something on my end … perhaps my video card is too old). It works great in Firefox and on mobile.

Participants and Makers

Where it worked: This project began with a group of open participants in the NetNarr ecosystem, but soon spread to folks in the DS106 and CLMOOC communities, and beyond. We shared various invitations widely at the start, hoping to get more people involved. We really wanted a slew of students in the NetNarr classes to come in with us — to bridge the network of the narrative — and sent out personal invitations on Twitter to them. These are those who made art for the lab: Niall B, Todd C, Charlene D, Sheri E, Simon E, Roj F, Terry G, Kelli H, Kevin H, Sarah H, John J, Alan L, Keegan L, Algot R, Ron S, Wendy T, Clare T, Susan W and Lauren Z. That’s nearly 20 people involved in making digital art. Pretty nifty.

Where it didn’t work (and what we did): We didn’t get many NetNarr university students, which points to how busy they are in their learning lives at the university, or maybe some wariness of invitations from folks they only know through Twitter hashtags, or something else. It still seems like open NetNarr folks are on the outside, looking in, as opposed to being part of the fabric of NetNarr. I am not blaming Mia or Alan, because it makes me wonder how courses can tap into the open community more, and in meaningful ways.

Collaboration

Where it worked: This whole project could not have been done without a handful of folks behind the scenes: Wendy, Sarah, Todd, Susan, and others. We had an open Twitter DM Chatline going nearly constantly through six weeks or so, and we also did two different Google Hangouts (on the same day) because of time zone differences. I am in the US. Wendy is in Australia. Sarah is in Scotland. It all made the organization of things easier (so many of us) and difficult (communication unfolded over time zones). We self-assigned the work, I realize, with me building the Lab in ThingLink, and Wendy keeping the invitations and table of objects organized, and Sarah providing technical support (sometimes, with help of Niall) and as a sounding board. Todd gave us encouragement and ideas, and Susan gave her art and spirit.

Where it didn’t work (and what we did): There was no hurdle that we didn’t overcome. This may come from mostly knowing each other over the years through other collaborations, and it points to the value of developing creative relationships over time.

So, what now? Please enjoy the Alchemy Lab, and maybe add some art when you get to the Exit point (you can leave the lab by looking up at the ceiling). The collaboration and making of media doesn’t have to end with the Lab. Bring your alchemy out into the world! And who knows … another collaborative project is always right around the corner.

I’ll be writing one more post …

Peace (immerse yourself),
Kevin

Upon Reflection, Part One: Creating a Virtual Gallery of Digital Art

The Lab

Ideas and Inspirations

This all began when I had a crazy, inspired thought that I decided not to keep to myself (because how much fun would that be?): What if the (open and university) folks dabbling in Networked Narratives together created a collaborative piece of transmedia artwork together?

I had recently been thinking more about transmedia storytelling — about how to try to tell a story that unfolds across different digital media and mediums, each piece with the ability to stand alone and yet each piece also part of the larger story. A course I took via FutureLearn gave me some ideas, and I have tinkered with the concept before with the now-defunct Digital Writing Month.

I pitched the idea out to create an Alchemy Lab space filled with objects that could be used to inspire stories, and some of my friends — Wendy and Sarah and Todd and Susan and Niall, and others — bit. Phew. This did not seem like something one could go into alone, so I was quite happy to have partners. Ok. So, could we actually pull this off? We did, sort of, although not quite like the original vision. We centered on the term of “Mediajumping” in the early stages of our invitations to folks to collaborate.

The Lab

Visit the NetNarr Alchemy Lab to see what has emerged.

Some background: Networked Narratives is a university course being taught in the US by Alan Levine and in Norway by Mia Zamora, and the NetNarr course has an open participation element to it, which I am part of. This is the second iteration of Networked Narratives.

This post is part of a series of reflections on the last six to eight weeks of work behind the scenes as we wrangled a vision of collaborative digital art and storytelling into reality. It’s also an attempt to remember what we did, and workarounds we had to find, to make the Alchemy Lab exist.

