Boolean Squared: Children of the Screen

I got inspired to return to my webcomic, Boolean Squared, this morning after posting about the shift to Screen Literacy in my last post. So here is the first of a series of comics about my crew being called Children of the Screen.

After this series of comics, I will be introducing a new character — finally, a girl to mix things up a bit with the boys. She’s a smarty-pants, too.

Peace (in the frames),

Are we now People of the Screen?

I finished up the collection of articles in The Best Technology Writing of 2009 (a recommended book for those of you with gift cards in hand, wondering what to read) and Kevin Kelly has another fascinating take on technology and culture in an article entitled “Becoming Screen Literate.”

His premise is that the Age of Books on paper is in serious decline as we become more and more People of the Screen, using our computers and mobile devices for creating content, viewing content and interacting with content — including the stories that now rest between the shelves.

“We are now in the middle of a second Gutenberg shift –from book fluency to screen fluency, from literacy to visuality,” writes Kelly (177).

It’s hard to argue the point. Kindles are everywhere, and other ebooks are on the way (hello Apple). We are in the midst of some transition for sure, although whether we ever lose the emotional need for bound pages is another question (I say, no) but if a device comes out that makes an emotional impact as a reader, the book industry as it is set up right now will be in deeper trouble than it already is.

Kelly argues that this shift of visual fluency opens up more doors for us as participants. He cites sites such as Seesmic that are built around the idea of posting via video, and responding via video, and having those discussion archived like blog posts — systematic video conversations. The concept of the Mash-up — of grabbing and remixing media — show the possibilities of the screen fluency age, Kelly suggests.  He cites a site called TimeTube that shows the various iterations of videos from the original to the various creative spawns of the original — a video timeline of mashups.And he notes, the mashup has its roots in the age of Literacy.

“You cut and paste words on a page. You quote verbatim from an expert. You paraphrase a lovely expression. You add a layer of detail found elsewhere. You  borrow a structure of one work to use as your own. You move frames around as if they were phrases. (179)”

Here, I just did that, didn’t I? With Kelly’s words. Now, if I had a video of him, I could possibly remix his ideas (and the old Jumpcut site used to be a place to do that, although it has since disappeared. I’m sure there are already others in its place.)

Kelly admits that what is missing from the full-blown visual literacy movement is a search tool that can smartly scan through videos and find moments based on key phrases that would allow you more freedom for those reconstructed moments. Video search tools are incomplete, but does anyone doubt that someone (Google? Microsoft? Some unknown?) will invent a way to search the actual content of videos this way?

“Text, sound, motion will continue to merge into a single intermedia as they flow through the always-on network. (187)”

Clay Shirkey, meanwhile, has the last say in the book collection, noting in his piece “Gin, Television and Cognitive Surplus” that more and more people are using technology for their own creative aims because we have migrated away from television and onto the computer. That “cognitive surplus” that we used to use for watching Gilligan’s Island or Friends is now being used to compose our own media (see the ever-increasing popularity of YouTube, for example, or Flickr or ….).

“Media in the 20th Century was run as a single race — consumption … People like to consume, but they also like to produce, and they also like to share. (216)”

Shirkey’s point is that we are now in the midst of trying to figure out what to do with all of this cognitive surplus we have (now that we no longer care to sit like vegetables in front of network television, we have the time and energy to do other things) and the messy nature of the Net is evidence of that. Content and creation goes in all sorts of directions during these times (the “gin” reference in the title points to another time in history when there was a cognitive surplus) and watching it settle and move forward will be one of the most exciting things to watch in the next decade.

Don’t you think?

Peace (in the future),

Cool Tools stuck on the 2009 Wallwisher

Earlier this week, I put out a call for folks to add in their ideas on a Wallwisher for some cool technology tools that they discovered and used in 2009. It was part of the Glogster that I created around my own cool tools. So far, the Wall has 21 replies, and there is plenty of room for more (the wonders of the virtual wall).
Come join us.

Some of the tools placed on there by my friends:

The ones I want to go explore are Spicy Nodes, Spaaz, Empressr and Capzles but I have bookmarked them all.

Peace (on the wall),

My Top Tech Tools of 2009

I was inspired to write this post by Larry Ferlazzo’s post, although his list is a bit longer than mine! I went into Glogster (which I am still figuring out but I like it a lot) and created this virtual poster of my top five tools from 2009. Picking five means leaving a lot out.

