The triple aspects of social media

Your digital story requires you to implement a social media strategy for a small production project, based on all the social media you have experimented with during the earlier phases of the course.

From the perspective of the media production discipline, social media is ‘triple-aspected’:

  • a professional networking tool. It establishes your credibility within a specific range of expertise, and it builds up a network of contacts within that professional field.
  • a tool to market media projects.
  • an emerging platform in which media projects, or aspects of cross-platform media projects, natively reside.

Ideally, your use of social media will represent a cross-fertilisation of all these ambitions. Media is convergent – by using social media you market yourself and the project, while also presenting the project (linking or embedding it).

Some approaches to social media by professional media productions:

The Hunger Games
various TV shows
Toy Story 3
The Voice

A related phenomenon is online Fan fiction, for example, recently generated in response to the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes and also here.

Some inter-related decisions

Hopefully, you have already established your use of social media on a more professional footing. No more silly facebook party shots, or meaningless tweets. The next phase of your increasing sophistication is to be more holistic and consistent about your communications strategy. Decide your areas of interest, and develop a mode of expression. Jokey and informal is fine – it’s the fastest way to get retweeted. Good tweets aren’t dashed off, they are crafted.

Social media is authored.

The authorship of social media is more direct and obvious than any other form of media. Impersonal, ‘branded’ tweets and blogs are not, in my opinion, as powerful as ones which are owned by named, concrete individuals. That is why your every tweet is self-promotional, regardless of what it is about. So while we can separate various ambitions, it is more successful if you keep your social media personal.

Your personal approach needs to be balanced with privacy concerns. Don’t publish your address online – nowhere! But more subtly, carefully consider what you are comfortable with strangers knowing about you. Be wary of responding to emails, etc, if you don’t know where they come from. Your LinkedIn cv may not contain every little thing you’ve done – be judicous. On the other hand, if it is too ‘bare’ it will not be impressive. You need to balance the need to communicate authentically and interestingly with your audience and protection of your privacy.

So… where are you at?

You are hopefully now quite advanced with your own personal social media ‘brand’. You should be extending your existing networks into professional or academic areas. You should be developing strategies concerning the content, style, and timing of various social media activities. You should be developing a ‘voice’ or persona which aims to attract a specific networked cohort. You will know how to build network via targeted Tweets, joining interest groups, etc (eg, surrounding an Instagram hashtag, or a Pinterest curation). You should be integrating your social media so it cross-populates, include social media it in your email signature, and understand how to use it efficiently (for example, using scheduling in Hootsuite). You are developing a public professional cv (LinkedIn) and show reel (

Social media is, ultimately, a life-style choice. It cannot be ‘set and forget’.

Social media and media productions

In order to develop a social media strategy for a media production, you need to:

  • Research – use your RSS feeds and hashtags to find out what is already going on about the topic of your production. This could be discussion themes, or user groups surrounding your theme, or fan fiction sites. Develop a tagging strategy – making your social media searchable through the use of hashtags (Twitter, Instagram) and tags (blog). Work out pre-existing tags and make use of them.
  • Establish interoperability – the use of blog widgets, an aggregator tool such as Hootsuite, visual organisers such as, to interconnect all your social media activity, and make it accessible
  • Practice networked creativity – experiment with social platforms that encourage creative expression and the development of an audience (Cowbird, Instagram, SoundCloud – depending on your medium)
  • Audience / peer development – find contacts through social media, for example via more sophisticated use of Twitter. Work out who the ‘opinion leaders’ are for specific hashtags and @tweet them.
  • understand the politics of social media – issues of copyright, privacy and data
  • Synchronous versus asynchronous communication – different strategies and appropriate for different types of communications and audiences.

So… what are the implications for your digital story social media strategy?

Ultimately, you should not try to separate it from your online presence. ‘Own’ it as your work. You need your friends to get involved. Consider:

  • What is the relationship between the social media and the other media you have created for the project?
  • How are they interconnected (can audiences progress from one to the other)?
  • What is the purpose of the social media (is it marketing, or does the other media natively reside within the social media, or – ideally – both?)
  • How does your social media campaign unfold over time? (are you using a scheduling tool?)
  • How significant are your networks within social media?
  • Are you using tags or hashtag to build the networks, and attract ‘randoms’?
  • Does the project have a clear visual design?
  • Does the project have a taglines, hooks, or other clever textual strategies to attract an audience?
  • Can audiences ‘join in’ through social media?

