Pieces of Herself

“Pieces of Herself” is an obviously feminist e-lit narrative that utilizes multimedia (still imagery, moving video and audio clips) to illustrate different ways that women see themselves against a backdrop of an idealized American culture. I felt that this was a unique way of exploring the female character, in that it allowed me to go step by step, using different environments to help me understand how women see themselves in relation to those environments. I’m sure that my female colleagues will see this interactive differently than I do and it will be interesting to see how it plays out in class.

The opening imagery is small – almost like a doorway. The way the images can be slid across the screen and transferred to the cutout of a person made me think of germs (especially in the bathroom) and I thought that the metaphor was somewhat apropos in that the imagery piled up. It was as if the aspects of their character (as discovered in the various environments) became stuck to them and difficult to shake. A lot of the symbolism and clips referenced self-doubt or personal insecurities, particularly about their bodies. One clip referenced gray hair, another referenced not wanting her children to see her naked. Interesting that you don’t actually see any women at any point in the entire narrative except for the back of one woman in the bathroom scene.  In the bedroom, the references are to a woman who is missing (either physically or mentally) and the voice of a man is predominant.  There is nothing sexual or intimate or romantic or even very personal about the bedroom scene which I found interesting. In fact, the imagery seemed very impersonal although the audio clips were.

 

Going outside, we see a number of what I believe are “beginning of life” references – the baby, the monkey that turns into a man (a symbol of evolution), the apple in the tree that meshes with the church.  (The apple reveals a sermon about conception – talks about pain and a man ruling over her – not a very uplifting message about having kids and a family.) The song, “Que Sera Sera”, I took as channeling a woman’s mindset of saying whatever will be will be as it pertains to actually having a child. The imagery here is kind of a standard checklist of the bedrock of American family life – the 4×4, the flag, the house with the basketball net (implying a family) and the playground for kids. But the audio clips – both from the sermon which talks about the man ruling over the woman and the woman saying “i always said i would give my child the best that i could possibly give them” – seem to position the woman as subservient to her environment, even her family, putting the husband and the children first. In fact, the statement from the woman felt to me to be as much a promise from the protagonist as a challenge to her – making her feel guilty about the possibility that she wont be able to fulfill that promise.

 

In the kitchen, the voices that speak – the one talking about a recipe and the one talking about wanting to be spicy – sound like voices channeling the voice or thoughts of the so-called ideal wife and mother – appealing to her husband and making something delicious for the family. (also telling her kid to wash their hands and talking about underwear that makes her look skinny revisits the idea of body consciousness)  The imagery is all black-and-white – giving it a very 50’s feel – a time in America when the family units were elevated and expectations for husbands and wives were more (publicly) clear-cut.  I get the sense that those are the expectations that some women believe they are still fighting against.

In the living room, the clip is of an contrary view in which the woman goes through a whole list of what she wears and what she drives but says none of it matters to her. The whole thing is rather contradictory. A note that none of the environments represented are overly lavish. The fact that the TV is tuned to Oprah speaks to the middle class and middle class striving to have more, even while (as the woman does in the clip) saying that material goods don’t really mean anything.  I don’t think we can take her statement at face value. The sex toy under the pillow adds an interesting wrinkle – hiding something they are ashamed of?

In the office, its about limitations for women – not being able to show emotion.  I found it fascinating that the spine and brain are located here in the office, not at home. In other words, the office is where the spine and brain come in handy or get used, not at home. But there is imagery here that speaks to the outdated old-fashioned roles for women in the workplace as well – the desk and the filing cabinet, for example. The dialogue box here says “where she fought to keep them all”, which I took to reference the difficulty in balancing all of her tasks, both at work and at home.

Outside  again, we hear a teacher talking about how education tends to take a back seat to social issues – like looks. There’s imagery here to back that up, including the image of a breast at Dairy Queen where the message is about girl trying to be beautiful or attractive in social situations.  I wondered here if the author was remembering how it was in high school for her – or is it an “idealized” or stereotypical version of what’s going on in American high schools across the country.  This was not quite as groundbreaking to me – the imagery and message was more blunt than it was in other scenes, although the idea that looks are prioritized over education in the minds of women and girls is a troubling one (and all too prevalent I’m sure).

