Attendez! If a #Netnarr Fell in the Forest & No Network Heard It…



I was reading Daniel Bassill’s comment to my post about signal & noise and wondering why it had taken me so long to get back to it. I almost always attend to the business of reciprocating with folks who have honored me with their attention. I had not done so for Daniel F. Bassill . He has been kind, gentle and considerate in responding over the years to my posts. Sorry, Dan. I promise to do better.

I replied to his comment

Yes. The wheat from chaff problem. How do we decide what needs attending and what doesn’t? We need filters to do this initial pass at the noise. Questions are a way to do that. I teach my students that research questions are their only hope if they want to carry on in the face of the digital world. Other filters include personal interest or what used to be called curiosity. Passion might be another. Categories would be another of these filters. Creating filters is job one for anyone hoping to help others learn the knowledge biz. So, as much as we hate the dismissal, tl;dr is a legitimate filter. A more interesting observation, I think, is the one you make: the massive amounts of information flowing from the simplest of possibilia, a tweet or a blog post with links or… I would love to know the decision-making process behind your Facebook friend’s tl;dr. Was it a gut decision or a conscious and rational decision tree at work? How do we decide what to attend to and what not to attend to? Thanks for helping me come up with this intriguing question, Dan.

I have had a similar issue with #netnarr, the networked narrative MOOC sponsored by Alan Levine and Mia Zamora. I hit the ground running well before the course started then school began and I had to back off to attend to classes. I lost my way in an ever-rising tide of tweets about alchemy and daily do-this-and-do-that (#dtdt). And when I did try to play the game, to ante up with creative posts about identity and origin stories and psychological alchemy like this one. I got none fucks given. It was my own fault. I don’t even follow my own credo.

I needed to engage.

Did I engage? No, I pulled away. So,  I draw back in with my credo above in hand (or heart). I try again. I am Boxer in Animal Farm, filled with the surety that all I have to do is try harder for a different result. You can see how I am of two minds here: step away and let go or bear down and keep on.

Boxer (Animal Farm) – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

(Point of Information:  The embed above about Boxer was created using Wikipedia and Zuru, a HaikuDeck semi-bot for creating presentations.  Took five minutes to make.  1. Find Wikipedia page, 2. Import into Zuru, 3. Decide on a few piz to go along with preselected text, 4. Create deck. )

Hitchhiking Down the Data Story Telling Highway

Measure of American & DATA2GO: Data Story Telling on the Rise

(tl’dr: Telling a story about how we connect about telling stories.)

I recently enrolled in a course at the Knight Center’s, “Data Exploration and Storytelling ( January 16 – February 26, 2017 )”. Why? As a composition teacher and as a writer, I find myself in need of the tools that help my readers understand data beyond text. In other words I need to become a better data storyteller.

In the forum where we introduce ourselves to each other I met Vartika Sinha. She cited as her inspiration a YouTube video by Ben Wellington for TEDxBroadway, “ Making Data Mean More Through Storytelling”. I watched it and was inspired myself. I immediately shared it with someone I know who is constantly trying to tell stories with maps, Daniel Bassill, and his organization, the Tutor/Mentor Institute.

I shared this video using Vialogues because it is such a simple tool for connecting across the gaps. Here it is.

(This video annotation service is free. If you wish to comment, then sign up. It is amazing.)

While there is no set protocol for doing this video annotation, typically, the originator of the vialogue will do their annotation, others will do their annotation, and then there will be threaded conversation and replies. Of course, we broke the ‘rules’. I did about five minutes worth of annotation and then Dan did the whole video. We are still working our way toward replies to each other’s notes.

There was one reply from Dan I could not ignore. His last note pointed me to a post about DATA2GO.NYC, a data visualization tool created by Measure of America (MoA). The article, “Connecting the Dots Toward Well-Being”, fit perfectly into the course I spoke of at the beginning of this post so I took some time to use my old skool annotation tool, Diigo, to dig deeper, to summarize, and to make sense of and perhaps internalize some of MoA’s discoveries about data storytelling. Here is a link to a Hackpad with my notes.