But you can join the party — I set up a Wallwisher site where I am asking folks to leave their own tips for top tech tools of 2009 (feel that alliteration roll off your mental tongue or what?). There are already about a dozen suggestions on the wall. Yours should be next …

So, head to the Wallwisher site. Then, go to my Cool Tools Glogster. Or you can view it right here as an embedded file.

Peace (in the sharing),


Why I compose with digital tools

This is the last post in my series of “Why I …” (I’m tempted to add the word ‘oughta’ and say it as a podcast in the voice of Ralph Kramden) reflections that were not really all that planned. I wrote about why I blog, and then why I read, and then why I write songs.

Today, I am thinking about why I work with digital tools for multimedia compositions. I like to think of myself as someone who is an explorer, and when a new digital tool comes along, I often wonder if an existing piece of writing can fit with it (using something old within the structure of new affordances) or if the new tool sparks a new way of looking at writing/composing on the digital canvas.

This world of technology — this expanding canvas of possibilities — is something that really does excite me. I love how all elements of media — image, voice, video, and more – are converging in so many different ways and opening up the doors for interesting possibilities.

One of the first digital compositions I did was a poem that I wrote called “Blink Blink Blink” with three video shots running at once, and with NWP friends helping me out with it, saying the words “blink blink blink” many times. It was also my first use with a Flip video camera. However, I just noticed that my Googlepages platform where I kept the composition is not quite right — the video placements are all off and there are some missing media elements to the page (I think Google has ended Pages in lieu of Sites) so now, I need to migrate my work to something else (Glogster? Might work). I remember having this vision for using the three video pieces and got really caught up in how to plan it out — how to make it a real experience that really used digital tools in a way that I could never have done on paper. And I wanted viewers to lose themselves in the experience, so that even with all three videos running at once, you would find yourself experiencing them together as one composition.

One of the multimedia pieces that I am most proud of is called Capturing Myself in Hyperlink. It is a series of poems that link in and out of each other, with matching themes and words. Again, this piece would not have been the same if I had just typed out the poems. The associative links between the poems are important and the path is purposely non-linear, moving the reader in different directions.

I also have another set of poems called Inside Kaleidoscope Dreams over at Hypertextopia. My aim was to write quickfiction and then organize them around themes that I saw emerging, linking some stories together. I added podcasts for my voice, and choose images for some stories. I was working to create a mood for the stories, and also, to bring them under one larger digital umbrella.

In most of these adventures, I submerge myself into the tool as both a composer (I like the term better than writer) and also as a teacher. I am exploring possibilities for myself and my students. The hyperlink poem project, for example, led to a project with my students where they created their own linked poetry (they used powerpoint). I’ve done short fiction with my students and published as a webpage. I have not yet done work like Blink with them, but why not? They can learn moviemaker and by now, most either have or have used a Flip camera.

And then there are all the new Web 2.o tools emerging. It’s an incredible time to be a creator of content. There are more and more possibilities for making things new or recasting old thoughts, and all it takes is some courage to explore and try and not be roped in by what the developers think a site or a software platform should be used for.

So, here is where I am at: I spent much of last year writing a fairly large poem/story about the life of this one character, and I have about 14 new songs that are part of the story. I envision this as a multimedia production of some sort. But what sort? An interactive timeline? A modified Prezi? An idea that came to last night — why not post the entire poem, one part at a time, from the end of the story first to the first of the story last (like that movie where time moves backwards — Momento) on a blog, so that this man’s life goes in reverse (like Benjamin Button). Wouldn’t that be fascinating? And then, repost the entire production on an entirely other platform — like a timeline of his life.

See? I am getting jazzed up just thinking about it because I can see how the elements of each of those technologies might play a role in the unfolding of the story. It’s an amazing creative experience. And those possibilities keep me going as a writer. I compose with digital tools because I am, first and foremost, a writer.

Peace (why I need it),

Why I write songs …

Coming on the heels of my posts of Why I Blog and Why I Read, I thought I would look at why I write songs. I began writing songs decades ago when I first moved from the saxophone (my main instrument) to the guitar and began to use some of my poetry as lyrics. I wrote for myself, and played for myself, and it was only after doing some experimental recording with a friend that I realized just how much I loved the experience of creating something original and moving it beyond my own field of vision.

Songwriting allows me to push in different directions than other forms of writing, and I lose myself in the process. Literally. Time passes without me knowing it when I am full in the moment of birthing a song. Writing a song is so unlike writing a story or a poem to me. The music does something to the angle of the words, and sometimes, I write with one meaning that others may hear as a song, but they don’t fully understand because they don’t have my lens to hear through. I love how undercurrents of meaning can float through a song.