I found this to be an extraordinary way to demonstrate how women see themselves personally and their place in American culture. In addition, it seems to me that the point of doing this was to show how women continue to fight against outdated stereotypes, even if in some cases it is women themselves consciously or unconsciously fulfilling or perpetuating them. I thought that this was less e-literature (there’s very little writing) and more of a multimedia presentation, but it made great use of – not only imagery and sound – but color, image positioning, backgrounds, etc…

 

Inanimate Alice

Inanimate Alice is a digital novel that incorporates visual, sound and interactive elements. In one description I read, it is called “transmedial” – a storytelling technique that utilizes multiple digital platforms and formats. It even includes a game within the game for the player if they choose. The overarching theme of this story for me was a sense of loneliness and feeling out of place. In this Episode 4 (of which I discovered there at least six episodes), Alice discusses moving to a new city  in England. There is heavy digital/electronic/industrial overtones here – from the staticky soundtrack that accompanies most of the game to the repeated imagery of buildings, factories and urban decay.  I get the sense that it’s important we recognize that this is not just a story about a human individual, but how she relates to the urban landscape and (as I found out later) to the digital world. In the telling of the immediate setting for the story (Alice climbing the stairs of a rickety factory and getting stuck), I notice that the words take on the motions of a person – like climbing the stairs or “struggling” to get up on the platform after the stairs collapsed. Interesting to see human characteristics animating previously inanimate words. I notice early on that as the scenes progress, boxes are revealed on the right side of the screen, making it possible to view any section of the story at any time, but only after the scenes have been revealed in order the first time. I would note that this is kind of like memories of how you got to a certain point in your life (or predicament) – like once it happens, you can think back and try to figure out how you got there, but can run through the memories in any order you choose.

Alice’s recollections of Moscow show that she reflects on the same parts of that city as the one she’s in. Very industrial with fences, lots of buildings and walls and even stairs. The stairs I sense are a critical symbol in her story.  The literal stairs that brought her to where she is can also be a metaphor for the experiences she’s had that brought her out of Russia and into England. Yet, just as the stairs are swept out from under her, the experiences that brought her to England haven’t necessarily given her the sense of belonging or satisfaction she had hoped for, and now she’s left, marooned or stuck in a sense, in a new place, with no way to go back and only an unmarked path to go forward.

It’s clear through her recollections at school and with her project that she is allied with digital technology and uses it as a pathway to make friends. She is trying to make the best of the situation she finds herself in, but has her doubts of whether it will work out. She wonders if her new friends really like her or is she is just a “novelty”. We see the indications of her wanting to do what it takes to fit in. Her parents are obviously not try to make things better for her, and both the imagery and the way she discusses her parents she tons of limitations. The home is limited because its skinny and outdated and the layout is bad (with walls everywhere and long stairs – again!). She calls it horrible but says she likes the idea that they are staying, again trying to make the best of a bad situation. Her parents seem incapable of the same emotion and its interesting how she makes a literal list of things she doesn’t like about them (very teenager-like). We never see any images of her parents. I think its interesting that school, home, friends, her project and her city are the only options to click on – like they are the only things in her world.

I should mention that I liked the idea of her building projects on her phone, but I felt it could have been more interactive for the player.  We could only really click one place at a time and had limited options.

I think her imagery of the city is fascinating. Based on everything I had seen and experienced up to this point, I expected the imagery and sounds would have been much more industrial. But the imagery was almost pastoral – the music calmer and less urgent and she even mentions how she likes the weeds and we see drawings of geese – showing us she is working to see the natural part of the city (or maybe again trying to find the silver lining in a nasty situation.)

Back to the factory, I felt like the creators did a great job using the imagery and the sounds to communicate a haunting loneliness. The idea that Alice keeps going even when she runs into obstacles is a good metaphor for how we’ve seen her conduct herself in this new city up to this point. I didn’t realize who the sketch of the boy was until I googled the story series and discovered its her imaginary digital friend Brad. This part of the story adds another layer, in that it allows the reader to either play the game by trying to escape the catacombs by themselves (or with help from Brad) or to simply read a narrative that walks them through. Both are effective, although there were images I felt like I saw in one or the other experience that weren’t present in both. I like the idea that you could get a different experience depending on what you chose. The constant image of urban decay, abandoned industry and desolate, crumbing rooms and tunnels simply underscored the loneliness that Alice must have felt and several times, she starts to give  in to paranoia, wondering if someone is watching her or if she hears something that she cannot see. The multiple faces that show up on the walls in graffiti form are very distressing. Especially this one:

alicescream

Maybe they are the ones she senses are watching her? The fact that she emerges to triumphant music and to a scene of more buildings is almost disappointing.  What about her friends? Her home? Instead, for her, the moment of success seems to be that she can see with true perspective – no longer limited, she sees the city before her – “like it all belongs to me”. Being able to see everything with clarity seems to be her victory. But I must say, that throughout the story I had assumed that getting out, or overcoming the challenge of being trapped in an abandoned building meant getting out on the ground floor. It wasn’t until the end that I realized she was escaping upward… Is the key to her happiness to not look to the next challenge until she has to, namely how to get down from the top of the building?