One of the themes in all my writing is the idea of working out loud. I am a firm believer in observing, describing and reflecting upon this mostly unseen and unremarked upon rhizomatic mat of connection. This particular riff above fits an idea that has been circulating to the top of my mind lately—the lowly hitchhiker. I am not referring to the lost art of hitching a ride, but rather to the weed seeds they call ‘hitchhikers’ in my neck of the hollar.

Hitchhiking is an evolutionary adaption by seeds to become more widespread. Humans link them to invasive species because it is such an effective survival trick. We call them weeds, but really they are just survivors. The suggestions the Measure of America makes I believe are ones that are intended to make data more ‘hitchhiker-ly’.

Some data is naturally ‘sticky’, but mostly, it slides off of our attention and understanding, falling to the ground, failing; however, the emotion of ‘story’ helps it stick. The data is the meat of the seed. It is the reason for telling the story. It is the DNA of meaning that we need to spread. We make information sticky in several ways. We make them useful or interesting, but the best way seems to be by enclosing them in a sticky story.

I am looking forward to learning a lot about data storytelling in my course. You can join with us here. It’s free in some ways but I suspect it will become very sticky, very soon.

How to remove small burrs, hitchhikers or sticky weeds from clothing.

Short helpful video on removing small burrs or hitchhikers from clothing after a trail run or hiking instead of picking them out one by one.

Every Force Evolves a Form: A Tale of Two Clothespins

I have been reconsidering a deep idea lately. It’s not my idea. It’s Shaker founder, Mother Ann Lee’s vision.  She argued that every force evolves a form. Writer Guy Davenport elaborates, “A work of art is a form that articulates forces, making them intelligible.”  For the Shakers, the force of dignity articulated as the invention of the modern broom but it also created an egalitarian society of believers.  For the Shakers, simplicity shook out as a force articulated in every aspect of their lives from architecture to furniture to music to dance.

I think this idea is as handy as a handle on a skillet. Let’s look at two clothespins.img_3418-2

The clothespin on the right is a classic example of mass produced consumer products that only marginally does its job.  You can pin up lightweight clothes with them, but who uses clothespins for that anymore? Very few folks.  I live near Amish communities and I see lots of work clothes spanking on their lines on wash day.  There is no way they are using the cheap, easy-come-easy-go pins that we see on the right. What force has evolved that form?  Consumerism. Throwaway culture. No sense of history or need or long-term consequence.

I remember my mother had a clothespin bag that came in and out with the laundry.  Such a lovely memory of working to help her hang out the bed clothes and blouses and jeans with patched knees and all the rest.  I was the only one she let borrow her clothespins to make the old bedsheets into my ‘reading tents’. She knew I would always bring them back.  And you never ever let them get rained on.  They were heritage, heirlooms from my father’s mother.  And they worked for the heaviest cloth on the line as well as the lightest. I wonder where they have gotten to.

I looked for regular commercial clothespins for years.  They were all made someplace under duress and under the thumb of the bottom line. The forces they evolved from were very simple: make them as cheaply as possible with as little care for durability as could be managed.  They were built to fail quickly not endure.  I would say they were “obsolescence planned”, but they didn’t even have that amount of care lavished on them.

I finally found what I was looking for. It is the clothespin on the left. It has evolved from an opposite force. It’s hand made. They aren’t cheap. They arose from a desire to craft something durable to pass on into the future.  They arose from a real need.

Yet…their design is exactly the same. How can we explain this difference?

Every force evolves a form.

Now…how can we extend that into the world of learning?  What forces have formed our current educational forms?  What forces make the best forms?  These are among the questions I will be exploring. I would love to have your help. Perhaps the form that arises from our collaborative force is just what our learner are looking for?

A picture of a boy hanging from a clothesline by a series of clothespins attached to his shirt and pants.
Real clothespins