I am not suggesting that I create hidden masterpieces when I write. I don’t. I write a lot of junk. But I often find a keeper here and there among that musical flotsam and jetsam and when I do, it’s as if I hit a home run and won the game.

How I write is by letting myself go and I stumble more than fly when I am songwriting, but it is the mistakes that lead to something interesting, I find, and so I let myself make those mistakes. I wait for that note, that chord, that progression that speaks to me.

I am often asked if I write the words or the music first, and the answer is: I don’t have a set method. Sometimes, I come to the guitar with a phrase of words or some direction; Other times, I find a chord I like and build a song around that. When I was in a band, one of the most amazing things was when I would bring in a song and watch it become something else in the hands of others. It didn’t always work — I canned more songs than I kept — but it was always a fascinating experience. You have to learn to let go of your creation if you expect it to be transformed.

A few years ago, I was right at the start of writing a song and I turned on my Flip video to capture the experience. It’s a bit long (about 18 minutes) so feel free to scan through. I did it more to capture the experience for me (and my kids, perhaps?). But it does give you a glimpse into my process.

And here is the song in a sort-of final version (the song never went anywhere, but I like the melody):

Man of Contemplation

I wish music and songwriting were part of more writing classes because I think the act of learning about rhythm and rhyme, and texture of words in relation to the theme, and repetition and development of ideas, all have great value to young writers.

For me, songwriting was always a way to release emotions and feelings in ways that I could not express otherwise. I found my voice as a writer when I found my voice as a writer of songs, and that has spilled out into my stories and my poetry and more.

I write songs because they give me a path to inner exploration. I write songs because I am a writer (this is my refrain for the three posts so far, so I figure, keep it up, right?)

Peace (in the melody),

Why I read …

Yesterday, I wrote a post about Why I Blog (please add your reasons, too, as it helps me in my own reflections). Last night, as I was reading the essay by Nicholas Carr entitled Is Google Making Us Stupid? in the Best Technology Writing of 2009 (I know I know — everyone else in the world has read it and discussed it. I’m late for the party), I realized that much of the argument being made by Carr is similar to what I have been experiencing with reading lately. Still, something about his reasoning did not quite sit right with me.

But, why do I read? And is my presence on the web impacting my reading habits?

I’ve been a reader since I can remember and spent much of my childhood curled up next to books. I’d read voraciously and in all kinds of genre, although my favorite was and still is good science fiction. (There is plenty of bad science fiction). I read because it transformed me into other places, through the eyes of other characters. I could escape. I could explore, and I could do it alone. This appealed to me as a reader.

Carr, in The Atlantic piece, suggests that our reading on the Internet has become that of “power skimmer,” cruising across the surface of information as opposed to going deep into one thing. Carr admits there are benefits to this (he is a freelance writer and so he now has a world of information at his keyboard) but he worries that this kind of reading is rewiring our brains in a way that is making sustained deep reading more and more difficult. The joy of being lost in a test for long stretches of time are fewer and fewer, he writes. His metaphor is that of someone jet skiing over the top of the ocean as opposed to scuba diving down into the world below.

So here is where I found an echo in my own thinking lately.

This past year, more than most, I have started and abandoned an alarming number of novels. I’ve tried to keep my interest up, gotten far enough to know it was not just laziness and then, poof, decided that the book was not worth my time. I’d toss it aside, and then worry: am I losing my skills  as a reader? Can I no longer sustain my attention? Carr suggests, yes, and puts some of the blame on my brain being rewired by my time on the computer.

I’ve also delved into graphic novels and one thing I do like about them is that I can finish them in short bursts. I love the intersection of art and writing, but I can’t help but wonder if the ability to read a graphic novel in a day or two isn’t part of the appeal for me (and for others, perhaps).

The more I think about it, though, the more I wonder if I am just being more judicious in what I read and have less patience for what I consider bad writing. I used to feel an obligation to finish a book when I started it, as if I owed the writer something (even though I paid the money for the words). It’s possible, too, that technology has made me a more engaged reader, in that I think I know what I want and I am reading more and more kinds of writing.

The world of words is open farther than ever before and I don’t have to sit still when I am not being moved by a writer’s craft. I may have an obligation as a reader to immerse myself into the writer’s head, but the writer has an obligation to give me a path there that I can believe in. In some ways, technology makes me see this relationship in a new light — at blogs and other sites, I can engage with writers and books directly. My expectations as a reader have changed.

