Fake News, Anthropomorphism, Milo & Otis

It is common knowledge that the Australian media loves a rumor. Whether it be a messy celebrity break-up or financial abuse allegations from a former MP, the press can always find a way to spin a story. It’s understandable in some respects, as we all know a bit of juicy gossip is sure to lure readers. Frustratingly though a sometimes inability to confirm sources or fact check correctly is one of the needlessly untrustworthy elements of the fourth estate.

Spinning rumors or unconfirmed reports are not, however, confined to the tabloid papers or celebrity gossip magazines. Examples exist where defenseless animal actors have been pulled into the crossfire. One of the more prominent examples of this practice in Australian media history regards the story of the loveable main characters of the 1986 film ‘The Adventures of Milo and Otis’.

The film, which follows the adventures of a young tabby cat (Milo) and a pug dog (Otis) as an unlikely duo of best friends who become separated and each finds themselves on a tear-jerking and hazardous reconciliation adventure. Both protagonists are acted by real animals and the entire adventure is narrated in order to give the characters a human voice. The use of narration this film constitutes a classic example of anthropomorphism, as the animal charters are “imbued with humanlike intentions, motivations, and goals”. The practice of anthropomorphism, while interesting, is not uncommon, with countless examples of the practice present in modern media texts. What is perhaps more interesting are the rumors of animal abuse that have surfaced since the movie was first screened in the late 1980’s.

 

Throughout the film, there are various scenes in which the characters are placed in dangerous situations. Examples include a cat actor being placed in a wooden box and pushed over a waterfall, (see video below) and a pug actor entering a physical confrontation with a bear. As the movie was produced in a time before the realistic computer generated images for which we have become accustomed it is understandable that questions were raised as to whether the animal actors were treated humanely during the filming process.

 

 

Shortly after the film was released, rumors began to emerge that raised allegations of animal cruelty during filming. Brisbane newspaper The Sunday Mail reported at the time that Animal Liberation Queensland founder Jacqui Kent alleged the killing of more than 20 kittens during production, among other abuses. Animal abuse of any kind is a shameful and inexcusable act, yet in the case of Milo and Otis, the anthropomorphized nature of the animal actors made it easy for newspaper readers to empathise with the characters, and consequently to conjure a sense of outrage. The reason for (at least part of) this outrage is that anthropomorphized animal actors act as powerful agents of social connection when human connection is lacking. In the case of ‘Milo and Otis, rumors’ the human narration of the non-human protagonists allows the viewer to feel a sense of connection and intimacy with the adorable cat-dog Rumors

 

of animal abuse during filming are troubling, even sickening, yet from the perspective of a media observer what is perhaps more troubling is that in this case the rumors were reported whilst they remained unsubstantiated. The American Humane society is documented as stating at the time that there is no available evidence to suggest that any animals were harmed during the production of ‘The Adventures of Milo and Otis’. It is, of course, the role of the press to investigate a wide range of potential abuses, but more important is the responsibility to uphold the truth, and report the facts. In this case, however, it seems that the adorable and relatable nature of the characters in question has resulted in the facts of the story being placed secondary to a moral panic regarding unsubstantiated claims of animal cruelty.

 

These rumors have persisted well into the 21st century, with articles surfacing as recently as January 2017 that reference the Daily Mail’s original assertions. There is even an active Reddit forum from 2014 dedicated to the topic. This story shows not only the power of the media to spread unsubstantiated claims but also the role that anthropomorphism of non-human actors can play in providing assistance to the dissemination of such rumors. It is interesting too to note that the ‘Fake News’ phenomena have emerged recently as an apparently new trend in (mainly digital) media reporting, yet the case of Milo and Otis shows that perhaps this problem is something far older than Facebook.

Sad Western Porn

The photograph of deceased Syrian infant Alan Kurdi laying face down on a beach in Turkey is one of the saddest images I have ever seen. Shot in 2015 by Turkish Photo Journalist Nilüfer Demir, the image quickly gained international media attention and became somewhat of a symbol for the global refugee crisis that was emerging as a result of the ongoing civil war in Syria. I recall seeing the photo for the first time when it was trending (and subsequently igniting a debate) on social media shortly after it’s initial publication. The emotional response evoked within me back in 2015 was much the same as it is today: sadness.

