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