Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Image from www.sxc.hu

I recently read a journal article entitled 'Empathy in the time of Technology: how storytelling is the key to empathy'

It was a revealing read, and I'd encourage you to explore it, but it also reminded me of something that occurred earlier in the year, so let me backtrack for a moment.

You may remember some time ago when I turned everything upside down on Facebook, literally. I turned my photos, all my text, anything within my power, upside down. I posted status updates for some weeks upside down as well.

At first, people in my circle of friends thought it was funny, a number of them sent messages asking how I'd done it ... but after a while, the joke seemed to wear off. First one, then several more contacted me asking when things were going to return to normal.

Comments followed in response to my upside down status updates with offhand remarks about the fact that they tired of it and would I stop? Please? Then I received a more vitriolic message from a friend for whom it had obviously gone too far.

It was a small social experiment, and I'll admit, unlikely to tell us anything profound, but I was eager to see just how important social media was to the people around me.

That some were put out, insulted even, that I was poking fun at what was for them an important part of their social agenda. Many were defensive about 'seeing the joke', and were obviously unsettled by my actions, and this brings me to my point. Social media affects many of us to a degree we're often not ready to admit.

Sites like Facebook have come upon us so quickly, with such incredible growth, that it's hard find perspective, hard to appreciate how dominating this influence has become, particularly on the minds of our young adults.

If you subscribe to PJ Manney's thoughts on empathy and social media, and I do, then storytelling and reading are perhaps the most potent tools in our arsenal to combat failing empathy in young adults addicted to social media.

I'd also argue that story building using digital media tools and other web2 applications, is equally important. Storytelling with digital media encourages the author to see applications like Facebook, and their involvement with it, more objectively. It provides a disconnect that's often lacking.

Encouragingly, recent studies suggest that those young adults spending most time than their peers, are also more likely to read more prolifically for pleasure than their peers. I choose to see this as an encouraging sign that we can't live without empathy, that it is such an integral part of who we are that we will over time, seek out those things that will restore the balance. I'm just hoping that will happen sooner rather than later, and that through digital storytelling, we might be able to speed things up a little.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Story Starters

I hated story starters when I was at school ... something many teachers still seem to roll out as a creative writing exercise. While I'll admit that some educators do take unique approaches to using story starters, for the most part they end up producing repetitive narratives that have been stalled before they began.

One simple alternative you can use to awaken a creative voice in young writers is to present them with a selection of inspiring images. Erin Tyners work reminded me of this when I came across her work today, her photographs cry out with stories that needs to be told.

There is something evocative and consuming about her small creations. They would be wonderful for inspiring discussions about character or story in the classroom.

Erin has a wonderful Flickr photo stream I'd recommend you visit, and you can purchase a selection of her images on her website if you're interested.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Stories to be told

It is said that there are a finite number of stories to be told, and that we simply retell them in our own fashion through each generation. We follow the heroes journey, we traverse the same narrative arcs, we relish the peril and conflict before achievement of a goal. We like to think we're making a unique contribution when we write, and we are, despite the myriad of familiar reappearances. Each author is unique in their perspective and style.

Each individual reader also accepts their own interpretation of events. Different aspects of the story are more or less important, different lessons are learnt or ignored based on the myriad of influences in a readers life.

Terrible Yellow Eyes offers a graphic reminder of this interpretation I think, where we are given the opportunity to see how contributors to this collection have been influenced by this famous story in so many fascinating ways.

I'd encourage you to look through these images reflecting on what aspect of Where the Wild Things Are perhaps most guided the artist. Was it conflict or friendship? Fear of the unknown? Or perhaps something more difficult to define?
Something new from Shaun Tan is always welcome .. even if it is something small.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Exploring the new iPhone 3gs has been an obsession lately, particularly with regard to how it can be used to tell stories in the classroom. Of course the new video features with on the fly editing are wonderful. No the video quality isn't HD, but it's certainly YouTube worthy and quite suitable for storytelling projects you might be involved with in the classroom.

I've also been diving into the apps available as well with renewed vigour, and today was pleasantly surprised.

TypeDrawing is a small app built for the iPhone. It is essentially, a way of creating concrete poetry on your phone. At a cost of $1.19 AUD it's a bargain. You determine the text, and then create a picture with that text using your finger to 'paint' on screen. It's simple and creative storytelling in a digital form at its best. And the things I love about it most, it's accessible and great fun - here's hoping it may attract more people to digital storytelling!

You can find out more on the developers site, and there's even a lively Flickr group dedicated to TypeDrawing art. Worth a look

Just for the record, I'm not associated with TypeDrawing in any way.

You may have noticed, that the TDN blog space has been a little sparse lately. This is partly due to my being away for a while, and partly due to my new obsessive compulsive use of Twitter. Apologies, normal transmission will resume soon.