 

 

Wait a second, why did I start this paper by immediately addressing my feelings?  I set out to write this paper about the western media’s portrayal of poverty, and how problematic it is, yet here I am, unintentionally beginning my rant by selfishly concentrating on my own emotions, rather than the broader issues present within the portrayal of poverty by the media. Why did I not start by attempting to empathise with the Kurdi family, who’s pain and sadness no doubt dwarfs my own? Or perhaps I could have begun by focusing more specifically on the situation in Syria, which has now reportedly claimed up to 400,000 casualties.

Sadly, the egocentric response I have exhibited here is fairly common in the media landscape, especially when the topic at hand is poverty. The term poverty porn has been invented and is now widely used, to categorise the behaviour I am describing here. Put simply, poverty porn, also sometimes referred to as development porn, is any type of media which exploits the poor’s condition in order to generate the necessary sympathy for generating profit or increasing charitable support for a specific cause.

 

 

Be it a photo of a deceased Syrian baby washed up on a Turkish beach, or Kevin Carter’s famous 1994 photo of a vulture waiting to devour a dying child in Sudan (above), the media has long been addicted to poverty porn. Here I will highlight the western media’s tendency to focus primarily on the suffering experienced by the western audience when confronted with these images, rather than the suffering of the non-western subject.

The first example is a promotional video (see below) produced by the charity organisation Red Nose Day and starring comedian Jack Black. The video begins with Mr. Black giving an introduction and explaining to the viewer “what your donations will be going to”. After the cheerful introduction, the video quickly descends into a gloomy mood as a sullen piano tune begins playing. Mr. Black cries whilst being interviewed about what he has witnessed during his time in Uganda. A large portion of this four-minute video is dedicated to footage of Mr. Black crying as he describes the pain elicited by witnessing other people’s suffering. The video is clearly intended to provoke an emotional response from a western audience, and in many ways, it does a good job of that. Mr. Black uses the closing sequence of the video as an opportunity to plea for public donations towards the Red Nose Day charitable campaign. This video serves as a clear example of the above-mentioned definition of poverty porn in which the producer uses the suffering of the poor to generate sympathy and garner support for a charitable organisation. Seeing the usually jovial and affable Jack Black crying creates a sense of sadness that a western audience can relate to, albeit without addressing the causes of issues present in Uganda.

 

 

A second and perhaps more famous example is Kevin Carter’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1994 photograph, titled “The Vulture and the Little Girl” (pictured and mentioned above). The image was first published in the New York Times over twenty years ago the image still to this day is regarded as one of the world’s most famous examples of western photojournalism. Some have argued that Carter’s photograph is poverty porn, while other’s argue that his work did a tremendous job of raising awareness toward the famine in Sudan at the time. After careful consideration, I have concluded that it is probably a bit of both. The photograph is no doubt striking, and as a result, it has become famous, which in turn has raised some level of awareness of the public perception of issues in Sudan during the 90’s. The issue, however, is that Carter’s photograph was captured as a commercial endeavor. The fact that it heightened western awareness about Sudan would have only resulted in a bigger payday for Carter, and for the New York Times. It would be unreasonable to assume that either party was present in Sudan purely on humanitarian grounds. The goal of both the photojournalist and his employer is to earn money.

It is quite easy to argue these two examples above as being ‘poverty porn’. What is much harder is deciding whether the good outweighs the bad when it comes to poverty porn. There is obvious good that comes from the sharing of images which highlight suffering, as there too is negatives. Perhaps what we need more of though is explanations as to the causes and solutions to said suffering. There is no humanitarian side to the poverty porn sccenrio unless the genuine intent is to use it to create a better world.