Life is too short for feeling like I am stuck in a book just because I cracked it open and my time, too valuable. I want a book that engages and entertains me, not bores me. As I get older (more a factor than my use of technology, I am convinced), I am less likely to remain patience with books that don’t engage me.

I read because I want to be inspired. The moments when I put down a book and think, “My Gosh, that was an incredible journey,”  may be few and far between, but when they happen, they are like thundershots in the night and spur me on as writer. (The last book to that was Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Foer).

A good book makes me want to run out and write. Just as I wrote about why I blog, I read because I am a writer.

Peace (in the books),


Why I blog ….

I am reading a collection of articles from the book The Best Technology Writing of 2009 . I’m not very far in yet (the first piece is about Griefers, people in online worlds who try to make the games a miserable experience for others, which was unsettling to read) but last night,  I was very deep into an essay by Andrew Sullivan about why he blogs.  The piece is called “Why I blog.” In it, Sullivan goes deep into the value and pitfalls of the blogging world and it made me think about the same question: Why do I blog?

It seems to me that people blog for different reasons, at least in the circles that I wander. Some just post links to resources. Others write about their experiences as teachers, or as parents. Some share actual writing (short stories, images, etc.). Some use their space as a journal. Others, for a platform for videos and/or audio.

So, what I am doing here at this blog?

First, some background. I created this space about 1,250 blog posts ago (in years, that is about 3 1/2 years ago). I was spurred on to do it by a friend from the National Writing Project, who was blogging herself as a special education teacher in DC (see her blog) and she could not believe that I was not doing it, too. I was using blogs with my students at that time, so I knew about what blogging was and how to use it. But I was not blogging myself. Not as a writer. Not as a teacher. This was during my wonderful summer of technology known as Tech Matters, out in Chico, California, and Maria’s excitement and encouragement was all that I needed to check out this Edublog platform. I signed up and was off. I named it Kevin’s Meandering Mind because I knew I would be moving in different directions, writing about teaching but also music, writing, family and more. It’s a wide path I follow, which may frustrate the reader (sorry) but that freedom keeps me thoroughly engaged. I started out with some reflections on Tech Matters (see my very first post here at this blog), and then later, I began doing some podcasting of my history as a songwriter.

Many, many posts later, I am still here in this space I created in 2006 in Chico. So, why do I blog?

I blog because the act of writing gives me a chance to reflect on what I am doing. I am one of those who learns by doing and who understands by writing, and although I could do that writing in a paper journal, I admit that I like the stage of the world. The act of reflection in this space collects my thoughts as a portfolio (God forbid, the whole thing crashes, right?) and I often go back to see what I wrote about certain projects or ideas.

Like Andrew Sullivan, I see the blog as a different kind of space than writing for publication, which requires more in-depth thought and work to sustain an idea over a stretch of time. A post on the blog is what is on my mind right now — right this minute (although sometimes, an idea peculates for a spell before it spills out of my fingers). The immediacy of the action of blogging has always attracted me. I write fast, and when I write, I let my mind take over and just let it go (see reference to Meandering Mind above). Sometimes, I am surprised by what comes out on the screen. It has always been this way with me as a writer. I let myself surprise myself. A pencil slows me down. A keyboard is the perfect companion to my thoughts. And a blog to me is a perfect platform from which to write.

I blog to explore. There are so many cool tools out there, and so many more just bubbling up, that it becomes difficult to gauge the value for the classroom and for learning. We could rely on others to test things out and evaluate, but why not do that ourselves? I am one of those fools who jumps in, tries it out and then comes out the other side, ready to write about what I see as possibilities and drawbacks. I blog to share that with the world, and hopefully, here and there, I spark some interest in others. I would never have had that possibility before the world of blogs.

I blog to bring ideas into my own classroom — from webcomics, to stop-motion movie making, to creating publishing platforms for them as writers. I blog to see possibilities.

I blog because it has brought me into a rich world of collaboration and friendship. I have people all around the world with whom I have joined together with to create videos (the Collaborative ABC Project), photos (Photofridays), writing about our lives (Slice of Life), reflecting within the confines of a sentence (Day in a Sentence) and many others too numerous to name. This blog is the heart of much of that activity and I love how it expands my world exponentially.

Why do I blog? I blog because I am a writer.

Peace (in reflection),