space-time, singularity, gravitational physics, and multiverses


I had this half-asleep epiphany during a long-haul flight and love this analogy: I might get my physics all wrong, but physicists speak of space-time as being a layer or a grid. Stephen Hawking calls it the fabric of space. He says that what we experience as gravity is caused by the dip in this invisible layer that is caused, for example, by a planet, the size and mass of which determine the pull of gravity. According to Roger Penrose, the point of pure gravity at the center of a black hole is a singularity, a place that according to Hawking can under certain circumstances (if reversed) serve as a birthplace of something new, causing a big bang. Knowing that I simplify, I’d still like to propose a similarity to the web.

If we assume that the www is the space-time grid, then certain services, nodes, or memes stand for planets, the bigger they are, the greater their mass and pull. In social sciences this logic aligns with Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann’s mass communication theory. Her notion of the Schweigespirale (spiral of silence) describes how one opinion becomes dominant because those who oppose but feel they are in the minority will remain silent. Noelle-Neumann sees a fear of isolation from society as the main factor for this behavior. So, if we assume that mass – in whichever form – has gravitational pull, it’s easy to assign Google or facebook dominance in the grid. To stretch the analogy even further: exorbitant pull results in a singularity, which can be destructive in a way that this singularity swallows its surrounding into a black hole. However, at the same time, according to Hawking’s theory, it can also serve as a birthplace of a new galaxy. In the web’s case this could be a new practice as in the case of Google, a new way to access knowledge; or in the case of facebook, new ways to interact and voice opinions.

Jean-Luc Lehner’s argument of multiple big bangs and multiverses is equally easy to transfer to the web. We’re all just particles.

….madness. Are there people researching those patterns comparatively?

Food for thought were a Channel 4 Documentary about approaches to a theory of everything as seen by Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose and a Falling Walls lecture by Jean-Luc Lehners.

ipu poll

People at ITU Telecom World Conference (Geneva, Oct 24) came up with an interesting poll. It’s a bit all over the place, some of the answered are biased, and I’m missing total numbers but most of the questions are well worth thinking about.

literary review on co-creative media practice (version: May 2011)


So this is my slightly outdated litrev from May 2011. I wrote it for my first annual PhD review at UNSW (Sydney).

Co-creative Practice in Participatory Narratives: Examining How Practice Enables And Limits Collective Storytelling

i: Practice/Performance
– Social Practice
– Media Practice
ii: Participatory Storytelling
– Objects Have Agency
– Authorship And Oeuvre in Peer Narratives
– Collaboration, Knowledge, And Learning
iii: Playful Narrative
– Immersion And Interactivity
– Play And Creativity
Concluding Remarks

Since the last decade of the 20th century, social media and affordable digital technology lead to a steadily growing DIY culture (Manovich 2008: 33, Lash 2007). This democratization of production through the many-to-many nature of the www affects how stories are told and perceived, most notably through a culture of sharing, remixing and commenting (Amerika, 2011). In this context, multichannel narratives – which are characterized by locally dispersed authors who share, create, and circulate content across diverse media platforms (Jenkins 2006) – have become popular among the industry and audience alike. Films and TV show convey complex stories that operate on a multitude of levels, employ plots within another plot and extend to other media. In order to play and dig deeper, the audience can follow the story and contribute to it through different media. Websites, mobile apps, locative media, or pervasive games offer content that enriches characters and story universe (cf. Dena 2009, Jenkins 2006, Rose 2011, Handler Miller 2008, Bernardo 2011, Gomez 2010, Montola/Stenros/Waern 2009).

This literary review on participatory storytelling is a result of refining key themes that unite my case studies and their theoretic foundation. Bridging media studies and anthropology opens two crucial pathways to answering how media practices change narrative form and interaction. By drawing on scholarly expertise in both disciplines, I can map the field in quite some diversity. Depending on the knowledge I gain during fieldwork, I can then choose and combine suitable theoretic concepts, which ideally inform one another. For my specific case study, three aspects are predominant. The first is media practice (i). Examining phenomena of new media production is complex, mainly since the realm of mobile technology lacks ‘spatial, social, and temporal boundaries’, which ‘makes it difficult to maintain distinct social contexts’ (Boyd 2011: 23:20). Looking at practice in its various forms is a way of subsuming those aspects under one roof, which determines the interplay of all the different parameters within. The second aspect is participatory storytelling (ii). As mobile technologies become more and more pervasive in everyday life, so does media consumption and production. In this surrounding, storytelling across various channels including various actors becomes dispersed and something new entirely. The third aspect is how this ubiquitous virtual platform inspires playful narratives (iii). In order to self-publish and co-create, professionals and amateurs interact, collaborate, and employ different media devices interchangeably, developing multimodal literacy that diverts from linear text consumption. Such narratives might feature new forms and lead to different ways of interaction, of which new media practice is the very source.

