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9 Aug

A mobile-phone and a no-longer-mobile car...

The riots in the UK just now seem to be spreading as quickly as Morrisey could reel the names of cities off in The Smiths ‘Panic‘.

“Panic on the streets of London
Panic on the streets of Birmingham

I woke this morning to find that, for the third consecutive night, looting and arson are seemingly rampant across England with no clear indication that anyone can stop it.

I watched in interest on Saturday evening as the information and content on Twitter (and it’s photographic counterparts such as TwitPic, etc) and YouTube, was differing from that of the nation news agencies. The BBC seemed to be several steps behind and it was Sunday morning before the real story was told through verified means. While Twitter can be very unreliable there were those on line who were conveying a sense of fear that wasn’t present through the national media (thank you @davidcushman)

Astounding difference been official media tweets, journos tweeting on ground and real people sharing what they see. Fear in the latter – Aug 6, 11:24pm davidcushman

Cushman then went on to ‘ReTweet’ on-the-ground reports from both pedestrian observers and official news outlets.

RT @PaulLewis: If police indeed are saying #tottenhamriot “contained”, that is absolutely not true. It is mayhem.

RT @D_Dougieee: I actually cannot believe what I’m seein! A bus on fire! Police cars on fire! They’ve broken into banks, hairs shops n jewellery shops!

RT @itv_news: Police cars set on fire in Tottenham, north London, after riots connected to the shooting of a young man by police on Thursday #Tottenham

Last 3 RTs to illustrate that difference.

Real-time unedited view delivers a tapestry of perspectives versus an edited version of ‘the truth’ #tottenhamriot

Apart from the relative horror of witnessing this kind of information from the comfort of my own bed (800 miles away), I was intrigued by the use of the technology. We’ve seen it happen across the world… Japan, Middle East, China… when in times of distress social media has created a life-line for many… before, in some cases, it got shut down…

However, two days on and I’m beginning to see the effect of how this media is also being used to fan the flames. No, it’s not to blame..!; there are plenty of reasons why these things happen and not one of them is ‘mobile phone’. But as someone who has been using these types of media and techniques for the purpose of entertainment and education it’s a timely reminder that, like any valuable tool, there will always be a way in which it can be abused.

No doubt rioters are being rallied directly through various networks but also rallied through miss-information, and being made to believe there are similar incidents in their area when there are none.

Without question this is a desperately sad situation.

I have chosen not to link to any of the riot videos as I’m sure if you are reading this you are capable of finding them yourselves, and while there is much to learn from viewing these films, for many they remain a source of entertainment and I’d rather not propigate them.

There are some users though whose intention is the ‘other’ ‘E’. Education. Via Twitter I came across this Google map by James Cridland who has mapped verified information on the riots. If you read his blog you’ll see exactly how vigorous that verification process has been. It’s an illustration of how useful, but also unreliable, Twitter can be.

Sadly, while exactly the same process, it’s a stark contrast to the maps that I’ve been creating for the purposes of games and tagging and mapping media.
The outcome, while extremely useful in many ways, is also a lasting virtual memorial of what has happened over the last few days.

Let’s hope that he doesn’t need to populate it any more.
Alternatively you can check out the emerging hashtag of #riotcleanup where you’ll find more positive images like these. The same tech, the same areas, just different people…

Fiction ‘improves social understanding’

8 Jul

UPDATE 24.09.2011:

As of this update I’m working on the design and layout of a book for a local photographer. A local writter is providing appropriate captions and the one included below is pertinent to this post. While the quote is specific to reading, I also believe it to be true of any form of narrative with which we can engage, ie analogue and digital games:

“In a very real sense, people who have read good literature have lived more than people who cannot or will not read. It is not true that we have only one life to lead; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish.”
S.I. Hayakawa (1906-1992), academic and United States Senator.

This is kind of interesting… I suppose anyone interested in fiction would believed this to be true anyway… but this clip from BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme would suggest that the findings of Prof Keith Oatley are a little more conclusive.

In a way it almost common sense to say that reading fiction improves social understanding because of course, paradoxically, fiction is never entirely made up. Fiction is a writer’s response to something he has observed in the real world.