 

A Sometimes Lack of Selfie-Respect

Over the past week I have spent considerable time wading through my vast swamp of thoughts pertaining to the art of the selfie. This process begun on Tuesday as I was reading an in-depth journal titled ‘What Does the Selfie Say? Investigating a Global Phenomenon’ (2015), in which authors Theresa Senft & Nancy Baym attempt to uncover the meaning(s) behind the suddenly pervasive and ubiquitous act of self-generated photographic portraiture. I took this initial encounter to be somewhat of a defense of the selfie. The authors appear concerned that a moral panic has arisen in the debate around selfie culture, and that there is an unwarranted concern amongst the public that selfies have become symbolic of the narcissism and self-absorption present in our modern, increasingly digital, society.

At first, it was intuitive to me that selfie culture is narcissistic. The act of capturing a self-styled image itself does not intrinsically appear that way, rather, the selfie culture becomes narcissistic when images are shared with the public via the various popular social media channels. I took the publisher (and subject) of the selfie to be acting in self-interest, parading themselves in the public sphere, and seeking validation for their efforts. These thoughts, however, were just my intuition, and I found no evidence to suggest these ideas held any merit. What I did find is the new art of the selfie is complex, multi-layered, and that there is no single meaning behind the selfie phenomenon.

This conclusion left me feeling a bit lost. In all honesty, selfies are not something I really care to know about. As a media scholar, I generally think there are more important topics that deserve my attention – the recent media storm surrounding US President Donald Trump, for instance. My interest was not seriously piqued until I stumbled across the work of Berlin-based Israeli artist/ satirist Shahak Shapira, titled Yolocaust, – detailed in the video below.

 

 

Shapira was displeased by the manner in which young attendees were behaving during visits to Berlin Holocaust memorial. The artist was particularly unhappy about visitors publishing selfies that appeared to depict insensitivity toward the suffering of Jewish people during World War 2.  In retaliation, he decided to Photoshop some of the selfies he was dissatisfied with into real, powerful wartime photos that depict Jewish suffering during World War 2. The resulting Yolocaust project raises consciousness about how we should behave when visiting places that are designed to commemorate those affected by the atrocities such as the Holocaust.

instances, however, it does seem appropriate for Shapira to raise questions about appropriate conduct when taking selfies in sensitive situations. I can personally relate to the themes present in Shapira’s Yolocaust project as I have taken selfies (pictured below) when visiting various Holocaust memorials during my time in Poland.

 

selfie aushwitz
My brother Tom (right) and I (left) pose for a selfie during our trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in July 2015

 

The photo above is a selfie that my brother and I captured during our visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp in Poland in 2015. The photo clearly shows us appearing stern-faced as we pose for the photo. I am seen clutching my SLR camera, which shows that I had attended the camp on that day with the intention of capturing photos. I believe there is a clear distinction between this photo and those depicted in Shapira’s Yolocaust project. The first is that unlike the photos in the Yolocaust project we do not appear to be enjoying the experience of visiting the holocaust memorial. Second, this blog post is the first time this selfie has been made public, and the sole purpose of this publication is for the purpose of an academic inquiry.

My introductory exploration into the world of the selfie found that context is all-important when deciding to capture and to share one’s selfie.  Shapira’s Yolocaust project highlight an apparent lack of respect being shown by those visiting the Berlin Holocaust memorial, whereas the selfie of my brother and I show’s the discomfort we were experiencing when visiting the Auschwitz camp to pay our respects to those who died during World War 2. My key finding was the context of a selfie may be depicted by something as simple as the facial expression of the person pictured, the caption of the image, or the decision of where to publish the image, if at all.

 

References

Senft, TM and Baym, NK 2015, ‘What does the selfie say? Investigating a global phenomenon’, International Journal of Communication, vol. 9, Vancouver

Major Digital Project 2016: Reflection

Link to Digital Artifact Map.

This post serves as a reflection on the major digital project that I recently undertook as part of the Media, Audience, Place course in The University of Wollongong’s Digital Media degree. The key aim of the digital project was to create a digital story circle that persuades an audience to think about how media practices are spatial in nature. I endeavored to display a digital story circle by creating a customised Google Map that shows photographs and captions which depict the current television consumption habits of my childhood friendship group.

