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Jonathan Harris: Collective Storytelling

I’ve always been interested in Jonathan Harris and his digital storytelling projects.  Harris appears to be passionate about finding or forming a sense of cyber-humanity (humanizing the Web).  I’d like to refer to this as a sort of empathy-commons.  Click here to watch Harris’s wonderful talk from last year’s AIGA conference called “Cold: Bold”.

One of Harris’s first projects was called “We Feel Fine.”  The program (“an almanac of human emotion”) looked for the words “I feel” across the Internet and created undulating real-time art from a continually changing feeling of the Web with little windows into other worlds of feeling:

Harris’s newest project is called CowBird and it’ll be a long-form digital storytelling platform for people to tell their stories and automatically remix their stories with other stories.  This results in a spiraling up of continually changing life narratives that connect via tags and commonalities to create new meta-stories.  To read more about this new community storytelling project, click here.




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  1. Joseph

    Well this pretty much raises the argument that maybe it isn’t so important to focus on motivating people to know what questions to ask.

    THE ALTERNATIVE: Is it possible that the internet will just present us with all we need/want to know?

    Does it accurately represent valuable information if it is random, or does random apply better to emotionally inspiring memes? Does it still feel like a conspiracy if what is presented is based on popularity? How much value will we assign to popularity in the future?

  2. Stephanie Spiro

    Okay, so I think the class should categorize memes (assuming that memes are popular by definition, or at least adequately spreading). There are, I assume, different types or levels of memes, memeplexes, and meme-themes. Or perhaps memes fall along a kind of spectrum, like everything else in terms of level of importance, influence over society, lasting power, emotionality, etc. For example, the Chaplin speech resonates even now and it carries enormous emotional weight. LOL Cats are silly and surface-y, but they resonate and replicate for different reasons. TED is both intellectual, human, generous *and* emotional, depending on what you’re watching.

    The Harris digital artwork and storytelling in the past has been a sort of collector of things that are already out there and feelings that circulate over the Web.

    I think people shouldn’t be motivated to ask certain questions, because they’ll ask questions on their own. Generally, a meme that travels and resonates will already be out there and visible, but it might help to direct the line of questioning. For instance, the Chaplin speech might encourage people (if they are moved by the speech) to find the film, to find more Chaplin films, to research or google the history of that in particular film and speech. It also might motivate them to learn more about the questions raised in the speech so they can talk about it in a social Web situation. ???


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