My wife and I have been watching the television show, YOU, for the past few weeks, creeping out on the storyline. Besides shouting at the television for all the narrative holes in the plot (there are many) and for characters not seeing the obvious, it’s been sort of fascinating to watch how social media is baked into the fabric of the show of obsession.
This isn’t the first television show to necessarily do this — use social media and technology as a key storytelling device — (see Black Mirror for other examples) but YOU utilizes it so well for telling the story over an entire season — for the obsessive surveillance of one character over another (usually Joe watching Beck but sometimes Beck watching Joe); for a character who is a social media influencer, as her job; for creating fake accounts to create a false reality; for ghosting people and people worried about being ghosted; for tracking people down through bits of information; and more.
As You is situated in modern day New York City, it explores the dangers of social media culture with an emphasis on a lack of digital privacy.
Mobile phones for these young adults living in New York City are never far away from any character in the show, and when one character – Beck, a writer, of all things, who’s at the heart of Joe’s obsession — has her devices and apps and router all shut off by a colleague so she can actually write, the cold-turkey-syndrome of being so bored we see her pacing her apartment, doing all sorts of things (other than writing, alas) before finally giving in and booting up her router.
This might be you. Or me.
Television has long been a window on culture, if often slightly warped by narrative design. YOU is one of those shows, reflecting our desire to be connected to the stories of others and to project our own version of stories for others to read. YOU also shows us the surveillance state we have allowed ourselves to be part of, where tracking the histories and present of another is often as simple as following accounts, where we openly and freely share lots of information.
YOU uses this digital connection to creep us out with how the digital world feeds and nurtures obsessions. Maybe we should pay attention a bit more to what it is telling us about our world out here, beyond the screen, too.
This video by Nerdwriter (whom I support via Patreon) seems like it could connect with the inquiry now being done in Networked Narratives around technology, surveillance and agency.
Dark Patters are “crappy user experience that intentionally makes it difficult to do something ” that hurts the company. In other words, intentional design to thwart our own agency as a user. This is a fascinating look at this concept.
This is oddly intriguing and a bit unsettling. The video, shared in Networked Narratives, shows kids in 1966 chatting about what they envision as the future. So much of it was about Nuclear War, overpopulation, and the end of the world, and it’s sad to think how much was on the minds of these kids.
Another article had drawings of ideas of kids imagining the future, taken from 1961. An artist rendered their ideas as illustrations. Here, mainframe computers were already “serving” us (sort of like the aliens in Twilight Zone).
What about today? I teach young students, and when we have discussions these days about what’s ahead, mostly they seem optimistic, and expect that technology will be able to fix and solve most problems. They are often startled when we do a unit on technology and talk about data, privacy and more. The one significant concern many have? Climate Change. Although, they are less worried for themselves, and seem more worried about animals and ecosystems.
I was also reminded of this picture book — 2030: A Day in the Life of Tomorrow’s Kids — which is more optimistic and fun, following a kid through a day of talking dogs and virtual classrooms, and conveniently ignores most of the social and dehumanizing ramifications of technology.
I don’t know if others get Time magazine (do people still get magazines?) but I get a free copy because I use the Time for Kids version with my students. Last week’s issue still resonates with me, particularly as Networked Narratives opens with a theme of critical lens on technology and society.
The cover story is by Roger McNamee, who was an early investor in Facebook and whose presence during the early years helped shape what Facebook was to become. He says he was often in the room with Zuckberg during the formative years, and he is still an investor and shareholder of Facebook.
In his very critical piece that pulls few punches, McNamee chastises in a very public way both Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg for losing their way, for abusing their power with the social media platform, for ignoring their privileged position to enact change, and for being so driven by profit and algorithms that users’ trust and data have been abused, used, sold and discarded with little consideration of the human impact on society.
