Digital Storytelling

In Dean Shareski’s latest post on his blog ‘Ideas and Thoughts”, he passes on the idea [with credit to Doug Peterson, ZeFrank, Stephen Downs among others] that Google Streetview and its ever growing database is an exceptional tool for storytelling.  Dean created and shared a video about his small hometown of Morden in Manitoba, which emphasizes the point about Google’s growing database – even relatively small towns have now been ‘Streetviewed’.

Dean also shares a link to a video by Jim Groom, saying that, “Watching Jim Groom’s video, was like literally like going for a walk with him.”  It was Jim’s video that really hit me with the power of Google Streetview.  Jim tells his story about growing up in a tight-knit community in Long Island.  This is a part of the world that I know almost nothing about, and yet after watching his video,  I feel that I would ‘know my way around’ if I was to go for a walk in his neighbourhood.  I feel that I’ve learned something about the culture that is associated with the place.  Now Jim’s story is not particularly exciting or interesting, although I do feel that I have learned about that part of New York.  It is the power of this technology that I have found exciting and interesting.  If this technology was used by someone who did have an interesting story to tell, it could be quite powerful.  Google Streetview allows anyone with the right technology, and a bit of time, to create engaging videos to support a story of a place.

So I got to thinking about place, and stories of place.  What place would I love to tell a story about, and share with my students?  I first Googled my house, and switched to Street View.  I thought that it was pretty cool that my property was on Street View, although not interesting enough to share with anyone.  Then I thought about one of my favourite places on this planet… the artists’ market square in Montmartre, Paris, France.  I Googled Montmartre, and sure enough Street View was available.  I had to call upon my memory from walking the streets of Montmartre several years ago, and eventually found my way to the artists’ square.  If done right, some very interesting stories could be told with the Street View images of this heavily trafficked place.

The man in the green shirt in the center of the image below is a painter by the name of Cawian Mahmud.   When I visited this square about six years ago with my wife, we bought four paintings from Cawian to decorate our newly purchased house.  It was quite interesting to me to ‘find’ him in street view, as I have often wondered if he still worked and painted in Paris.  Cawian’s story is just one of the details that could be interwoven into a Google Street View walk through Montmartre.

I doubt that my small attempt is a great example (especially since I haven’t yet made a video of the ‘streetview walk’), never-the-less, I think the power of Street View is evident.  Whether used by teachers, or by students, Street View can be used to create interesting stories about the culture of a place.

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The Legal Quicksand of the Internet

Let Common Sense Prevail!

The title of this week’s post is appropriate as I feel as though I am sinking and am just barely keeping my head above the surface.  This is a busy life!

Anyway, this title comes from one of this week’s content choices in EC&I 832.  The content for this block was presented as  a ‘choose your own adventure’ of sorts, and was divided into three choices:  one on information literacy in a digital world, another – a discussion of multi-literacies, and the third – about legal issues, copyright, and ethics of Internet use.  I browsed through much of the content for each of the three ‘adventures’ and found that each presented great resources about important issues to be considered as educators further implement web technologies in their classrooms.  Choosing the block about copyright and legal issues was relatively a ‘no-brainer’ for me.  This is a topic that I have been following and reflecting for some time, and I may have some strong opinions about. {Here is my original post on the topic.}

There are some truly great resource for teaching young people about copyright, copyleftlegal issues, plagerism (more), creative commons, and using images.  Perhaps the best resources on these topic are the following TED Talks video clips.

In this TED Talk, Larry Lessig, the Net’s most celebrated lawyer, argues against current copyright practices.  He discusses the point that today’s legal issues of ownership of knowledge is strangling our creative culture.  Although he states that neither extreme – complete control vs. piracy – is correct, he is essentially making an argument for creative commons licenses.

Another great video resource for this discussion is Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales’ TED Talk in which he explains the social methodologies and power of user generated content.

In today’s digital world in which the Web is compiled of user-generated content, the debate over copy protection has never been more heated.  Essentially what we have here is a debate over extremes of a copy protection spectrum, much like that of a political spectrum.

One one extreme there is copyright law, protection and ownership of creations and knowledge, complete control; “All Rights Reserved.”  On the other extreme there is copyleft.  There is piracy and plagerism; no control; no rights reserved.  In Larry Lessig’s TED Talk, he makes the point that one extreme begets the other.  A world of the extreme right, in which there is complete control of copy protection creates a reaction from the extreme left in which there is no respect for any copy protection rights and plagerism and piracy is rampant.  Such extremes and reactions exist in today’s digital world, and neither extreme is right.  Neither extreme displays any common sense.

Today’s youth have grown up immersed in media content.  Many of them have had digital technologies at their fingertips for much of their lives; many are ‘digital natives’.  Lessig talks about this generation as the ‘remix’ generation; who communicate by remixing and editing previously created content.  “This is how they communicate,” he emphasizes.  “They take sounds and images from the culture around us and use it to say things differently… These tools of creativity have become tools of speech.  It is a literacy for this generation, this is how our kids speak.  It is how our kids think, it is what your kids are as they increasingly understand digital technologies and their relationship to themselves.”  I know this to be true [and Lessig makes me feel young] as I am part of this ‘remix’ generation.  This blog, and just about anything else that I use to communicate, could be seen as an example of such remixing.  I am a visual thinker, and today’s tech tools allow me to create meaning and to communicate messages by reorganizing the Internet’s media content in new ways, to make new ideas.  This is a new literacy.