 

A ‘digital story circle’ is, in essence, a digitised embodiment of the common ‘story circle’, in which a group of story makers sit face-to-face and engage in a narrative exchange in order to co-produce a story. The key difference here is of course, that the collaboration takes place in the digital realm, rather than face-to-face. In this instance, the digital story circle may be seen as an example of the process of collaborative ethnography. My friends act as informants and are actively contributing to the process of creating an ethnographic account of television consumption behaviors in Australia. Rather than taking information the informants have given and synthesizing it, instead, I have created a digital story circle that allows each participant’s contribution to be fully and mutually recognised in the form of an icon on a map. The concept of collaborative ethnography in this story circle was informed by Luke Eric Lassiter’s (2005) book: The Chicago Guide to Collaborative Ethnography. In particular, I have attempted to adhere to Lassiter’s notes on the importance of paying close attention to what informants are actually saying, in order to build maps of vocabulary, knowledge, and experience. Lassiter suggests that the ethnographer may benefit from involving their interlocutors in the process of writing (or in this case mapping) an ethnography. Each collaborator contribution to the study is mutual recognised in the form of an icon on the map, and the nonlinear nature of Google Maps excludes the possibility of favoritism from any particular party, including myself. This idea of mutual recognition in collaborative ethnography was also inspired by Honneth’s (2007) suggestion that digital storytelling is a tool for facilitating and deepening mutual recognition amongst participants.

 

Collaborators were added into a private group conversation on Facebook and invited to contribute their experiences to the project (see image below). I received responses from eighteen participants, each of whom contributed a photo and caption relating to their television consumption habits. I then added the responses to a map, in the hope that we can view the map in order to see correlations and patterns in television consumption amongst a group of 20 to 30-year-old Australian friends. In particular, I hoped to see the spaces in which television is being consumed in the 21st century, and what platforms consumers are using to access content.

 

FACEBOOK CHAT STORY.png
Asking potential participants to contribute to my project via Facebook.

 

 

My inspiration for creating a story circle map was taken from the Nick Couldry et. al.  (2012) project titled Constructing a digital story circle: digital infrastructure and mutual recognition.

This paper details Couldry’s creation of a multi-faceted story circle that employs digital media platforms to facilitate the process of narrative exchange. I was particularly attracted to Couldry’s use of Historypin to empower contributors to share stories of their local community in a nonlinear fashion. Couldry employed the Historypin platform in order to create an inter-generational map-based interface that pins user’s photographs and narrative text to the geographical location that the photo was taken. Couldry’s application of Storypin in his project resulted in the creation a narrative exchange that can be viewed from multiple perspectives, rather than being viewed from a singular perspective, or space.

 

I initially planned to replicate Couldry’s History methodology and apply it to my story circle. I explored the Historypin platform, however, after some initial tinkering I found the platform was rather clumsy and offered limited affordances. I was however impressed by Historypin’s use of custom markers. I decided to employ a similar marker system in my project. I trawled the web for platforms that could allow use of employ the marker system in a custom Google Map interface, but to no avail. Finally, I settled on using Google Maps API to code a custom map to aggregate and display the individual stories of my collaborators. Using Google Maps API was an ideal choice because it afforded me full customisation of the map in a way that Historypin would not. For instance, Google Maps API allows customisation of the map colour, map positioning, map size, and adding custom markers, such as the television icons displayed on my map.

 

Given that the sample size of this study was 18 people the results are somewhat inconclusive. Patterns did, however emerge that provide information about television consumption behaviour of young people in 2016. Fifteen of 18 contributor’s television sets were located in the living/ lounge room of their home, showing the majority of my friends prefer to watch television in the living room. Eight of the respondents indicated that they access Netflix to consume television content. This correlates with a recent Roy Morgan poll which indicated that over 5 million Australians are now subscribing to Netflix. Five instances of ‘Dual Screening’ was noted in the study. Surprisingly, the number of respondents who reported not owning a television was only 2. I assumed a higher level of non-participation in the television medium given the recent Roy Morgan statistics which indicate a large drop-off in participation rates, especially among young Australians.