As with anything, there are times when this is done well and times when it is not… but that’s another story…

The other interesting aspect to this games. I am convinced that games are exceptionally good at delivering the same story based experience as books. In a game however the player is part of the experience (creating their own story), within the context of the prescribed plot.

80’s Computer Games legend, Dino Dini, in his Keynote to the NEoN Digital Arts festival Festival in Dundee talked about this very idea and inspired a great deal of what I would go on to research through my Masters project. He talked about ‘excessive narrative diminishing player experience’… how too much ‘prescribed plot’ in a video game could hinder a player from creating his own story… by creating our own stories he suggested that we learn to understand ourselves and develop as human beings.

Oatley would appear to agree with this idea as he uses the analogy of a ‘flight simulator’ to give emphasis to his theory… and so, the circle is complete… and I rest my case…!

What do you think..?

Oatley’s research has been collected into a book Such Stuff As Dreams – The Psychology of Fiction and  is available now.


29 Jun

About six years ago (having long since ditched conventional TV, the aerial and obligatory licence in favour of the more ‘time-managed’ approach of renting DVDs) I discovered that the BBC were beta testing streaming TV through their website. I was able to watch, for free and at my convenience within 7 days, episodes of Top Gear and Extras. Albeit in a tiny windowed section of the webpage.

Clearly web TV and on demand was the way to go. Or so I thought.

A few years later I tuned into Radio One and the first of Zane Lowe’s Masterpieces series. A documentary on Nevermind by Nirvana to be followed by the entire record being played without interruption. Hundreds, maybe thousands of people were txt-ing into the show to applaud such a move. Why? A huge number of those txt-ers owned the record. I had it. They/we/I could have just put it on at their/our/my own convenience. Surely this was a backward move?

Today, Wednesday 29 June, 2011 I am sat at my laptop with another little window tucked away in the corner of my screen. My twitter feed gives me a connection. Sometimes too much connection. Tonight in particular it’s the #apprentice. Clearly I’m following the wrong people as every second one seems to be watching. I could almost switch it off. Almost.

There are two points here; number one:

In 1998, the reason my wife and I ditched our TV was because much of the time it was simply background noise. We would walk into the house and one of the first things we did was turn on the TV. Not because something was on but because something ‘might’ be on. There rarely was, but we rarely seemed to turn it off either. We observed friends doing the same thing… so when our old dodgy TV finally gave up the ghost we didn’t replace it.

However, in 2011, if I’m not careful, Twitter is the current equivalent. Background noise. Distraction.

The other point is that the technology designed to give us more choice and convenience is also enhancing the traditional TV and Radio model.

For me, Masterpieces in 2007 planted the seed of this idea of the new communal experience. It felt like a brave move at the time but it should have been more obvious. After all music thrived through the communal experience of band stands and concert halls  long before anyone was capable of recording it.

And the shared experience of TV and Radio has always been there, but the sharing had to wait until school or work the next day. Now, it’s immediate. If you are happy to wait for the water cooler conversation the next day you’re still free to Sky+, but if you want the Has#tag experience then you need to tune in now.

From a design point of view the interesting thing to me is that this behaviour wasn’t presented to us through an ‘App’… the tech was simply appropriated by a few while watching TV.

Inevitably the process would be formalised and Twelevision, though I haven’t used it, looks an interesting and fun way of achieving this. I just can’t imagine how you focus on the programme while there’s all this other stuff to do..!?

‘Appointment to view’ was a term used back in the day – before the introduction of devices like the PVR caused major disruption – to describe the experience of TV viewers who tuned in to programs broadcast at scheduled times. 

With a nod to how the real-time back-channel commentary afforded by twitter (and the #hashtag) has emerged as an unlikely saviour of the live TV spectacle we coined a new term for the lexicon – ‘Appointment to tweet’. That’s what Twelevision is about.’

Eaon Pritchard – Director: Digital Innovation, Clemenger BBDO Melbourne

So how are you watching TV these days..? Does social media fit into your watching schedule? Are you Get Glue-d & Twelevised? Or are you iPlayering and Box-set-ing?

Answers on a postcard please… remember them?