As for my ideas, I am sticking with my idea of using musical lyrics to tell a story between a father and son. They will each be represented by guitars. The plot structure will be an encounter between the two, in which each tries to communicate in his own “voice” (the boy with rock and roll or heavy metal lyrics and the father with blues or ’50’s rock lyrics), but they will be unable to communicate or understand each other. At the point in which clicking between the two builds the conversation to an impasse, we will transition to a scene of a concert (where the boy will have fled) and the player can hit different points on the screen to play guitar solos.  It will then transition back to the home scene and the father and son will attempt to communicate again. At some point in the back-and-forth, they will strike the correct “chord” and they will begin speaking in a common “voice” to resolve the conflict. I will need imagery of guitars for the main characters, as well as a concert and home image for the two scenes. I will then need a bank of prechosen audio snippets to represent each character’s voice, with one set for the before-concert conversation and one set for the after-concert conversation. They will be randomly chosen when the player clicks the guitars. At some point, clicking two “correct” snippets in succession will erase all of the audio snippets except two – which will represent the final exchange between the two. (in the same “voice” or song).

High Muck a Muck

I actually looked at High Muck a Muck initially for my own project and I am glad to get a chance to play. The phrase itself means an important or influential person, especially one who is pompous or conceited. It comes from Chinook Jargon in the period (later 1800’s) and area (Pacific Northwest) in which the story is set. The first screen appears to be the Pak Ah Pu lottery card that they reference. Interesting that it seems the game is set up to be multimodal (text, video and sound) and it indicates that the player has final decision on how the game unfolds, since the front page promises that the site can be explored “in any order and for any length of time”. No other part of the page is clickable except Enter. The text reveals slowly. The poem begins two lines at a time, referencing the lottery book which then replaces the poem large in the center of the screen. Some of the Chinese letters seem to be darker than others and I found that at least one was clickable, but while I was checking the others, blue ink stains appeared over some of the letters and then it all disappeared, replaced by a map. Starting over, I tried clicking on the one spot and all it does is erase the spots and then they come back again. So I let it go to the map. The lottery  card in the corner acts as a kid of a map key and reveals a list of places you can explore if you cursor over it. There is the sound of Chinese flute music – very calm at first, but soon replaced with conversations and silverware, etc – sounds very much like a restaurant. The blue stains are now on a person’s back covered with a drawing that looks like a map. By messing with the key, I discover that this is the home page. If you click on the book that says “British Columbia” in the left corner, it takes you to a poem. The seven biggest and darkest blue dots correspond to the seven locations in the lottery key. Clicking on “Everywhere and Nowhere“, you get a mystical horn sound, like a digeridoo. There are the images of two men facing away from each other and a ying yang between them. The ying yang takes you to a video that shows an old man emerging very slowly from the black screen – so slowly I thought the link was broken. It then pushes in on him. Is this the man with the lottery card from the beginning of the story? Discordant music plays over the video which just keeps pushing into the old man’s left eye. At about the halfway point, it dissolves into a bay’s eye and slowly pulls back. The juxtaposition of old and young is interesting – perhaps it means that if we look closely enough, we find things about us that are all the same? Just like the baby and the old man’s eyes are the same when you look closely?  (As I point out later, it’s interesting that each of them is shown separately and by themselves, fitting with a theme of solitude throughout.)

Back to the home page and I’m trying to figure out what this is a map of. The opening page mentions that the idea of this game is to explore the difficulties of Chinese immigrants in North America’s Gold Mountain, which I discovered is a reference to both San Francisco and Canada’s British Columbia. The closest parallel I can find using Google Maps is Vancouver Island just north of Washington state. The lighter blue dots on the map reveal short poems, seeming to channel Chinese immigrants’ experiences and perhaps the locals as well (dealing with the wave of immigrants). One poem talks about villages a hundred years ago and describes them as “elegance in tune” – perhaps a reference to life before the immigrants came. But another says he marks his time “in sluice” – a type of gate that can be used in panning gold (a big part of what drew immigrants to the region). There are references to Chinese cuisine and names. By the way, interesting that each poem has an FW at the bottom – I’m guessing a reference to Fred Wah, one of the makers of the game. Click on the Pacific Rim, I realize that it has a book in the corner. I go back and check and the Everywhere and Nowhere page does not have a book. Clicking the book, I get a poem about the location. It seems to be referencing the troubles for someone going back and forth between China and Canada – “the counterbalance to the Mainland not so man at home” – maybe means the man is no longer welcome back home?  “Here and back again, stopped stunned and caught in this double-bind of information, Chinese-Canadian, China Chinese tongue-tied”… maybe the man is finding it difficult to jump back and forth both physically and mentally and getting caught unable to speak the language fluently either place. On the man page for the Pacific Rim, there are three ships (actually the middle one is several ships).  That middle one shows a bunch of stuff shipped by China and the label “Made in China”, so perhaps this is about how critical China is to other parts of the world and how Chinese immigrants want to be recognized for that? In Richmond, the poems and images are about Chinese immigrants longing for you and complaining about being disillusioned by the U.S. One video shows expensive American houses and complains about this “empty life”, saying “it’s just not me.” Interesting that this is a modern story with modern images – not so much a reference to life in the 1800’s (although the sensibilities may have been the same). The juxtaposition of the Chinese drawings and art (even the writing has a Chinese feel) and music with the American images is jarring. It gives the player the sense that these things are being forced together instead of fitting together seamlessly. I think this is the whole point, to show the beauty of the Chinese culture and then show how poorly it fits with America. I noticed that many of the characters in the art are depicted singularly and in the videos as well, it’s often (if not always) a single person or face. They even opt to push into the face a couple of times, emphasizing the singularity and (in my opinion) solitude of the person, giving the viewer no sense at all of the people or environment around them.