He also lays out some major topics and areas of concern where Facebook may be a threat to a civil and civic society:
Democracy (see, election interference)
Privacy (see, data surveillance of every click and view and share by Facebook)
Data (see, sale of data to third-party vendors)
Regulation (see, not any to speak of)
Humanization (see, or lack thereof)
Addiction (see, the world around you)
Children (see, bullying and alarm bells about the brain)
McNamee is blunt and to the point, calling Facebook to the carpet for losing its way (Me: I don’t think they ever had a way forward with true public benefit, despite the storytelling the company does, and I have never bought Zuckerberg’s platitudes about connecting the world to make it a better place. All signs point to profit, right from the start.)
Whether McNamee’s piece (which is adapted from a book he has coming out) makes a difference is unknown. He is still an investor and an insider, so maybe his influence will influence others, and that will influence Zuckerberg and Sandberg. I suspect not.
Other pieces in this edition of Time are also interesting, from Tim Cook calling for more regulation over data privacy to Filipino journalist/activitist Maria Ressa explaining how Facebook allowed others to attack her and her alternative news organization to Eli Pariser calling for restoring a sense of dignity in the technology world through better design.
A third iteration (three, right?) is underway for Networked Narratives, a university course also opened up to the world for open participants. It is overseen by Mia Zamora and Alan Levine. One of the first assignments is to use Kevin Kelly’s Internet Map project. I did this recently with my sixth grade students, so I will feature their artwork here.
I was fortunate not too long ago to be part of a discussion group with some National Writing Project colleagues that convened to share and discuss the possibilities of virtual and augmented reality for learning. We all brought examples from the field.
I shared out the Networked Narratives project — The Alchemy Lab. It’s a rich example of collaboration and storytelling, and how objects can inspire us to make media and to experience media in a virtual space. And now NetNarr is launching again …
“The switch is either on or off.” — Jonathan Josephson
In another video from an intriguing collection around transformation of storytelling, Jonathan Josephson explores the ways we interact with our technology, reminding us that the binary basis — the ones and zeros that make up the backbone of our technology — is both limited and non-intuitive for telling stories.
Josephson is part of a company doing work around technology interaction, so there is a commercial thread to this work. Even so, his observations of the tension between technology and people is worth a look and a consideratoin.
The second iteration of Networked Narratives has been over for at least a few weeks now, and I’ve had a version of this reflection sort of sitting here in my blog draft bin.
I’ve watched Alan Levine, one of the instructors, post his reflection yesterday from a teacher perspective (which was insightful to peruse). I’ve read through and enjoyed Wendy Taleo‘s reflection and presentation she gave about a project in Networked Narratives that we launched. I’ve skimmed through some of the final posts by the university students who took NetNarr for credit at their university.
What I continue to find intriguing is the open invitation by Alan and Mia Zamora for anyone to follow NetNarr and participate, and so I and some others (like Wendy and Sarah Honeychurch) have done so. We’ve come and gone, as we pleased. Added to conversations. Commented on blogs. Disappeared from time to time. Re-appeared suddenly. Engaged. Created. Made. Remixed.
Being out here in the Wild Open, as I often refer to it, has its advantages (we can engage where our curiosity is piqued and ignore the rest) and disadvantages (we aren’t always part of the larger conversation that comes from being in the class at the university, and seem to be invisible at times).
Here, in this NetNarr reflection, I want to share out a few projects that I took on that formed my framework of interaction, or at least, the hope for interaction. One of the three was more successful in this than the other two, but the other two were meaningful to me anyway.
First, when Mia and Alan announced this second round of Networked Narratives with the theme of Digital Life, I was interested. I had had fun with the first round of NetNarr a year ago, and figured, I’ll just see what they’re up to this time. I decided to bring a comic strip character out of hiding, and wanted to weave a story about Arganee –the fictional world of the first NetNarr — and digital alchemy, a theme of inquiry for NetNarr.
So, I wrote a story about Horse, the companion to The Internet Kid, and left the Kid at home. I remember being obsessed with telling this story in comics, and working very diligently on the storyline. I released the comic story, one comic at time, into the NetNarr hashtag, and then bundled the entire thing up into a graphic story adventure.