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thoughts on the role of a teacher as mentor-facilitator-learner-passionizer


During a recent workshop with freedomlab, I was reminded of a reflection on my own teaching practice that I wrote a while ago. In a 2-day thinktank-meets-hackathon we developed a sensory storytelling teaching approach for elementary level that includes much of what I also found useful to engage students, on University level.

– intro
– love and knowledge
– engagement and motivation
– collaborative strategy
– challenges
– conclusion
– references

Teaching engages all senses, one’s entire personality, patience, empathy and a good judgement; it also requires creativity and clear communication of knowledge and tasks – a teacher orchestrates an array of hard and soft skills to shape an engaging learning environment. My log reflects four pivotal insights that I got from my first teaching experience in an English-speaking academic setting. First, sensitizing students to see love as the key driver for gaining knowledge opens the arena for a playful approach to learning. Second, students get motivated by a personal atmosphere and a learner-oriented approach. Third, collaboration and a well-balanced depth of content keep students mentally busy and engaged. Fourth, some challenges arise with respect to language as well as to academic meta-knowledge, such as literacy and style that can only be partly addressed in class. My assumption is that small group teaching can be approached as a hybrid function between teaching, facilitating, and mentoring by delivering deep knowledge that is well structured in a whole-hearted, caring class environment.

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research synopsis

This PhD investigates co-creative practices in participatory storytelling. I compare two transmedia productions – one commercial, one non-profit – that experiment with co-creative story development. One of the projects is a commercial TV production that engages a group of 30 skilled fans during production. First, these game designers, artists and storytellers re-enacted the back-story of the crime series in a three-day living drama. In a second step, together with the series’ transmedia production team, they develop games and challenges for a wider audience. The other project is an online/offline experiment among fifth-graders and fifty skilled collaborators from eight different countries, who jointly create a loosely framed emergent narrative. My interest lies in what facilitates and constrains collective storytelling whilst employing various media technologies. By filtering motivation, priorities, ideology, organization, context and skills among participants, I theorize on compatibility of media practices, facilitation of co-creative processes and incorporation of playful learning.

My fieldwork lends itself to i) to observe story development and compare if production techniques complement or exclude each other, ii) to derive how technological potential is tapped to enable co-creative productivity, iii) to track aspects of play and learning in collective storytelling. My data enable further theory building on the use of interactive and mobile technologies with respect to embodied performance. Findings will contribute towards theorizing transmedia practices within the field of media anthropology. Understanding co-creation among creative teams and their participating fans is pivotal for appropriating and developing emerging networked ecologies.

Conceptually I’m particularly inspired by Bernard Stiegler’s philosophy of technics as constituents of consciousness, Quentin Meillassoux’s notions on contingency and dynamics within a speculative materialism framework, Gilles Deleuze’s thinking about complexity and the philosophy of becoming, Judith Butler’s commentary on breaks of iterability as seats of difference and learning, Scott Lash’s discussion of people’s ontological relationship towards global culture industry, and Georgina Brown’s remarks on blurring lines of art and cultural production. In this framework, I intend to fill a gap that’s left by meta-level classifications that circle around the term ‘transmedia storytelling’. Thus, my research does not draw on concepts but on people’s practices.

“The unrealistic sound of these propositions is indicative, not of their utopian character, but of the strength of the forces which prevent their realization.”
Hubert Marcuse

developing a pattern language for co-creative processes


After DIYdays LA and first steps into documenting WSWP and Robot Heart Stories, the idea stuck to create templates for such co-creative processes, a structure that allows for adaptation and creative re-use. The idea of adapting Christopher Alexander’s approach to design pattern language excited me a little. At its core such a language consists of vocabulary, syntax and grammar. Complex activities beyond mere communication can be expressed in a symbolic language. A good co-creative pattern language would have to be in harmony with physical, social and technological culture.

Alexander suggests to break processes into sequences – each an algorithm about process – that are abstracted and can be followed intersubjectively. A sequence is designed in an order that helps for processes to unfold in the right steps, that clarifies which decisions have to come first and how practices are hierarchized. Such a model could be adaptive and tied to narrative structure. Having the collaborative experience on Robot Heart Stories as a first prototype to build upon would help to iterate and develop a solid foundation for a second instalment.

Fiorella de Cindio at RCM in Milan develops rules for online collaboration with a group of colleagues. In an upcoming paper with Douglas Schuler, she points out that deliberation and decision-making is tricky in dispersed workflows and needs more attention. They are looking at all kinds of protocols that are in place for IRL meetings, such as Robert’s Rules of Order, Citrine’s ABC of Chairmanship or Open Space Methods, to model off a system that could structure collaborative exchange online.

So much to think and do. Fun.