The overarching theme is of someone who doesn’t feel like they belong – either in the homeland they have left or in the new land they now inhabit. Canada is similar – it shows a map of the Northern U.S. along with the Great Lakes and images of workers and the railroad. The poems speak of loneliness (ancestors who wont remember you) even though it seems to refer to a lot of ancestors being in the area (or maybe just a lot of Chinese). Interesting to note all of these maps are on images of a body, showing that the land and the experiences of these lands are ingrained in the people and that the people and land start to become inseparable for better or for worse. When these immigrants came to these areas, it changed them forever.”Nelson” is another dot (a city I discovered). The images you can click on are more modern – restaurants and shops and a small house… The poems again speak of homesickness – of dreaming of a land across the water – and disconnectedness from the Chinese people who are living there – the “uncle” in the shop, the people playing mah jong. The main character questions everything – how are they related to him?  or more likely, how are they like him? Another image of a man with a camera takes us to a video. More action in this one – mostly showing people playing mah jong, with a close up on the game (not a lot of faces) and an odd toy or something showing a figure with a Chinese hat on a string leash of some kind. Again, faceless and unidentifiable. In the poem, it’s interesting that the narrator admires a man named “Charley” who he says “is China”. Apparently he finds it easy to move between the two worlds – a trait our  narrator finds admirable.

After I clicked through the locations, I tried the “Legend” which I should have looked at first. It told me what all the images meant (and I went back to look at another video hidden behind a character in Vancouver. It showed people moving cups around) And it told me that ears had audio from people who told stories about the places they lived and their experiences. The key also had an option to learn about the making of the game and all their awards, as well as an option to tweet about it or share the game on Facebook. All in all, this is a very involved, multi-layered game with lots of different options for the player. The drawings and audio put you very much in the mind of an Asian/Chinese experience and with the different text, video and audio options, there are lots of places to draw a sense of what the authors are trying to do. That said, the entire game seems very much to stay with the theme which, to me, is that of people coming to a new land, trying to maintain identity and yet feeling disconnected, at odds with the new culture even as they try to maintain their own, and in some ways disillusioned with where they find themselves. And yet, the sense is they don’t really have an option to go back (although they admire those that can move between the two worlds) and so therefore are stuck to try and make the best of it. Looking back, I think the image of the lottery card may simply be telling us that all of life is a game of chance. You make your choice, buy your card, and hope to come out ahead.

 

 

 

 

Tailspin

Tailspin is a fascinating interactive text that uses sound to tell the story with sparse text and striking images as supplements for the story. It is focused around a father/grandfather figure that is suffering from tinnitus and reflects the way he communicates (or fails to communicate) through a haze of chaotic and discordant sounds. The reader is encouraged to click on spirals to advance the story. On each page, all of the spirals have to be clicked in order for a blue one in the center to appear – that is the one that advances the story to the next “scene”.