 

Overall, this project showed that collaborative ethnography can be successfully facilitated by using digital media methods. The choice to use a map to display responses was, in my view, an effective way to publish qualitative research responses. Using Google Maps API was particularly effective because it enabled me to aggregate the respondent’s views in their entirety. Future endeavors of this nature would benefit from more precise questioning and should request more in-depth responses from participants. The ambiguity of my initial questioning appeared to prompt respondents to give somewhat vague answers, although this was overcome to an extent by the insights displayed in participant’s photographs. In conclusion, Google Maps API appears to be a somewhat effective platform for displaying content gathered for a digital story circle or collaborative ethnography project.

References

Couldry, N., MacDonald, R., Stephansen, H., Clark, W., Dickens, L. and Fotopoulou, A., 2014. Constructing a digital story circle: Digital infrastructure and mutual recognition. International Journal of Cultural Studies, pp. 1-26

Honneth, A 2007, ‘Disrespect’, Cambridge: Polity.

Lassiter, L.E 2005, The Chicago guide to collaborative ethnography. University of Chicago Press. Chicago, p 22

Copyright is Getting Old

Last night I watched a favourite old episode of The Simpsons, titled The Day the Violence Died. The basic plot summary goes something like this: Bart and Lisa meet a homeless man named Chester J. Lampwick who claims to have conceived the idea for Springfield’s famous Itchy and Scratchy cartoon television show. Lampwick convinces the children of his claim by showing a grainy old black and white cartoon reel in which a mouse named Itchy and an unnamed cat sailing down the river on a steamboat when suddenly Itchy pulls out a gun and shoots the unsuspecting cat. The children can see similarities between Lampwick’s cartoon and Itchy and Scratchy and as a result feel that Lampwick deserves recognition as the rights holder for imagining the concept of Itchy and Scratchy. A hilarious court battle ensues and Itchy and Scratchy chairman Roger Myers Jr. is found guilty of copyright breach and ordered to pay excessive damages to Lampwick. The court battle bankrupts Myers and Lampwick suddenly becomes rich.

Lampwick is, of course, a fictionalised version of Mickey Mouse co-creator Ub Iwerks.  Iwerks was an American animated who was responsible for the design and animation of Disney’s Mickey Mouse.  Iwerks work on Disney’s most iconic, and lucrative character left an immeasurable mark on the film industry (and Walt Disney’s hip-pocket), yet history routinely fails to acknowledge this contribution, instead it is Disney who is afforded the accolades.

As I sat watching this episode I began to think about the contradictory nature of copyright in the information age; an age dominated by the internet. The Internet is a copy machine at its most fundamental level. Every message, video, photo, or meme that you see online is a copy. Gone are the days where creating a perfect copy involved laborious tinkering with a printing press or a cd burner. The internet allows files to be shared instantaneously all across the globe with the click of a button, all without diminishing the quality of the original content. Content now flows freely through the web as users share files with the greatest of ease.

The pervasive new world of media sharing and copying has brought about immense changes to the way we copy and share files, yet copyright structures have not kept up. Rather, we find ourselves in a paradigm where the flow of content online is at odds with existing copyright laws. Internet users are prosuming content by remixing, reworking, reinterpreting and reimagining existing content. The formerly atomised, passive, media consumers have now become active content creators. Dr. Ted Mitew refers to these prosumers as “the people formerly known as the audience”. Media Prosumers may be seen as the media consumers of the twenty-first century.

If media users have become prosumers, copyright law has become a regulator of media use. Realistically I could go on all day about how ridiculous it is to apply 20th-centuryry copyright laws to 21st century media consumption habits, but instead I will pose a quote by media scholar Clay Shirky that I think sums up the situation very well.

What we need is a government willing to say “Copyright is and has always been a bargain between creating a market for creative work to create incentives, and creating a cultural commons to create value for the citizens,” and then start reasoning about how such a bargain will be worked out in a world with an Internet.