Answers to these questions should be part of your digital story proposal.

Some take-home messages about social media

From 10 Social Media Do’s and Don’ts for Filmmakers by Kristin McCracken:

  • give people insider access
  • DON’T be a narcissist
  • take your time
  • DON’T overthink
  • “commune” with your fans
  • DON’T assume people will visit your website
  • try to create viral content
  • DON’T be lazy
  • join the conversation
  • DON’T forget to say thank you
  • be creative

From 10 Social Media Tips for Filmmakers (Especially When Crowdfunding) by Kristin McCracken:

  • Create a voice
  • Pick a handle
  • Fish where the fish are
  • your community should start with your already-established social circle
  • Keep it fresh
  • Don’t spread yourself too thin
  • you can reach new audiences through advertising
  • spend your money on an authentic audience that makes sense for you
  • Stay focused

From In search of the audience:

  • “Rather than trying to make the audience come to us, we needed to go to the audience, and Vimeo offered the best vehicle to get us there.”
  • “While the films could have been distributed across other video platforms, most obviously YouTube, there are also advantages to being focused. Vimeo is a platform with a strong following of filmmakers and offered a more targeted pathway to reaching tastemakers and influencers – the curators and community managers who would share the films with documentary and short film fans.”
  • “filmmakers need to be not just present, but actively marketing themselves online. Even filmmakers pursuing traditional distribution pathways need to demonstrate that they have a social media following. The golden rule, according to Jason Sondhi, is to be great, to be free and to be frequent.”
  • “Whether on Facebook Twitter, TradeMe, Instagram or FindSomeone, What We Do in the Shadows offers an experience that is genuinely entertaining, funny and situated entirely within the storyworld of the film. “
  • “…event-driven ‘day and date’ film releases are becoming more common and allow filmmakers to capitalise on the immediate promotion associated with a festival or cinema release and may also help to minimise the impact of piracy.”

From Attention Filmmakers, Here’s Why You Need a Storyworld for Your Film:

  • you need to level the playing field by making the first offering – a gift to your community. And that gift is more content.
  • Storyworlds create exponentially more access points to your content. The more access points there are, the more chances I have to discover your story. Remember, every viewer is a curator now, so give them more content to share.
  • make a series of shorts. Prequels, side stories – unburden yourself from linear storytelling. Think laterally. Think non-linear. What about interactive storytelling? Can you manifest your storyworld online somehow? An immersive website to offer storyworld context and new narratives in visually arresting ways? Can your characters engage with your community on social platforms?
  • if you can implement it early on in your process, is that it allows you to speed test your ideas in the marketplace, with real people.

From 7 Tips for Building a Social Media Audience:

  • allocate a marketing budget specifically for social media.
  • “The key should be quality over quantity. If you can’t compete on a paid level, then you should focus on building the right audience on social-— this means getting your most avid customers to become a part of your social media audience and providing value for them once they’re there…
  • take advantage of as many avenues as possible — add social media widgets to your company’s website, put Facebook URLs or Twitter handles on business cards and email signatures and post flyers in-store that clearly direct customers to your social pages.
  • Not every business needs a presence on every social platform. Certain businesses will flourish on visually rich sites such as Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube, while others may have more success with Twitter’s 140-character format (though it’s important to note that visuals generally perform better than text-only posts, regardless of the platform on which they’re posted).
  • Create a Community of ‘Insiders’
  • it’s important to listen to the fans and followers who take the time to find you online, and take their suggestions or feedback to heart
  • Social channels are not the place to force your brand messaging on unsuspecting fans. Online audiences are particularly wary of thinly veiled advertising labeled as “content.”
  • there’s a fine line between sincerity and smugness. Your social audience knows the difference.
  • adopt a content strategy that appeals to audiences’ emotions: “It’s a balance. Focus on emotional analytics as well as numerical ones. Pushing out content that is strong, conversational, and that especially evokes an emotional response will build stronger engagement and audience growth.”
  • And it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it — delivery is key.
  • your customers are likely going to be online during off-hours (nights and weekends), and the ideal social strategy doesn’t shut off completely for hours or days on end.
  • Sweepstakes and contests are a great way to generate leads and build your CRM database
  • Companies attempting to organize a contest for the first time should conduct research on successful examples and best practices before jumping in head-first.