It begins with eerie music and what sounds like plates and silverware clinking, giving the reader the sense of a domestic scene. One of the spirals brings sound of the father figure shouting – a menacing, incoherent voice (I later reflected that it sounded more like a beast than a man, so probably how it sounded to those hearing it but also possibly to the man who is shouting but is only partially hearing himself). Nothing happens when you click on the spirals. You only need to cursor over it. Each one has text and some have images as well. When a spiral reveals a poem about a child helping birds, you hear birds. Images of birds also show up. Here, for the first time, we start to understand what’s going on. A child is fearful of her grandfather because he is angry and shouts (that’s mentioned twice). Also, the idea of the birds here introduces a contrast that appears throughout the story – the sky and birds and flying. I feel that ultimately, it is used as a metaphor for being free – free from the family conflicts and physical limitations (like tinnitus) that shackle the protagonist. The children also wish for freedom from a home dominated by this angry man.  A third spiral reveals an image of a cat dancing with a dog. The imagery is interesting. It is a sketch rather than a full picture, it looks cartoony, and the creatures move across the screen. They almost look like kids in costumes. The dog is particularly odd. It has clear eyes (no pupils) and the body looks like a six pointed star. They are not fixed on the screen, but are constantly moving and changing. In this way, they are like kids, and the images are accompanied by the sounds of kids laughing and playing and the sounds of an arcade or a cartoon. After cursoring over the screen a few times, a third creature appears – more like a kid in a costume (looks like it has a hood with whiskers drawn on).   The images stay on the screen, even when you move to the next spiral. On this screen, the main character is named as George and the text reveals him to be kind of a typical grumpy old man (he says things like “the kids should play outside” and references “back in my day”.)  Another spiral reveals a girl wanting to smash plates – the first indication of anger here from someone other than George. The source of the voice is not clear. Up to this point, the voices seem to be either George or his young grandchildren. The blue spiral appears when you click on a spiral that says “Kill the noise, deaden the fear” – kind of an inner monologue, like a devil on George’s shoulder. This is a constant theme – the issues he has with his family and noise. The cat cartoon character has disappeared leaving just the dog and squirrel. On the next screen, there is spiral mentioning that the girl doesn’t want to ask her grandfather something – reinforcing the fear the kids feel from him. The last spiral here has references to fire engines and is totally off topic from anything else so far. It introduces an element of uncertainty and chaos into the story. There is a sound like the wind on a microphone held by someone running.

The next screen shows more references to kids playing and indications that the parents are trying to downplay it. George is getting increasingly annoying. There are the faces of multiple cartoon characters on screen – more close up – maybe that means they are more in his face, so to speak? I’ve also begun to notice a series of escalating high piercing notes that play over and over while I’m reading – an obvious reference to tinnitus and the high-pitched whine in one’s ears.

 

New references now to George’s war history – and a time in his life that he clearly remembers with some  measure of pride, but as we find out later, also some shame. At this point in the story, it contrasts with a child or grandchild’s love of war films. So both characters referenced “love” the war, but for difference reasons. One of the spirals here sends out red rings and a kind of a “death ray” type of sound.  Looks like radar as well. Seems to be a reference to his hearing because of the sound, but could be a reference to the war as well. One spiral here shows one of George’s adult kids thinking about telling the kids to tone it down but opting against it – in other words, willfully eschewing an opportunity to help her father. Another makes clear that George has told them that almost anything sets off his hearing problems, yet when we read that other people have talked to him about his hearing problems, we get no sense that they are really reaching out – only that they are upset about his reaction. More rings appear. Also, we see images of ears and an image of blue sky and a plane when he talks about joining the military with hopes of being an air cadet. Also a reference to “explosions” – amping up the urgency from this element of chaos introduced alongside the story.

 

Next screen is more examples of kids playing and the grandfather getting annoyed. In one, he yells again – a monster-like sound – and it says he “spits fire” – a war/fire metaphor that gets used repeatedly. Now we start to get some shape to the storyline about the fire and explosions – there is a reference to a burning plane and images of fire. Again, one of his children willfully doesn’t help her father by sitting on the side of him where he can’t hear. Wondering if the images of the cartoon animals that show up are an indication of the way the grandfather sees the kids? As animals?

A heartbeat has joined the sound of the escalating tinny whiny noises and a schematic of the inside of an ear appears.

On the next screen, closeups of the cartoon faces coincide with a mesage about not being able to understand people. I feel like the way the faces flash and are closeup is a reflection of how he feels intimidated or confused. There is a lot of overlapping noises now. We get an indication that he never got to get into the air cadets with a message that says his dreams were dashed. Noises are annoying and chaotic.

Interesting that where one message talks about about George never listening to her, there’s a line that says he can be fun too, but its faded as if spoken under the person’s breath or as an aside – like a thought that seems ridiculous or shouldn’t be spoken aloud or even a distant memory cropping up out of the blue. I feel like the heartbeat has sped up now. Lots of references to war-like metaphors or burning – for instance, an argument for treatment is “shot down in flames”.References here that the grandfather still holds out hope of flying – a peaceful sound of wind,m images of blue sky and birds appear. Interesting that when a kid talks about the birds and sky they say it’s boring. An interesting contrast between two viewpoints. The sounds are more persistent now – the heartbeat faster, the bells ringing, a siren-like wail, a sound like a teletype machine beeping…. Lots of use of “hearing language” – mentions turning a deaf ear, says she cant get a fair hearing – birds and planes are prominent here – as if everyone wishes they were somewhere else