Essentially Shirky is suggesting that we would benefit from abolishing existing copyright structure, instead looking to find a model that protects financial incentives for content creators, whilst simultaneously acknowledging and embracing the cultural capital of internet media prosuming. The regulation imposed upon creative processes by current copyright structures is a hindrance to our social capital (which I would argue is vastly more important than economic capital).

There are examples of artists and creative who are bucking the trend and embracing internet sharing and prosuming culture whilst still earning a living in the process. One such example is Slovenian music producer Gramatik. Not only does Gramatik sample other people’s works to create his music, he also encourages users to download, remix, and play his music for free. Recently, Gramatik published his entire downloadable discography for people to download for free via a partnership with BitTorrent. After downloading the file multiple users were notified by Time Warner that they were committing an offence by downloading Gramatik’s music, even though the artist himself had permitted fans to do so. This example highlights the ludicrous nature of current day copyright structures. Gramatik decided that giving his music away for free would result in a positive outcome for both himself and his fans, yet the antiquated pre-internet copyright laws still attempted to prohibit fans from obtaining this content. For more information on this baffling tale click here.

The examples provided by Clay Shirky, Gramatik, Copyright and Prosumer culture all share a common theme: media regulation. The copyright laws that we still live under are regulating our media use and inhibiting our ability to harness our full creativity online. The reason I pointed to The Simpsons at the top of this article was that it epitomizes the potential of remix culture. Roger Myers Jr. may have shared, remixed, or even stolen the concept for Itchy and Scratchy from Chester J. Lampwick, but the end result was the production of a concept that would not have otherwise seen the light of day. Lampwick deserved some level of credit for imagining  a concept, but Myers should not be severely punished for bringing the idea to fruition. Myers Remixed Lampwick’s Itchy and Scratchy concept much to the disdain of copyright law-makers and the cultural fabric of Springfield is stronger for Myers having done so. In the same regard, the cultural fabric of our world will benefit significantly from altering our current copyright structures to accommodates the copy-machine we know as the internet.

A Cricketers guide to paying attention in the digital world

Australian cricketers concentrating in the field. Image source: Cricket.com.au
It’s no secret that increased media consumption and digital lifestyles are diminishing peoples’ abilities to concentrate for extended periods of time. A 2015 report from Microsoft Canada states that s average attention spans have fallen from 12 seconds in the year 2000, to 8 seconds in 2015. To put that in perspective, the average attention span humans has diminished to levels lower than the notoriously dim-witted goldfish (9 seconds). According to Microsoft, the key factors that are contributing to our waning attention spans are media consumption, social media usage, technology adaptation rate, and multi-screening behaviour. These factors all comprise elements associated with the rise of digital media technologies.

Right, so increased engagement with digital media technologies is resulting in a lower attention span for the user. This sounds obvious, but the implications can have serious consequences. Take for instance the fundamentally dangerous activity of driving a car. Common sense tells us that it is important when driving to maximise concentration in order to ensure the safety of all road users. But what happens when you get a text message or app notification whilst driving? You should just ignore it until you arrive at your destination, right? I decided to test this idea as I drove from Wollongong to Sydney on the weekend— a trip of around 90 minutes. New South Wales Law states that drivers must refrain from using hand-held mobile devices at all times when operating a motor vehicle. This meant that I was (rightfully) unable to use my phone while driving. Instead, I chose to conduct an experiment to record the number of times that I considered picking up my phone when driving. My intention was to provide a demonstration of how often I am distracted by the thought of picking up the phone.


It is illegal to use your mobile phone while driving in Australia. Image credit: Cars Guide

This experiment consisted of simply recording the number of times I was tempted to check my phone during the 90-minute journey to Sydney. I also recorded the number of times that I received notifications whilst driving in order to indicate how often my phone was attempting to distract me. My passenger was tasked with recording my observations as to negate the risks associated with this experiment. I will take this opportunity to also add a quick disclaimer: at no time during the experiment did I actually attempt to use my phone whilst driving.

