Book Review: The Art of Immersion in the Age of Digital Media

Quotes: The Art of Immersion

I had purchased The Art of Immersion: How the Digital Generation is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue and the Way We Tell Stories by Frank Rose on my Kindle app during the first week of the first Networked Narratives, thinking that Rose’s text might be a nice dovetail to NetNarr. (Admission: this book review has been sitting in my draft bin … for some time. Interestingly, it still holds together with some of the projects I did in the second iteration of NetNarr)

Quotes: The Art of Immersion

I got caught up in some of other things — including some intriguing NetNarr projects — and only returned to Rose’s text later in the course itself. I’m glad I waited, for I think that our discussions in NetNarr helped frame what I read in the book. Rose examines the way that digital media, and the Internet in particular, is transforming the entertainment field, through technology and other elements of immersive storytelling. He brings years of reporting experience to his insights.

Quotes: The Art of Immersion

I’ll admit: I didn’t ‘deep read’ this book. I power-read it, slowing down in sections that caught my attention and interest, and then pulling out quotes that seemed to connect not only with my personal inquiry around the changing nature of digital storytelling but also in connection to some of the interactions I have with folks in NetNarr, CLMOOC and beyond around technology and composition.

Quotes: The Art of Immersion

Overall, Rose does a nice job of exploring all sorts of terrain, mostly from the entertainment standpoint. I, of course, am curious from the education standpoint, but there were plenty of places where those perspectives overlap. In particular, knowing a bit about where storytelling might be going (no one ever knows for sure) gives teachers a bit of an insight into the skills that might be needed for that kind of landscape.

Quotes: The Art of Immersion

The Art of Immersion is worth checking out, if only to get a glimpse of the world unfolding for our students, particularly those who are becoming interested in media production, where the tools are both complex and simple to use, and the possibilities for bending stories through different prisms, and for different audience experiences, is fascinating to think about.

Or, it is for me.

Peace (written in story),
Kevin

PS — a little promo from Frank Rose

 

Lyric Share: Alchemist Dream (Sleep Deep)

Yesterday, I shared out a collaborative music project that I have been involved with as part of the Mastodon federated network. A Whale’s Lantern brings together and connects random musicians, and then they work on the writing and recording of a song together over distant communications.

The first round of A Whale’s Lantern (entitled Flight Into the Nebula), I did a song with my friend, Laura, and this second round (entitled Everything Is Made of Smaller Parts), I collaborated with Luka.

 

Luka and I created a song called Alchemist Dream, based on some earlier interactions with Networked Narratives on the theme of “digital alchemy.” The theme of A Whale’s Lantern was “the elements,” so I worked those two strands — alchemy and elements — together in the initial demo I sent Luka, who then transformed the music with his own magical abilities.

Here are the lyrics to the song, in case you are curious:

The Alchemist Dream (Sleep Deep)

(FIRE)
If I could take this fire
stoke these embers of desire for you
I’d burn it up higher
Won’t you catch me, I’m a flier for you

(WATER)
I can catch the water
turn the buckets into bottles of wine
Let it run us on over
let the water flow deep inside

(EARTH)
Hold your hands together
let the sand be the trace of time
Let the earth shape and move us
the universe is tuned to rhyme

But only when we sleep, deep,
in Alchemist Dreams
They can only find us there –
digging in the world

(AIR)
I’m breathing in poems
the words as light as air
Telling all the stories
‘cause the songs are everywhere

But only when we sleep, deep,
in Alchemist Dreams
They can only find us there –
breathing in the world

Peace (following the lantern),
Kevin

Music By Collaboration: A Whale’s Lantern (Everything is Made of Smaller Parts)

Whale's Lantern: Everything is Made of Smaller Parts

The second round of music by collaboration — known by the project title A Whale’s Lantern — has now been released, and the theme of the musical pieces was The Elements. The album is located for listening, and for downloading, at Bandcamp. The whole project is built on collaboration — from the songwriting, to the recording, to the production. Each song represents a different collaborative partnership.

I was paired up with Luka, an amazing engineer and musician from Eastern Europe, and we worked together on a song called Alchemist Dream.

I wrote the lyrics, inspired in part by the Alchemy theme of Networked Narratives, and Luka wrote the music, and then we worked via email and other means to merge the two pieces together. I sing the song, and added some sax at the end, but Luka has done everything else. The back and forth we had was intriguing in many ways, and I am pretty happy with how our track ended up. Luka deserves much of the credit for the production value, as he spent hours working on it.

If you are wondering how this all works, a call went out from our friend Mascha in the Mastodon networking space (this is the second round; the first round is entitled Flight into the Nebula, and I worked with Laura on a song I wrote called I Fall Apart).