In the next screen, we get to the nut of it – he feels ashamed that he was never a pilot – the daughter feels shame as well, mistaking her father for a “hero”. But we see that it’s not that cut and dry. He remembers seeing a pilot die in a burning plane – and says 9 out of 10 of the pilots ended up being a “dead hero”.  In the passage about a pilot trapped in a burning plane, we hear a teletype machine and fire engines and images of fire. He also writers that about the pilot “screaming for his mother” but the text is faded – like it is a thought he is trying to suppress.  Lots of warlike language here – words like bullets, him spitting fire, etc

The next screen has an image of a spiraling plane (spirals again!) coming at the reader and a horrible voice yelling “Help Me” and the grandfather says he’s actually happy for his bad ear, presumably because he couldn’t hear the screams of the dying pilot – an interesting contrast after the entire story has been spent talking about how much trouble and heartache his ears have given him.  Another passage showing George’s child willfully opting against reaching out to him. Even when he looks “vulnerable”, there’s a “red hot burning block” keeping her from reaching out – interesting language considering how much burning and fire plays into the reasons that George can’t reach out to her.  Here, the blue sky starts to feel like a metaphor for death – the ultimate escape from the world in which he is physically trapped and perhaps an escape to the world he misses – of flight and planes and heroes in WWII. The final spiral is red and takes you to a screen where there are dozens of circles and the text “Hang onto deafness for dear life”. I take that to mean that in the end, the grandfather may have actually been more grateful for not being able to hear the screams of the dying, even if it cost him the ability to communicate with his family. Interesting that he is physically barred from communicating, but his children (and by extension his grandchildren) have chosen not to communicate with him – preferring to lecture him about treatment and then passing on opportunities to genuinely reach out.  Another spiral takes you to the credits for animation, sound and special thanks.

 

 

 

 

E-Lit: The Beginning

I have not encountered much of this kind of writing, but it strikes as a fascinating way to use the senses to communicate a story beyond text on the page. Upon first looking at it, it struck me a bit like ee cummings who tried to defy conventional writing styles to give the aesthetic quality of his words meaning and add to the communicative value of those words.  Now, through technology, that seems like just the tip of the iceberg.

I first chose to investigate “Like Stars in a Clear Night Sky“.  The initial impression of the experience was that it is designed to put you at ease through the use of bells and the slow, gradual appearance of the stars. The foreign language also adds to the sense of the expotic. It sounded Middle Eastern to me and the whole thing gave me the impression of being in a Middle Eastern desert, at a bazaar or something – perhaps long ago, listening to stories.  The aesthetics certainly put you in the mood for a story, that’s for sure.  The tiny script on the opening page certainly intrigued me, like it was almost a secret. The tone of the voice is somewhat hushed as well. I immediately moved my cursor to the stars to see if captions would appear (which they did).  I was a bit impatient and began clicking on them as soon as I had checked out the first few.  I only looked at 3 or 4 before clicking to read my first poem.  (I actually went back and restarted the program three times and found that in my impatience, I realized I was ignoring the tone and tenor of the speaking voice entirely and was annoyed that I had to wait so long for new stars/stories to pop up. The captions came up very slowly. I guess my sense of relaxation dissipated as soon as I had the opportunity to explore the experience further). I first tried the story titled “The boy who dreamed the world” and found the poem there did not make sense to me.  First of all, I didn’t feel the poem fit the title (and found that in subsequent readings I had the same issue – that the title was a clever phrase that seemed to be chosen more for its pithiness than its representation of the story).  The poem itself was a musing on the nature of heaven.  But the boy talks about the immensity of eternity and about all the adventures he could have but then says he could become bored with it.  Did he mean that the adventures could only happen in life and not in death/eternity? It didn’t make sense. It took away from the overall experience. I also read poems about the uncle whose “life was a test” and the water “that is thirsty”. The “uncle” narrative I found to be disjointed and the ending felt tacked on – a different story about a different man who said his life was a test.  While it was supposed to be evocative , I think the story of a man who finds a woman he loves and follows to a different country and raises wonderful children with – then is upset because she says something petty is not a substantive enough account to make me consider his suggestion in a serious light. The water story is more of a poem – and it is good for what it is.  But what does me mean his water is thirsty?  The author, Ezzat, plays with language but doesn’t hone in on anything.  He just uses water metaphors.  I liked the story about the land that is changed by its inhabitants and the author’s opportunity to decry those who no longer hear the voice of the land, but it’s a story and a pint of view that’s been expressed before.  Another poem in which the author talks about the world wanting to become his family and says they are knocking at the door, ends with a line where he says “I ask them to keep it down; you are still sleeping in a small room upstairs.” That is nonsense in my opinion and poor writing.  Clearly, the entire poem is a metaphor and yet in the last line he is using realistic language?  Is the idea that you are sleeping upstairs a metaphor for something? If so, I don’t see it.  In all, I found this site aesthetically beautiful and well put together.  However, when you weigh the “setup” (the bells, the tones, the images) against the actual poems/stories, the poems and stories fail to deliver.  I found this site disappointing overall.