Storytelling and Narrative

Where it worked: The original idea is that a virtual lab would become a source of a larger story — the Narrative of the Network — to be told by many people, with many different media. Originally, I wondered if we could “hand off” the story, in chapters, to the next participant in line. We have done this concept in CLMOOC with projects such as The Search for ChalkBoard Man and the DigiWriMo StoryJumpers project. Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, it doesn’t work because the common narrative threads get lost as the story moves. Sarah, in particular, really wanted something more logical, more story-centered. The use of the term “Mediajumping” in our early invititations allowed for an open invitation for folks to create with the tools they had available, and to follow their interests.

Where it didn’t work (and what we did): I don’t think we figured this out, for the “story” that emerged was more of the Lab as the anchor point for media. We decided to allow people to choose items from the lab and build media and stories around the items. The overarching narrative is that you have found a hidden lab. I pondered if we could leave clues, like easter eggs, in our media that would point a larger story. The scope and scale was too difficult to pull that off. In the end, we let it go as a media-oriented lab experience, and hoped that smaller pieces of stories might emerge. Some did. Some did not. Will someone take the smaller pieces and stitch together something larger? I don’t know.

Media Creation and Sharing

Where it worked: Susan’s artwork of the lab (which Niall stitched into a 360 image) was stunningly beautiful, and inspirational. We knew we would have to find a means to disperse the story and the objects, so we created an collaborative document with a table, and asked folks who had signed up (via a Google Form, via an interactive story invitation in Twine) to choose an object and create. I had hoped for a wide variety of media. There were 46 items made.

Where it didn’t work (and what we did): We have a lot of GIFs in the lab, and we celebrated whenever someone added something different — like a time-lapse video poem or an interactive website. If this were our full time jobs, we would no doubt have had more variety, and I am happy with what folks made and shared. I found myself penned in a bit from time to time with how to make media, and tell a story, all with a single object as inspiration. But our unofficial tagline of “every object tells a story” still seems inspirational. I think the idea of telling a story through small media pieces like gifs and images is something we grapple with.

I’ll share some more reflections tomorrow in a second post, in which I look at topics of platform, participants and collaboration.

Peace (reflected),
Kevin

 

Technology as Art/ Art as Technology


Will, drop my brass panties – you feel my text up flickr photo by LastHuckleBerry shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

“… we can try out completely different ways of (art) expression.” — Douglas Eck.

Douglas Eck – Transforming Technology into Art

In another video from an interesting series I have found on digital storytelling, Douglas Eck looks at how technology is transforming art, but also notes the human influence on technology. Eck work at Google, on a project called Magenta that is centered on brain thinking, neural networking, technology and art.

Eck’s observations about the role of humans in the world of technology-created art rings true to me (or perhaps I am naive enough to believe it), but I also know the future is an expected place where AI and VR and AR and other advances just over the horizon offer possibilities and pitfalls. Who knows what places like Google are going to unleash into the world of storytelling?

Peace (telling its story over and over again),
Kevin

Get Your Alchemy On (The Lab is Open)

NetNarr Alchemy Lab

For the past two months or so, a group of us open participants in the Networked Narratives have been working behind the scenes on the construction of an immersive, virtual Alchemy Laboratory of Stories. (Officially, NetNarr is a university course being taught in the US by Alan Levine, and in Norway by Mia Zamora, with some intersections with Maha Bali in Egypt, and with open doors to the open learning community — that’s where I am).

Many folks in various online communities (including CLMOOC and DS106, and some NetNarr students) have contributed time and resources, and media projects, that are now part of the NetNarr Alchemy Lab experience. In fact, there are nearly 50 media objects created by nearly 20 people in this Alchemy Lab project.

Pretty cool collaboration.