Over the course of the trip, I recorded 14 instances where I was tempted to check my phone whilst driving. A breakdown of these instances is provided below.

– 7 times I considered looking at my phone while stopped at traffic lights. These lapses of concentration were attributed to the  boredom that ensued as I waited for the light to turn green.

– 4 times I was tempted to look at my phone during general highway driving or suburban driving. This would have been the most dangerous time to check my phone given full concentration is required in order to safely operate the vehicle.

– During the car ride I was greeted by three notifications from my phone; two text messages and one Snapchat notification. On each of these occasions my concentration from driving was momentarily broken as I fought the urge to check these notifications.

I noticed that even though I was not tempted to engage with my phone, I was still mindful of its presence. I found that I was distracted by the thought of checking my phone every 6.42 minutes during the duration of the trip. This experiment shows that mobile phones have the ability to distract a driver, even when the driver does not react to the distractions by checking the phone.


Australian cricketers demonstrating deep focus. Image credit: Cricinfo

Conducting this experiment got me thinking about selective concentration. When I was young I used to play cricket which I think involves a unique level of concentration. During cricket matches, the players are required to bat for upwards of seven hours per day. It seems impossible that the players are concentrating throughout their entire innings, given that the average human concentration span currently stands at 8 seconds. The key to concentrating on a game of cricket is the player’s ability to select the correct moments at which to focus their concentration. Cricket lab provides an interesting explanation of how cricketers manage to stay focused throughout the course of their innings. The key is apparently knowing how to manage your focus by learning when to switch it on and off.

This analogy provides an interesting example on how to imagine switching your concentration on and off like a cricketer does when batting:

You’re in a room with a beautiful picture on the wall, you have a
torch with a lens that can focus in and out, soft to sharp focus.

You turn out the light in the room and focus the torch on the painting, using soft focus to look at the whole picture and sharp focus to zone in and pick out detail on the picture.

Your mind is like this, it can switch your focus between sharp or soft, close or far, in and out, very quickly.

Focusing in sharp and tight on something uses up mental energy very quickly … so how do you manage this for batting.

The most important time to manage your focus at the crease is between balls, strange as this may seem. This is when you have time to think, an over may take 3.5 to 4 minutes but the ball is only in play for 4-5 seconds from when the bowler runs in, to when the ball is bowled.

You want to keep your mind quiet between balls so that it is present with where you are, not off in the future thinking about the ball you might get or off in the past thinking about the ball that was just bowled.Essentially the cricketer wants to pick the perfect moments at which to concentrate. Perhaps training our minds to recognise opportune moments to use sharp focus can be applied to our digital media usage? It is apparently impossible for humans to concentrate all of the time, so instead we may be better served by learning how to focus on our media devices at the right times. Recognising the times that you are required to employ sharp focus may also enable you to recognise when it is appropriate to switch off and check our devices. Granted, this method would not suit the driver of a motor vehicle, given that it is illegal to handle a phone while driving, but imagine a situation such as studying at university, or working in front of the computer.

Essentially the cricketer wants to pick the perfect moments to concentrate. Perhaps training our minds to recognise opportune moments to use sharp focus can be applied to our digital media usage? It is apparently impossible for humans to concentrate all of the time, so instead we may be better served by learning how to focus on our media devices at the right times. Recognising the times that you are required to employ sharp focus may also enable you to recognise when it is appropriate to switch off and check our devices. Granted, this method would not suit the driver of a motor vehicle, given that it is illegal to handle a phone while driving, but imagine a situation such as studying at university, or working in front of the computer.

How Do My Friends Watch TV These Days?