After checking out the other two, I can say that I found Soliloquy to be an interesting setup but frustrating in its execution.  The text is very small, the screen once you get to the conversation has no ornamentation and clicking on line at a time was tedious at best.  I thought it interesting that you could search for words and phrases, but I wasn’t sure what meaning one could derive from the fact that let’s say, he mentions Diane’s name nine times. The aesthetic value of this site was essentially nil. I ended up highlighting the entire paragraph so I could see everything at once.  I felt it was more interesting in theory than in practice.

redridinghood was also interesting – a far more complicated aesthetic than the other two and by and large, it kept me interested when the story went awry.  First thing I noticed was that it opened in a small box not a fullscreen which gave it a level of intimacy but also felt like a school project (like it was somewhat incomplete). The box tab read “they are evil” which i thought was a spooky little aspect. The music was fantastic – a little industrial, punk, grunge.  It made it clear this was not the fable you are used to.  I watched the video multiple times to make sure i clicked on as many of the little icons as possible.  The ones on the first screen did nothing (which was a bummer) and it seems like no matter what you do, you end up in the apartment highrise where it appears you can click on many different windows but you can actually only click the lit one.  Ultimately the only place I could see that you could try alternate storylines was once redridinghood falls asleep and you can pick different directions for her dreams.  The music changes in each of these progressive scenes and that was great.  But I felt there were multiple missed opportunities for other things to happen.  What about the mother?  What about the raccoon that appears to be chasing her?  What about the boy that confronts her on the path?  It was visually interesting and the art was compelling.  There were some cool little tricks – like the fact that the flowers spin and seem to explode if you put your cursor on them.  But the dreams were just a sidebar to the “story” which was that the boy apparently gets rid of whoever the woman in the bed is (grandma i assume?) and then once redridinghood is in the bed, he appears to be ready to shoot her in the head before the story ends.  It felt like it skipped around a bit and that the author relied on us knowing the original fairy tale in order to fill in gaps that they either didn’t want to bother with or didn’t have time to flesh out.  Again, the art was great, the music was great and I thought it had some promise, but ultimately I felt like there could have been more.

redridinghood

 

 

Reflecting on Air-B-N-Me & the Class

After participating in Air-B-N-Me, it allowed me an opportunity to reflect on how it was a microcosm of my experience with digital media as a whole. It was daunting at first, fun and creative once I got into it and yet included some technical obstacles that frustrated me and left me wondering if it was all worth the effort. The opportunity to “participate” in digital media with my colleagues and with others was fun, although it still seemed like less of a free-flowing give-and-take and more of a bulletin board type of opportunity. I don’t think that was the original vision of the project so I’ll give the creators the benefit of the doubt, but I believe that the creativity exhibited by both the creators and participants made the project worthwhile. As I pointed out above, I think it provided a lens into what’s good and bad about my online experiences thus far. It also showed me that the possibility of exploring new ways to use digital media to share online space in a creative way that expands our ideas about reality and community makes the whole thing worthwhile.

Going back to the beginning of the class, we focused on our responsibility to participate in the world of digital media and how the line has become blurred between our “real” lives and our digital lives. This is a tough lesson for a guy like me to learn because I feel strongly that there are simply parts of our lives that should remain unplugged. However, even during the time I’ve been in this class, I’ve found myself dragged (sometimes willingly, sometimes unwillingly) into the online world more and more (spending more time on my phone, more time tweeting, on Facebook, etc.).  Is this good or bad?  I still tend to see my kids spending time online and my reflexive response is that they should shut it off and go find a friend to play with outside. However, this class has helped me realize that their online lives are in some ways equally substantial and consequential as their lives in the real world. I am trying not to disparage the lessons they can learn by participating in online communities, while simultaneously trying to take more steps to immerse myself in that world. At the beginning of this class, I wrote in my second blog (This is Collaboration?) that I was appalled at the idea that someone could take the skills they learned in World of Warcraft and parlay that into a job at MIT. The problem I had was seeing how the skills earned by manipulating online communities were so different or more important than the skills used to navigate disputes and problems in the real world. Several months later, I feel like I can look back and have a better understanding of the particular difficulties inherent in building your online profile and communicating therein. Understanding how to communicate without being misunderstood, how to communicate to a large group of people in remote locations and how to keep abreast of the sheer volume of communications in an online space are daunting and unique challenges.