From 4 Pro Tips for Creating Your Own Web Series:

  • Writing is paramount — don’t force it. “Without an outline or a basic idea that you’re passionate about, there’s really no point to creating a web series in the first place.”
  • It doesn’t have to be short, but short helps
  • Stay a few episodes ahead of your production schedule
  • creators shouldn’t focus too much on length, as having a specific limit can put unnecessary strain on a script.

How to crowdfund your film

I’m fire ready

photo 1So I put the new fire app on my phone about a month ago, and boy, the updates! Every time I look at the phone I get all this information pushed at me – hazardous material in Brunswick, ‘other’ in Parkville (no idea what that’s meant to mean – maybe cat up tree?), fire in North Melbourne. Of course, a lot of these so-called fires are a little disappointing – not much more than false alarms – but they still get entered into the database and pumped out to everyone in the watchzone.

(To be honest, I don’t care about hazardous material any more, and I’ve changed my watchzones down to pretty small, cos with fires you really want them local. Mordialloc, you no longer rate!)

photo 2But it’s really amazing how many fires there are in Victoria on a high fire danger day – maybe 1000, and 400 of them serious enough. It certainly makes you appreciate the fireys. Gotta love those guys! But I do wonder about how good the alert mechanism is. The other day I was in the country, and you could literally see the smoke over Glenlyon. Sure enough the message came through – fire at Glenlyon. But when I went to the watchzone for details, there weren’t any. Why would they send a push message without the details? Indeed there were push messages about fires all the way up the road – Drummond, Malmsbury – but no details, and by the time we got there, nothing to see.

So I was extremely curious to find out exactly how good the app information was. How long does it take between the fire starting and the push notification being sent?

The first fire I set was a piddling little thing in Ascot Vale – a rubbish bin on a street corner. I made sure there was plenty of paper in the bin before I threw the butt in. No, it wasn’t a total fire ban day! I’m not irresponsible! Anyway it took no time for a passer-by to notice and phone 000. (Don’t worry, I was watching from the window of a nearby cafe, perfectly safe.) The fire truck arrived within 5 minutes, but what I really wanted to know about was the app.

My fire never made it onto the app. You can imagine how disappointed I was.

Next time I found a pile of rubbish in West Brunswick, on a building site – mixed paper, drink cans and rubble. It took longer to get it going, and longer for people to notice, but by the time they called 000, it was quite the inferno. Three fire trucks arrived, and it made it to the app, 14 minutes after I lit the thing and 2 minutes after the first truck.

photo 3It was a bit difficult to see how long it took to extinguish because I had to hide, and so I wasn’t able to take very good photos. But I thought the fireys did a really good job, and the app worked pretty well this time.

But unfortunately I do have to conclude that the app is unreliable. The bigger the fire, I figure the more reliable it gets – so maybe it’s not such a big deal. But on top of the other inconsistencies – confusing messages, and the fact that sometimes the warnings don’t come through until well after they’ve been on other media – on top of the installation difficulties that people have reported – Fire Ready is rather problematic. The info needs to be totally reliable, and its not. 75% right is not right enough when its a disaster.

so easy, so network / digital

I made these little poems using Visual Poetry on my phone.
thephoto (1)
I’ve been finding it very hard to find creative time, everything else seems to come first. But the combination of mobile, digital and network is a killer for productivity, and suddenly I’m writing poetry again.
thephoto (2)
I’m not sure whether I’ll grow tired of the templates in Visual Poetry, but it seems to offer quite a lot of creative freedom to combine text and image. Give it a go!

What I think you think

As a media maker I often wonder what you think of my work. In some ways, such queries are a hopeless hiding-to-nothing: the opportunities for direct feedback are rare, the possibility that I will misinterpret you are high, and what desire or ability do I have to change my work, even if I do understand your misinterpretation?

And yet, you are my ghost; I am haunted by your presence.

I decided to carry out an experimental project to try to understand our relationship. One strategy was to test out your interpretation of a very short piece of media.

The media in question consists of a 15 second extract of then Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott answering an interview question. Mr Abbott pauses before answering. You can view the extract on Youtube at the 5:35 – 5:48 minute mark – and I strongly advise you to leap ahead to those all-important seconds if you want to experience the pause yourself:

I asked respondents to tell me their reaction(1). Here are some:

Respondent 1:

Polly on the run. He’s wondering what he has told his ministers to say – whether he will contradict them or they will contradict him.

