Anjali Ramachandran, PHD’s Head of Innovation, writes about Friday’s The Story conference.
Matt Locke and the Storythings team are making things difficult for themselves with each year that they organise The Story. This year’s conference, on Friday, was the best yet, so I can only wonder how they can improve on the line-up next year.
Television executive Gary Carter made me think about how the internet is impacting his industry with his tales of Big Brother Africa, but his remarks on the changing times stuck with me: a decade or so ago, TV broadcasting depended on shooting as little as you could to get a good quality product, but the advent of digital technology meant dramatically reduced costs, leading to reality shows like Big Brother with their 24/7 cameras actually being possible. Obviously it took off and people started becoming famous as the spotlight could shine on stories most of us had only heard of and not seen till then. It’s almost closed the loop now – the quality of reality TV is compromised because of the ease with which anyone anywhere can and often is filmed (even if there is no point to it). He ended on an encouraging note about what else might be possible if we choose to exploit the medium intelligently again – Woody Allen doesn’t need to be constrained by the boundaries of traditional broadcast TV when he makes the series Amazon has just commissioned him for, for example.
Having just watched both series of Orange Is The New Black, being introduced to Clean Break’s work was particularly interesting for me. They are a theatre company set up in 1979 by women prisoners that not only brings female prisoners’ stories to the stage but provides them training and education to develop their personal, social and professional skills. What the group is doing is very inspiring – the ‘redemptive power of storytelling’ isn’t often discussed in this literal a manner and it was worth listening to.
Kati London’s work was both amusing and made it evident how data and play can make interacting with our urban environment easier. Here are some of the projects she talked about: HereHereNYC (cartoons created from actual data about the city), Botanicalls (plants getting an amusing personality and talking through a robotic voice, this project was in 2011 or so but reminded me immediately of the Parrot Pot covered at CES this year), Code of Everand (teaching 9-13 year olds about traffic rules through an MMOG) and Sharkrunners (an online role-playing game incorporating actual shark movement data).
Alexa Clay spoke about her upcoming book with Kyra Maya Phillips, the Misfit Economy. It speaks to the work of intrapreneurs, jugaad and the informal economy, and I’ll look out for it when it’s published. It’s also being made into a film – watch the trailer here. And in one of the most amusing and yet thought-provoking actions I’ve seen lately, she dressed as an Amish woman and went to tech conferences as the Amish Futurist.
One of the best phrases I heard on Friday was by Matthew Plummer-Fernandez as he described the philosophical nature of his work: ‘future finds of a bygone era’. His Tumblr Algopop is very New Aesthetique (New Aesthetic-ic?). And the Disarming Corruptor project he won a Prix Arts Electronica Award of Distinction for is so meta it kind of blew my mind: it is a free software application that helps people to circumvent file-sharing restrictions. More from the project page: ‘Inspired by encryption rotor machines such as the infamous Enigma Machine, the application runs an algorithm that is used to both corrupt STL files into a visually-illegible state by glitching and rotating the 3D mesh, and to allow a recipient to reverse the effect to restore it back to its original form.’
Simon Munnery‘s was the talk I laughed most at, fully living up to his reputation as a comedian. His use of existing technology (linking back in a way to what Gary Carter referred to) was quite smart: he wasn’t on stage, instead projecting his face on to a screen using his laptop camera.
I can still hear Nelly Ben Hayoun’s wonderful French accent ringing in my ears. Her film Disaster Playground, based on re-enactments of crisis situations for the public, is set to premiere at SXSW 2015. But also: the International Space Orchestra! Her work is a mix of film and critical thinking, and she minced no words when she said ‘LA (Hollywood) producers don’t really get critical thinking.’
Philip Hunt’s narration of the creative process behind Lost and Found and the challenges in its production conveyed the sense that the journey to making it was the journey of the maturity of filmmaking itself.
George Oates re-engineered Grimm’s Fairy Tales by replacing the male characters with female (I think she called it the ‘gender flip zeitgeist’). I also learnt about seejane.org, which is a good tool for my Ada’s List toolkit. Loved the passion with which she asked everyone to rally around and support female gamers who are having a tough time with the vile residuals of the internet right now.
Like many others no doubt, I find James Bridle‘s work incredibly inspiring. He spoke about his Render Search project, where he is seeking to identify people who appear in stock images used (mostly) by real estate developers – it took him all the way to Albuquerque, New Mexico! Lots of things to think about but I noted down one particular thing he said: ‘when you want to understand the internet, you don’t do it to understand complex systems, you do it to understand politics and history.’
Which is really what events like The Story are all about, in a sense.
Anna Rafferty, the MC for the day, summed it up well:
I love the #story2015; it reminds me how bloody ace humans can be. Clever, creative, barmy, witty & wise, not just swine like the news says.
— Anna Rafferty (@raffers) February 20, 2015