Participants are given rather random partners, and an extended period of time to work together. Some partnerships don’t get the finish line for all sorts of reasons. This second round had more completed tracks than the first.

The songs are then pulled together (by Mascha, who is the heart and soul of this project) on Bandcamp for sharing, and for purchase, with some proceeds going back into supporting the Mastodon network.

Read the oral history project from the first Whale’s Lantern album:

I hope you enjoy the music and the stories of how these pieces came together. Indeed, everything is made of smaller parts.

Peace (sounds like the world),
Kevin

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Broad Band (The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet)

History, it’s said, is told by the ones who win. Which makes me wonder with discomfort why I, an avid reader of technology, never thought about the question of “Where are all the women?” whenever I have read histories of the Internet and technology in the past. Broad Band (The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet), by Claire Evans, sets the record straight, and does so with depth and storytelling. I’m glad to have discovered it.

Evans, a technology reporter, dives in deep to the many women whose work from the very beginning of technology and computers (stretching back to Ada Lovelace’s work with Babbage) paved the way for the way we interact and use the Internet (and other tools) today.

There were women doing the first manual card programming of mainframe computers — the women were called “computers” before a conference of men decided that “computer engineer” was a better term that would allow more recruiting of people into the field, and in doing that change of identity, they effectively shut the door on many women who did have advanced degrees in engineering because of cultural norms around who stays home with the children and who is the primary paycheck in the family.

There were women at the heart of the emergence of video game design, creating games that were built around storytelling and interactive choices, eyeing ways to engage girls in a time when boys were the rage. A section here about marketing of games via gender is fascinating. There were women creating safe social networking spaces before, and then as, the World Wide Web began to take hold, years before MySpace and Facebook and Twitter. There were women who devised the protocols of the Internet data packet transfer systems.

We often hear about The WELL in San Francisco, California, as one of the starting point of community networking, but in the same city, in another building, there was a collective of women with their own mainframe computer, programming it to gather and share resources about social services for families and organizations, as well a place to make connections over modems. Just like the WELL, in some aspects, but RESOURCE ONE was more attuned to the common good of the world. And mostly forgotten. I’d never heard of it.

And on and on it goes, and I appreciate that Evans researched and wrote this kind of book, as a sort of counter-balance to the male narrative of computers and technology. I am appreciative of the design capabilities of these women, and their vision for a more connected and more positive world with technology as another means to an end.

Peace (in the back pages),
Kevin

Everyday Alchemy (video collection, continued)

I’m still deep into making daily alchemy with the Networked Narratives daily prompts (known as the Daily Arganee), but I suspect with the university courses nearing the end of the semester, the dailies will begin to fade off. Which is fine. (NetNarr is a combination of two university courses taught by Alan Levine and Mia Zamora, and anyone else on the open web who wanders in.)

Until the daily prompts end, I’ll continue to try to arrive at something poetic at a slant (meaning, I try not to address the prompt straight on but rather, use the prompt for something different — tilt your head to see, that sort of thing) … and I will continue to gather and curate my small pieces into short video collections. Right now, my biggest hurdle is trying to name these curated videos.

🙂

I am also still gathering every prompt response I have done, and need some sort of inspiration for the dozens of small videos that I have made. Something will come to me, I am sure …

Peace (alchemized),
Kevin

 

Video: Ethics of Immersive Digital Storytelling

(image via Andrea Phillips)

A conversation recently unfolded on Twitter about Transmedia Storytelling, in which author and transmedia storyteller Andrea Phillips joined in, adding an interesting wrinkle to the discussion.

She voiced concern over the ethics and responsibility of digital storytellers, particularly those who use media to trick/entertain viewers to enter into the story from different angles. (Transmedia is the idea of a story unfolded over different media, technology and platforms — the pieces joined together to tell a story, although each piece could stand on its own.)

(image via Pinterest)

Andrea then shared this Ted-style talk she did on this topic, and I think it is worth viewing, if only to remind ourselves that there is a fine line between reality and story, and between responsibility and creativity.

Meanwhile, I got Andrea Phillip’s book — A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling — out of the library and dove in last weekend, reading as she shared her experiences as creating Transmedia experiences and interviews with others. She brings a lot of great insights into the mix.

I enjoyed the inside look, although I came away with the notion that Transmedia pieces are mostly geared towards selling a product — a movie tie-on or a commercial aspect or marketing campaign.

Perhaps this is because that is her job — and if companies are the ones paying your fees, you make what they want you to make — but it struck me as unsettling, that my naive idea of “story for the sake of story” might be out of sync with the world.

Peace (sharing it responsibly),
Kevin

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