ME: That word ‘Polly’. A sympathetic term. The Canberra Press Gallery uses it. I’m thinking that this person might be a Journalist. Checking for coherence is what Journalists do. Why does that matter? It does and it doesn’t. It’s your profession to commentate on politics. You have different motivations – but for all that, your opinion is just as valid as any other. Should my assumptions about who you are flavor my interpretation of what you are saying?

Respondent 4: Abbott leaves the surface for a brief moment; checks to see if there is anything, any intuitive intelligence, emergent from his depths; stumbles on the discovery that there are no depths to be had; returns to the surface none the wiser.

ME: I like these metaphors. It’s an interesting way of making Abbott’s thought processes visual. Does this respondent always think in such a visual way?

Respondent 5:

I don’t really feel anything – I’m waiting for what he says. Not because I’ll take every word as true, but because I expect all politicians to pause regardless of the honest of their responses. I also don’t think Abbott’s thought process here affects his ‘political future’ – we already knew he wasn’t taking action, and most planned to vote for him anyway. My reaction is that I’m sick of analyzing his character – attack the policies and not the person. He’s not a President.

ME: An unexpected response. Now I’m defensive. I am playing the man and not the message? This respondent is talking about me as much as she’s talking about the media moment … but I want to outside the media! S/he is thinking about the wrong things!

Respondent 6:

- He was thinking how he could not look like an idiot or be rude to “Andrew”;
-My reaction is that he was taking a deep breath in a form of a sigh … how do I answer this diplomatically when really he just wants to ‘yell’ that everyone else is just wrong about climate change;
-My reaction is that he is an idiot and slimy but that is motivated by my strong held political beliefs

ME: An angry person with strong politics. Wait a minute, I know this handwriting. Of course, I know she thinks like this. Maybe she knows I’ll recognize her handwriting. Maybe she knows that I know who she is, and she’s saying these things because she knows I know.

Respondent 7:

He is pausing because he needs to marshall his thoughts before responding to a contentious question. I think he is trying to work out the best way to communicate his skepticism about climate change without putting off too many voters. The pause has connotations of insincerity for me in this context but this may be due to my own anti-Abbott bias.

ME: This response echoes my view. Did I do something to encourage this response? Does saying this under-estimate your ability to think outside of my manipulations?

Respondent 8:

A practice of disconnection, putting emotive quality what has been conveyed by questioners aside … regathering
Giving space to allow everylay – re-entry of structure of opinions he knows.
Ultimately there is no room for conversation for listening, only surviving with your core messages intact.

Me: I can’t read your writing. What is ‘everylay”? But more – what does your writing itself say? What damage am I doing to you by typing it? I should print the poetic original, your pauses and spaces –
What have I learned? Tentatively:

  • often we don’t even acknowledge the things we understand in the media; interpretation can be quite subconscious;
  • we bring a lot of contextual information to interpretation
  • interpretation is expressed in language, and cannot be divorced from that language
  • it may also have a materiality
  • I don’t understand all your interpretations, and
  • I never will.

Screen Shot 2013-12-18 at 2.12.50 PM

Screen Shot 2013-12-18 at 2.13.06 PM

Channel 7 (29 June 2013) ‘Sunrise – Abbott Unfazed by Labor Polling’ Viewed 18 December 2013.

(1) This project has RMIT Ethics Committee approval (DSC CHEAN B Project 0000015696-09/13)

RMIT won’t negotiate

Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 10.58.23 AMLiam Ward and I whipped together these vids about the forthcoming NTEU strike action:

Short compilation

Caroline Norma on casuals

Liam Ward on casuals

Melissa Slee “Why we’re striking” [short]

Ruth Barton on academic workloads

Liam Ward on academic workloads

Bruno Doring “Why I’m striking”

Melissa Slee “Why we’re striking”

Bruno Doring on professional staff development

Ruth Barton on casuals

More info on the NTEU’s position at RMIT.

Putting participation in ethnographic film

I’ve been watching a lot of recently produced ethnographic films, either shot in the Asia-Pacific, or produced by its citizens, in the context of the forthcoming Aperture Film Festival. It has been interesting to note how conservative most of the films are – a very old-fashioned relationship between the ethnographer/filmmaker/anthropologist is acted out with the ‘subject’, who rarely has any dialogue with the film-maker, or any control over the object that s/he is making. Many of these films feel exploitative. The ‘subject’ seems to make the film-maker a gift of her/his life with no gain from the process at all. Furthermore, whether the subject would actually agree with her or his representation is quite unclear. The initial act of generosity is perhaps compounded by the subject’s often apparently limited understanding of the cultural and academic context of ethnographic film. Often filmed in an observational style, dialogue between subject and film-maker is usually poorly represented in the film, if it existed at all. However, there were some notable exceptions.