Over the coming weeks I aim to facilitate a digital storycircle that illustrates the television and media consumption habits of my friendship group. The theoretical framework for this project is inspired by an article by Nick Couldry et.al. that I recently read, titled ‘Constructing a digital storycircle: Digital infrastructure and mutual recognition’. Couldry’s work investigates whether “the narrative exchange within the storycircles of story makers created in face-to-face workshops can be replicated by drawing on digital infrastructure in specific ways.” Couldry identifies a “storycircle” as a setting where participants sit facing each other, focusing and listening to what each other has to say in order to co-produce stories. He and a team of researchers then set about creating a multi-stream story circle where rather than sitting face-to-face, participants contribute to a collective, narrative research project using digital media platforms. The project resulted in the creation of a multi-faceted storycircle where information is collected, curated and distributed via digital media platforms including Twitter and Historypin.

Couldry’s research evaluates the successes and limitations of digital storycircle by identifying and exploring three main characteristics: multiplications, spatializations, and habits of mutual recognition. Multiplication refers to the relationship between storytelling and development of digital platforms that allow stories to be shared and multiplied. These platforms are enabled by modern technological advancements that allow separate media sources to converge in the digital sphere. Spatialization refers to the of building of a narrative around sets of individual narratives. Individual actors contribute fragments of information to a larger, complete, narrative experience that can be shared on various sites, and exchanged between various audiences and institutions. The geographic location of individual contributors may be decentralised due to the affordances of digital media technologies. Finally, habits of mutual recognition refer to the storyteller’s ability to construct a narrative exchange that supports knowledge production and mutual recognition of contributions among participants toward matters of common concern. By engaging with Couldry’s three dimensions mentioned above, I will endeavor to produce, and later analyse, an effective digital storycircle project.

I aim to tell the story of my friendship group and the spaces in which we consume television and other forms of screen-based media for entertainment purposes. My reason for doing so is partly inspired by Couldry’s suggestion that it is ideal to choose a story that includes elements of space and time, both of which are evident in this concept. The vast majority of my friendship group was raised in Canberra, however, as time goes on, various circumstances have caused us to move apart geographically. Members now span ACT, New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria, Queensland, and some living overseas. The diverse geographic locations of group members’ will allow me to create a timeline that pulls stories about habits separated in time and space into a common space. The widespread consumption of television in Australia, coupled with my recent interest in people’s television experiences led me to settle on television as the theme for this narrative. The 2015 Australian Multi Screen Report suggests that television remains the dominant viewing medium, with over 88% of Australians still choosing to consume television over any other form of screen-based media. I would like to know if this trend extends to my friendship group, and whether we have embraced other screen-based media technologies. My second area of interest for this project is television spaces. As I have discussed previously on this blog, I am keen to investigate the role of television in creating spaces in the home.

Collaborators for this project will consist of a large cross-section of my friendship group. Each group member will be requested to capture a photo of the television space within their home and then upload the photo to a Facebook group chat. The image should include the space in which their television/ media device is located and the television should include an example of something they enjoy watching. The image will be accompanied by a small caption that provides the location of their media space geographically, and a couple of sentences about their television viewing habits, should they wish to disclose such information. Couldry suggests that Illustrating the storyteller voice is important to the story, as is capturing the essence of the narrator and each unique character and their connections to lived experiences. I anticipate that encouraging my collaborators to illustrate their story by showing photographs will enable the narrative to capture the essence of each contributors lived television experiences.

edi.jpg
My Television Space: This is the reference image for my project. Collaborators photographs may vary, but will follow a similar format.

Having already employed Facebook Group Chat to collect collaborators individual stories I will then be tasked with choosing appropriate spatial arrangements in order to showcase the data as a complete narrative. Couldry states “The medium in which you choose to show your digital storytelling is not crucial, the storytelling elements can be images, film, blogs, tweets, web pages and web links”.  The story will include contributors images and text, as already stated, which will then be aggregated on a digital mapping platform that brings the whole story together. The geographic position of collaborators media spaces and additional data will be interlinked in order to facilitate the practice of working together to show each other how we live. The narrative will then be displayed on this blog where the information and data collected can be easily accessed by the participants and the general public. I hope this project will eventuate into an interesting and thought-provoking storycircle that details the television consumption habits of a unique group of young Australians. Any thoughts or suggestions, please feel free to leave a comment below.