Let common sense prevail.  The viewpoints of the extreme right of the scale shows a complete lack of common sense in this digital age.  Views that state that permission must be granted before an image found on the Internet can be used are absolutely ridiculous and completely out of touch with modern reality.  Such rules make a great portion of the Internet’s use illegal.   We are already beyond the read/write stage of the Internet’s history, and are well into an age that would be better describes as the read/re-write age.  The majority of the re-writing, re-working, and re-creating that exists is completely innocent, and is not to be confused with piracy.  It is merely a new form of communication, a more visual, media enriched, and to-the-point reworking of existing content.

Let common sense prevail.  Here is a quote from ‘Net Know How, a resource used to educate young people about copy ethics.  “In this digital age, it is very easy to copy photos and illustrations from the ‘Net.  In fact, it is a process we discover when we “right-click” our computer’s mouse.  However, we must observe the same copyright compliance given to written property.”  This is an example of Lessig’s point that copy protection laws are strangling communication and creativity.  Common sense must prevail here.  Common sense should tell you that a vast majority of the images that are available on the internet have absolutely no commercial value, and as such, will get very little protection.  The truth is that the copy protection laws are in place for two main purposes;  “namely the protection of the author’s right to obtain commercial benefit from valuable work, and more recently the protection of the author’s general right to control how a work is used. …if the work is unregistered and has no real commercial value, it gets very little protection.”

As an artist, and a teacher of visual communication, I do value copyright.  The most important part of copyright is that it seeks to protect the creator’s right to control how a work is used.  This is very important.  However, I also value common sense.  On his page, 10 Big Myths about Copyright Explained, Brad Templeton writes that, “If you feel you need to violate a copyright “because you can get away with it because the work has no value” you should ask yourself why you’re doing it.  If your answer to this that you are attempting to illustrate a point, that you are continuing the dialogue, or that you are merely communicating or expressing yourself or your freedom of speech, the let common sense prevail.   Common sense should relate ‘no harm – no foul’.

Gaia at Night . . . Mother is Sick

earthriseEarthrise is the name given to this photograph of the Earth taken by astronaut William Anders in 1968 during the Apollo 8 mission.  In Life‘s 100 Photographs that Changed the World, it was called “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.”  Photos of the Earth from space are so striking because they show how beautiful the planet is when viewed from a distance.  Such photos of Earth allow us to view our planet as one singular system, which we are a part of.  They remind us that we only have one Earth to work with, and that we depend on it for our survival.  Against the inky blackness of space, our home appears small and fragile, a living miracle of air, water, soil, and vegetation.

Such a worldview is particularly important in light of our growing human disconnect from nature.  As our smaller worlds have become more industrial and our lives have become more dependent on technology, we have begun to lose our essential connection to the natural world of which we are a part.  Most of the human beings on this planet live in cities and a great number of us spend most of our time wrapped in technology and manufactured goods.  Although it is of course true that humans are animals, we do not often like to be reminded of it.  Indeed most of us know that we are mammals, however, we think it an insult to be called an animal, be it a pig, a dog, monkey, what have-you.  Calling someone an animal is deemed as a derogatory statement.Gaia - Embrace - Banner

Of course there are some extremely significant factors that set us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom.  We are after-all, or so we hope to think, the most developed communicators on the planet.  And of course we cannot overlook our mastery of tool making and technology.  However, although these factors do make us stand out from the other organisms that we share our home with, they do not separate us from nature.  We must not forget that we are nature.  This is why it is so important to spend time outdoors, in nature, and with wildlife.  This time allows us to reconnect with who we actually are.

The first photos of the Earth from space are very powerful because they remind us that our planet is alive – she is Gaia, Mother Earth, she is life – and because of her, we have life.  More recently a variety of photos [composites or collages more-so than actual photographs] have become very popular on-line.  These are the views of the Earth at night.  These assembled photos also provide us with very powerful perspectives of our home.  They allow us to visualize mankind’s extreme impact on the Earth.  From these composite images, we can clearly see densely populated areas of the Earth lit brightly.  We can clearly see the industrialized parts of the planet.  That is to say that we can see were the natural Earth has been converted into cities.  We can see where the natural Earth has been converted to man-made structures of concrete, wood, and steel.  That is to say that we can clearly see where non-renewable fossil fuels are being converted and used as electricity.  We can see where we live, and the impact we have made to our planet.

View The Earth at Night 2400x1200 NASAWhen I first looked at images of the Earth at night, I remember being struck by their power.  They are immediately grasping in their ability to communicate visually.  If we go by the old rule that every picture is worth a thousand words, then these collages of images certainly have something interesting to say.  As I have spent more time looking at these images, I am struck by the notion that the Earth looks sick.  The lights are symptoms of the spreading illness.  Man-kind’s current ways of thinking are destroying our planet.

Simulation of Earth at Night 410x410Now, this all seems very depressing, in a doom and gloom sort of manner.  There is however a positive spin that can be taken from these visuals.  That of course would be to understand the size and scope of impact that we have had in transforming our planet in such a small amount of time.  This is important only because there is still hope.  There is still time to reverse our effects.  Man-kind is not necessarily the cause of Earth’s sickness, but rather man-kind’s current ways of thinking.  We need to change the ways in which we think, consume, and pollute.  If we get the ball rolling towards new ways of thinking, we can have massive impact in very little time.  Our objective is to work towards a sustainable, healthy relationship with our home, Gaia, Mother Earth.

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UPDATE:

This post is receiving significant traffic, often in the amount of several hundred reads each week.   Do me a favour.  Just leave a quick response, and let me know who you are and how you came across this article.  I’m curious to know who’s reading.  If you’d like to share your thoughts about the article, that would be great.

Thanks for reading,

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Ryan