Whether we’ll be able to sing or not, we’ll be there because you’ve recorded it.

Indian film-makers Anjali Monteiro and KP Jayasankar have made a series of films over the last decades, including Naata (The Bond) (2003), Do Din Ka Mela (A Two-Day Fair) (2009) and So Heddan So Hoddan (Like Here Like There) (2011). The last is my favourite, although all are good. A beautifully shot, slow-paced meditation contemporary Sufi culture as it has been handed down and lived as everyday experience among the Jatts of Gujarat. The film makers show the subjects discussing among themselves the reasons to make the film; at times the subjects become the interviewers. In the other films, we watch the subjects viewing the film-makers’ footage. The result is not only a moving and beautiful film, but one in which the subjects appear to take ownership of the project, as they proselytise and philosophise about their place in the world. It’s a hard life, but one tempered by inestimable beauty and a deeply felt religious mythology.
The following two works embrace the participatory principle more explicitly, but in very different ways.

Still from We Want (U) To Know

Still from We Want (U) To Know

We want (u) to know, by Ella Pugliese and Nou Va (2009) and subtitled ‘remembering in the time of the Khmer Rouge Trial, Cambodia’. Cambodian villagers interview each other about the Khmer Rouge period. A boy interviews his grandma while his school mates look on, they even re-enact atrocities. Is it cathartic? I don’t know – perhaps not. But the villagers are very willing and excited about participating – to the extent that they proposed the idea of the re-enactments. At night the villagers watch the rushes under a tree in the village square, a festive atmosphere. They want to bear witness, but their attitude to vengeance is tempered by their Buddhism, and a historical perspective on the dubious outcomes of retaliation. The confused hope of the young generation, who have trouble understanding their country’s brutal past, is confronted by the usually silent despair of the older generation.

To remember the Khmer Rouge is a painful thing, yet it is an essential step for our country”

Although to a large extent produced by amateurs, the production values do not suffer as a result.

Still from Stori Tumbuna

Still from Stori Tumbuna

Stori tombuna (2011) is also a radically participatory film, although you wouldn’t know it from the first few minutes. Spoiler alert! Set up as a conventional anthropological film, it is not until the final scenes until we understand the full extent of the Papuan tribe’s penchant for playing jokes – and in this instance, the whole film is a very sophisticated joke, as we are duped by the tribes sophisticated story-telling. A plotline worthy of Calvino, it encapsulates a critique of traditional anthropology and ethnographic film making, but not at the expense of great story-telling. The director, Paul Wolffram, can be applauded for his willingness to immerse himself in the Papuan world, and collaborate with them in this great film.
There are many ways to be participatory, and none of the above use social media. My own developing project, Wherever I lay my hat, uses Instagram, Twitter and (hopefully when it is complete) a comment function, to creative a more inclusive project around the theme of living globally.


We want (u) to know (2009) Dir. Ella Pugliese, Nou Va and the people of Thnoi Lok, Cambodia (2011)
So Heddan So Hoddan (Like Here like there) (2009) Dirs. Anjal Monteiro and K P Jayasankar. Kutch, Gujarat, India (58 mins) http/
Stori Tombuna Dir. Paul Wolffram (2011) (1 hour 29 minutes)

Sustainable media practices

sustainable-mediaA lot of professions are asking themselves how they can make their profession tred more lightly on the environment. A few of them – miners, engineers, car-makers, for example – seem more easily able to come up with the principles, although implementing them might leave a lot to be desired. Others – in particular, white-collar professionals – seem to have a harder time even developing the principles. Maybe they think they don’t have to? After all, there’s no smoke-stack arising from the game developer’s offices; there’s no sludge that can be traced back to this blog.

Or is there… Often indirectly, we still contribute to the state of our environment. So let’s start developing a few principles for the media production professions.


Perhaps the most obvious of our profession’s wasteful behaviours is our proclivity to travel. All that fuel, whether aviation or other, and we always have to be there yesterday, so taking the slow boat is never an option. For economic reasons, we’ve witnessed the turn to Skype interviews in mainstream news and current affairs. The drop in quality has been accepted, and we can expect that it will slowly improve. But is there more we can do, apart from virtualising our interviews?