The presentation that I created helped me see more clearly the connection between what I do as a journalist and the participation of people all over the world. Up until now, I still saw UGC (user generated content) as something of a unique aspect of my business – something that overlaps with my job only every once in a while. But I see now that journalism is being transformed as we speak by people providing content and analysis and participating in the way news is not only created but communicated and understood across online spaces. We in the news are no longer even the match that lights the spark, but one match of many. And while we play a role in how news is communicated and understood by the masses we may no longer be the primary conduit of that message or the key to how it is framed. Finally, I’ll mention the technical problems that I encountered along the way. Creating my presentation, joining Instagram and participating in the Air-B-N-Me brought me face-to-face with a number of challenges in actually getting programs to work the way they were supposed to. In many ways I felt like my son as he tried to figure out what file to take pictures from or how to rename them – something totally unrelated to the task he was trying to accomplish (although he didn’t know it). I feel like some of this stuff should be intuitive and it’s not, some is needlessly complicated for the sake of aesthetics and some simply doesn’t make sense. Maybe it’s my old brain trying to comprehend something new, but I don’t think so. I think there are times when people who are in charge of bridging the gap between new media and the new generation sometimes forget about us in the generation that came before. Give us a break – we are trying to get on board as well. 🙂

NetProv Air-B-N-Me

I wasn’t too sure about this project at first. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all good with the creative aspect and the idea of inhabiting someone else’s life actually inspired a few interesting story ideas that I tucked away for future use. But in this case, it was the technological part of this that made me nervous. I have absolutely zero experience with Periscope and was concerned about letting people actually view my life for any period of time. (I know other people seem to have no problem with that, but it’s not exactly my thing). In reality, it turned out that my fears were (somewhat) justified when it turned out that the creative part was by far the most fun and the actual process of getting the posting together and up on the site was far more painful than I would have thought (and admittedly more difficult than it probably should have been).

Meeting with my group was a good way to kick off the project. I had initially thought about creating an ad that would offer the lurfer an opportunity (“swapportunity”) to be a child again.  I had a vision of me riding my bike down a hill in the sunshine when I was 10 or 12 and feeling like there was simply no weight on my shoulders. No responsibilities, none of the pressures that would come later in life. Enticing right? However, in discussing that with my group I initially thought a classmate was doing something similar. And then when she switched, I felt like perhaps others on Air-B-N-Me would do it.  I haven’t come across a similar idea on the site. Oh well. During our discussion, Melissa talked about giving some insight into what it was like to do her job as a waitress and I decided to take one of the unusual aspects of my job and make it the subject of my swapportunity. Thus, I decided on PreDawnDriver and gave people the chance to ride with me (instead of me?) to work at 4am from the Jersey shore all the way into NYC. The pitch? Enjoy a quiet commute with no traffic and no one bothering you – just you, the moon and the empty road. Creating the ad was easy and I accomplished it without difficulty. I created the video over the course of a few trips and then cut it together with Windows MovieMaker, added sound and posted it to YouTube. The problem was that I could not figure out how to post the video. I could see other people’s video links under their own posts. But when I tried to add to my forum posts I got this.

 

Error 404 – Not Found

The document you are looking for may have been removed or re-named. Please contact the web site owner for further assistance.

I tried a couple of different routes. I went back to the original instructions here. Nothing under settings. Clicking on Content under my account just took me back to the main swapportunities page. Nothing. I even tried to switch from Google Chrome to Firefox. Still couldn’t figure it out. I even reached out to Melissa to see if I had to sign up for  Periscope and that I had simply misunderstood the directions. She said no, I simply had to create the ad and put in the URL for the YouTube video. But how do I do it???

After probably an hour over a series of sessions, I finally figured it out. Go to Forum Posts, then to the available listings under the Forums Index and I had to crate a New Topic. Problem is, this wasn’t intuitive to me. I couldn’t see what forum I was posting in. It didn’t say anything about the ad. Why not at least put a NEW button on the page with all the other Forum Posts. Or label a button New Posting. I wasn’t even sure where my post would wind up until I actually posted it and saw that it had (to my relief) shown up where everyone else’s had.

This is my ad.

I also took some time to look at other people’s ads and found them creative and interesting for the most part. I will give a shoutout to our classmate Colin for an exceptional post.  I also check out this post and this post and commented on both. Some of the others seemed like people simply mailing it in (so to speak) – shooting something, anything for 30 seconds and posting it.  I wonder if in the next incarnation of this, we push people to videotape the wildest, most fascinating and unusual moments for people to “swap” with. It would take a bit of a change in the narrative behind the project, but might make for interesting results (and could prove to have more of a life beyond a classroom project.) All in all, I enjoyed Air B-N-Me – I thought it was a very creative idea nd I enjoyed taking part -just would have done the site a little bit differently.