I really enjoyed this Horse with No Name comic project, but I got almost no response from the NetNarr students or participants (Wendy and I did a little exchange now and then), and I wonder if those students even knew that the Horse story was always part of NetNarr. Or if they just thought some weirdo was releasing comics into their midst.
Again, there was very little reaction to any of the poems, although I did them mostly for myself, and the challenge of writing small pieces on an angle from a prompt.
Third, there is the Digital Alchemy Lab project, an adventure that began with a desire to weave the concept of transmedia storytelling (which didn’t really take root the way I envisioned, mainly because I could not envision how it would take root), collaboration with other Wild Open participants (and university students), and the theme of “every object tells a story.”
Over the course of weeks, a group of us planned out how to invite collaborators to use media to tell stories of assigned objects, which were then woven into the Alchemy Lab — an immersive 360 degree art project using ThingLink. This project took the most time and coordination, and the result is something magical — a collaborative art piece that weaves story and media together in a fun way, showcasing how people can come together to create and make and learn. I wrote three long reflective pieces just about the Alchemy Lab endeavor.
This project continues, in a way, as we share out individual pieces each, with an invite into the lab. Yes, you are invited, too. Come on in. The narrative is networked.
Finally, I want to share a project that had on the surface seemingly nothing to do with Networked Narratives, and yet … it did, in my mind at least. It is a music collaboration project called A Whale’s Lantern, in which online music collaborators from all over the world work on writing and producing a song, which then becomes part of a larger “album” of music.
The reason I include this here in the NetNarr reflection is that I saw/see A Whale’s Lantern project as part of the larger aims of Networked Narratives — of finding ways to connect people from around the world with media creation (in this case, music) as connector points for collaboration, using the Internet as a way to publish and interact in a meaningful, authentic way. It didn’t matter that this took place off Mastodon as opposed to Twitter, or that I was the only one making the NetNarr connections (although Wendy may have seen that connection, too, as she dipped her toes into the music collaboration).
The point is that the very things that we all looked at in NetNarr around the positive elements of our Digital Lives — of following your passions and engaging in virtual strangers with similar passions to create something unique, together, with technology and media — played out beautifully here, overlapping at the same time I was engaged in NetNarr.
We weave the threads.
And, to make the connection even clearer, the lyrics I wrote for my collaboration with my partner, Luka, was inspired by Networked Narratives itself and the idea of digital alchemy. The song is called Alchemist Dream, and you can find the lyrics here. How’s that for synergy?
Thank you, Mia and Alan, for at least trying to find way to fuse classroom experiences at the university level with the open learning networks beyond the classroom walls. I still wish there were more ways to interact among the two groups — the Wild Open and the classroom — but realize the logistics would be difficult to navigate and the demands of running a university course are different from facilitating an open learning adventure.
I’ve shared out a few collections of small poetic responses that I have done for the past few months with Networked Narratives, and the Daily Alchemy, which now ends its semester run. This is the final collection, with a few odds and ends poems tossed into the mix, too.
I’m still thinking of how to bring all of the poems — literally, in the dozens and nearly 100 since January, but each poem is only six seconds long — together. Maybe I keep it simple, and just make a YouTube Playlist …
I’m always curious about interactive books, and since my students work on their own interactive fiction stories, I’m always on the look-out for more mentor texts for the classroom. This book — The Quest of Theseus— is a new series for me, but it seems as if it is part of a set of mythological heroes, with the reader having agency to make decisions about the actions and lead the story into different elements of the hero’s tales.
Here, there are three main story paths (battle the Minotaur, go to the Underworld, or fight for the throne of Athens), with 39 different choices and 18 different endings.
While the writing is so-so and the action could have been given a bit more excitement, this interactive book was engaging enough to bring the myths of Theseus alive, and has me wondering about if I might get a few copies for the classroom.
Certainly, Theseus is one of the models for Percy Jackson, and we do cover Greek Mythology in the year. I see from the back cover that there are about seven more books in the series, including one for The Odyssey.