I like the idea of more, and more accessible, libraries of footage. I don’t mean Youtube, and I don’t mean yester-year. I mean professional camera-people making general footage available for a fee to other media professionals. We already have it for stock photography and even, to a lesser extent, for music and foley. So why not footage too?

Unfortunately, this solution might step on the toes of the next one…

File-sharing and archiving

Google’s Senior Vice President for Technical Infrastructure Urs Hölzle tells us that

Data centers are responsible for between 1.1 and 1.5 percent of global energy use (compare that to transportation at 25 percent)

So we shouldn’t worry, right? Compared to carting our stuff around in postal vans, the Cloud has got to be better.

We-ell…. According to Richard Matthews, promoting the Cloud as a green alternative for data storage may be another case of “greenwash”:

According to a 2012 report in the New York Times, data centers use 30 billion watts of electricity per year globally and the U.S. is responsible for one-third of that amount (10 billion watts). A Gartner report indicated that the IT industry is responsible for as much greenhouse gas generation as the aviation industry (2 percent of the world’s carbon emissions). Just one of these massive server farms can consume the energy equivalent of 180 000 homes.

Most Cloud service providers don’t use renewable energy (Google leads the way), and while it would be great if we could all carry our own solar-recharging panels with us, it would somewhat diminish the portability of the production gear that we all love so much.

And if you take the cost of transferring data to the Cloud into account – which might be particularly heavy on your device’s battery life (Baliga et al) – as well as the ongoing energy costs in storing it, old-fashioned offline storage (for example, on an external hard-drive) is looking pretty good. Of course, it may not be as conveniant. Or as sexy.

But perhaps we should swear to only store current projects on the Cloud, and archive non-current stuff the old way, on hard drives.


Do you really need the latest bit of gear or the latest version of the software? Our relationship to gear is often fetishistic; based on no other need than looking good or distraction on the airplane (see above). I do have an itch to ‘upgrade’ my iPad – but to be honest, I’m not sure whether the latest iPad will be a life-changer. Mobile phones? Just don’t go there! Software, too – there’s a lot to be said for a little more circumspection. How many times have you ‘upgraded’, only to find that you’d wished you’d stuck with the older version?

‘Upgrade’. It’s all in the terminology. We all fall for it. We fall for the marketing that the tech and software companies push at us. It’s such a macho form of fashion, it doesn’t get critiqued the way that clothing fashion does. But it’s consumption gone wild, and I think we should try to resist … just a bit …

Do you have some other ideas?


Jayant Baliga, et al. “Green Cloud Computing: Balancing Energy in Processing, Storage and Transport.” Proceedings of the IEEE. To be published. DOI:10.1109/JPROC2010.2060451

Glanz, James (September 22, 2012) Power, Pollution and the Internet

Pettey, Christy (April 26, 2007) Gartner Estimates ICT Industry Accounts for 2 Percent of Global CO2 Emissions

Zyga, Lisa (Oct 08, 2010) How energy-efficient is cloud computing?

Magic meets fantasy

Giving a nod to the work of the seminal figures in a discipline is just as important as paying heed to new developments, so here’s one of the founding fathers of animation and former magician, George MélièsTrip to the moon (1902). Méliès was recently given reverential treatment in Hugo (2011), directed by Martin Scorsese.

Contemporary directors and cinematographers should remember and respect the magic of the moving image, its-real-but-not-real status. If you’re not trading on that conundrum, it seems to me that you’re not embracing the medium. Animators might routinely do this, but often their work is derivative, or not particularly innovative. We should all remember the whimsical innovations of Méliès, and try to emulate him in spirit.

Victoria Kallsen argues that we are Destroying the magic of cinema, one gadget at a time by introducing add-on media that splits our attention – media that we access on our phone or tablet, allowing us to engage in conversations with other fans while we are watching the show. Thus we fail to completely immerse ourselves in the magic of the cinematic experience.

But if we are immersed, we wouldn’t bother with the add-ons, so I think the threat is spurious. Being distracted by devices during a movie is probably only going to occur if the movie is flawed. In other words, we are already distracted or bored, and so we allow our gadgets to gobble the bit of our brain that is not engaged. I don’t think gadgets and add-on media is a threat, unless the product itself is poor – and then, ultimately, nothing can save it.

Everything old….