I’ll reflect in writing more about the experience another day, but for now, I want to invite you to come tour the lab we built through open invitations to create stories in a networked way. You can view the Alchemy Lab in a browser, or on mobile devices, or with Google Cardboard devices. Layered links will either surface media projects or will give you a link forward to projects. The exit (on the ceiling) will bring you to yet another place where we invite you to make some digital art and share it, too.

We hope you enjoy the experience.

Follow this path to the door into the lab

Peace (and convergence),
Kevin

PS — special props to Wendy and Sarah and Todd for coordination and planning, and to Susan for her wonderful artwork, and to Niall for his technical prowess and advice.

View from the Seats: Watching Ready Player One

via Warner Brothers

Ready Player One could have been worse. A lot worse. It also could have been better. A lot better. Split the difference? It was an entertaining movie with, as my older son noted afterwards, “more holes in the plot than you could poke a stick through.” My younger son, who has read the book by Ernest Cline at least six times in the past two years, added, “The book was better.” I was more charitable with the movie than my three boys were, it turns out (which is usually the opposite).

We watched Ready Player One in 3D in the XD theater and that was a good move, as the immersive storytelling element of the movie — part of which takes place in a virtual environment known as The Oasis — was made livelier by the 3D experience. And Steven Spielberg sure knows how to pack a visual punch, and to allude to all sorts of 1980s pop culture elements.

If you don’t know the story, Ready Player One is about the world in the future where the collapse of energy and food resources has people living in the Stacks — literally, mobile homes and cars and such all stacked upward — with the only real ‘escape’ from the apocalypse is virtual reality in The Oasis gaming world, where endless smaller worlds can be created around themes. The story revolves around our teenage hero — Wade Watts — as he tries to find the hidden Easter Egg left behind by the creator of The Oasis. Finding the Egg will mean gaining ownership and direction of The Oasis.

The game design element of the novel is what lured me into the story years ago, and my youngest son loved the book when I passed it along to him. The movie captures some of that tension between real life, outside of technology, and the digital life we create and make for ourselves inside the spaces we inhabit. The use of avatars and digital identity, of ethics of shared virtual space, of commercialization of online experiences, and of the imagination in building worlds all emerge as themes of the story.

Elements of the game itself get buried in the movie by all of the 1980s pop references, though, and the potential to use the intricacies of game experience to drive the plot (sort of like Wreck-It Ralph did pull off) falls by the wayside in favor of a more typical good/bad battle.

I did appreciate that one of the underlying messages, made a bit too obvious by the end, is that collaboration and cooperation for a greater good are more powerful than profit and personal gain. The corporate loses. The collective wins.

Also, the new rule created by Wade and his friends in the end that The Oasis gets shut down every Tuesday and Thursday, in order for users to break from the technology and reconnect with friends and family (cue end scene of Wade smooching with Artemis, the real heroine of the story), seemed rather relevant to our modern times. Imagine if Facebook or Twitter decided that two days a week, no one could use the site?

Me, neither.

Peace (with popcorn),
Kevin

NetNarr: Getting My Alchemy On

Each day, I continue to use the prompts from the Daily Arganee of Networked Narratives to write a short poem or piece as a creative exercise. I am more apt veer off-topic than to stay on-topic with the prompts, but I aim to go where the muse takes me. Periodically, I’ll go in and gather and curate them into a short video.  The one above is my recent collection. These down below are some of the past collections of the short pieces — which I compose in an app that only allows six seconds of framing.

When NetNarr is over, I’ll have to figure out what to do with all the pieces ….

Peace (telling it),
Kevin

#NetNarr: Hacking/Remixing the Game of Chess

Merry Hacksters Title DS06

A few years ago, for DS106, I was part of a group that did a collaborative radio project that centered on the art of remixing. My segment centered around an activity I do with my sixth grade students, remixing and hacking the game of chess to create something new altogether. It is part of our Game Design Unit.

Here is the radio segment I did:

Peace (hacked for greater good),
Kevin

PS — here is the entire Merry Hacksters Radio Show