Check this music video by Cyriak Harris for Bonobo – the aesthetics and ethics of repurposing old stuff seems to have got a shot in the arm in our sustainability-conscious era, but this takes recycling to a whole new level.

What can we say it means, except that humans are repetitive creatures, and somewhat like machines? The percussive soundtrack lends its weight to the mechanical aura of the piece. Toaster production lines, women endlessly folding the same thing, girls on treadmills. Monstrous War-of-the-worlds machinalia stride across a horizon that is implanted with more infrastructure with every stride, but even the feet themselves are comprised of Small Domestic Acts.

Is the retro-ness meant to suggest Things Are No Longer This Way? Maybe Fordism has been relegated to the second world, and we can look down upon this imagery from our post-industrial, post-human heights, with a heady mix of superiority and nostalgia.

Or maybe my meandering thoughts are an example of interpretation gone wild, a la Susan Sontag’s prognostications? Or maybe a warning to be wary of the signifiers that we set up?

Whatever it means, a damn good music video.

Sontag, Susan (1964) Against Interpretation. Penguin Books.

Making media for kids: repetition and imagination

kidsmediaCan kids be categorised so easily? Maybe we all go through the phases identified in this image, by Maurice Wheeler, but it’s hard to predict exactly when. Some days I’m a copy cat or a role player. And hopefully the ‘confident consumer’ doesn’t represent the end point of some sort of consumption-based evolutionary tree. Howabout a delightful ‘confident non-consumer’ up there somewhere?

There’s a lot to be said for categories and stages, so long as they don’t stunt our vision of what our children might be. Woe be it if the media we let them see enshrined such stuntedness.

Not that it’s any worse than it was – but maybe it’s different. Not so long ago, a fairly high proportion of the toddler media was about socialisation – getting them to be good little children / citizens. Socialisation media would end with some sort of thumping, unsubtle moral. Humourless and unimaginative, socialisation media is about stunting imagination and play.

I want the books, TV and apps my daughter plays with to expand her horizons. She doesn’t need more of how to behave well (she gets enough of that from me!).

That doesn’t mean that toddler media can’t teach life skills, it’s all in how those skills get woven in to the narrative. One TV show I’m really loving is Charlie and Lola by Lauren Child. Ostensibly its about the most mundane domestic events – two kids at home, mucking about. But its really about imaginative play and love of learning. The kids look at a book on dinosaurs and they’re suddenly flying on a pterodactyl’s back. They get annoyed with each other, have tantrums, etc. But they also take flight, on many levels.


And it’s not even interactive.

So when it comes to apps, if they’re not performing some sort of jail-break from the mundane and into mind-altering possibilities, I’m wondering what they’re for.

Maybe that’s just me being too grown-up. My toddler loves the apps produced by TocaBoca, we’ve got about 5 now. The first one she loved (before she was two) was about shopping. She gets to play shop keeper and shopper and buys a fanciful bag of groceries. The next one was a tea-party. She’d be both hostess and guests and have a tea party. Then there’s the kitchen one. She gets to cook food for a variety of monsters with bad manners. This one has a little more humour. Finally, and most challenging of all, there’s a free-play 3D building one; 5 different characters have a different trick they can do with building blocks. She’s hasn’t conquered that one yet, but it is by far the most interesting, because basically there’s no script, just a range of possibilities. It stretches her, but increasingly that’s the one she prefers. Unlike books, which she wants me to read to her, she plays the games all by herself.

My daughter also likes some apps that aren’t aimed at toddlers at all. A drawing one; simple music composition one. She’s even experimenting with an animation one. You can do these over and over, they never get old. OK, so little kids read the same books over and over too, but it’s a different experience, I think. More comfort than challenge.

Getting the balance between repetition and imagination seems to be key to building a great app for little kids. It’s a significantly different challenge that that faced by producers of books or TV shows for the same age-group.

So I’m suspicious of apps that enshrine too much narrative into them. Narrative curtails freedom, and it doesn’t seem appropriate to play. Books aren’t play. Nor TV shows. Older media forms enshrine a different type of didacticism, one that can be very heavy-handed if you don’t have the light touch of Charlie and Lola. Games are play. I think we have to distinguish more clearly between experiences. The whole question of interactive ebooks, for example, is not yet decided in my mind. Can they really work? There needs to be rules about it, of that I’m sure.

Image: Engaging Kids online: Maurice Wheeler at TEDx Transmedia 2012

writer : maker : teacher

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