Firestorm

In January 2013, there were several destructive bushfires wrecking the Australian state Tasmania. One of those resulted in an especially touching story that went around the world; the story of the family Holmes, which could escape the fire only by inches.

The Guardian worked out a digital story capturing the incident, and called it Firestorm (http://www.theguardian.com/world/interactive/2013/may/26/firestorm-bushfire-dunalley-holmes-family). In my opinion, it is certainly convincing in its endeavour to catch the significant moments of the event and bring it closer to the audience. But let us have a closer look at how this is achieved: How does the website use storytelling techniques in order to achieve its goal? Is it successful or does it fail to send the right message? I will shortly analyse the first chapter of this digital story, as it shows the different techniques quite well.

The first technique that catches our eyes is probably the way that rhetorical devices are used. The text that is leading the audience through the story is marked by a certain tone that both evokes a cosy feeling for the readers as well as makes them feel that there’s something dramatic to come. The first effect is managed by the confidential tone that is prevalent in the text; like a real storyteller, the author manages to cast a spell over the reader. The latter effect, namely the feeling of a gloomy event yet to come, is achieved by some rhetorical highlights. Lets have a look at Chapter 1 and the ellipsis used there: “No birdsong. That was odd. Eerie, even. Like something was holding its breath.” It sheds a spotlight on a certain aspect – the staccato of a developing action.

Additionally, the “eerie” atmosphere is supported by the audio aspect. The irregular sound of a bird’s voice and the soft noise of water implies the gloominess of the silence before an approaching storm. The imagery in the background of the text adds to this atmosphere, too: It shows birds leaving the woods. As if something dangerous was looming somewhere. But I must say that I found the visual component sometimes disturbing throughout the digital story; in some parts the pictures make it hard for us to read the text. The high amount of techniques is working against the aim to put the focus on the story itself. It might have been cleverer to use less techniques sometimes. But this is only a comment on the side; I do not think that this slight overload does great harm to the overall appearance.

In the next step, the author uses a short video clip that retells the information in the text. This gives a personal touch to the story, and makes it more believable. It enables the audience to step into the shoes of Tim and Tammy Holmes. This is one approach described in the Cookbook by Joe Lambert, just that the Cookbook refers to how you tell a story in order to let the audience get into the scene. But the same is valid for the way you use video to make the onlooker feel inside of the story. It is one essential step towards catching your audience. If you want to have a closer look at the Cookbook, visit http://newhive.com/cookbook/home; it is a webpage made by Eliska Zalabakova and me that aims at reflecting the most important aspects of Joe Lambert’s text.

Now that we have had an insight on the techniques in chapter 1, which reflects the whole appearance quite well, there is only one aspect left to talk about. It is the section of the story that makes it most fascinating: Tim Holmes’s pictures from his family taking shelter from the fire under the jetty. They give the whole thing a realistic touch, and make the narration seem more reliable. The pictures contribute to catch our attention and compassion for the Holmes family, and manage to actually establish a kind of relationship between them and us.

This is the goal of every digital story. And this one succeeded to do so, from my point of view. So, if you don’t have seen it by now, enjoy the Firestorm!

Tackling a Challenge, or: How to Catch Teenagers’ Attention

We want something new. We want it, because nobody had it before us; something we can call our own due to our superior knowledge about this very special novelty. This is a theory, of course, as it’s impossible to speak for all of us – but it is interesting to see on how many areas of life this theory can be applied.

Let us, for example, have a look at social media: According to the article Facebook’s so uncool, but it’s morphing into a different beast (http://theconversation.com/facebooks-so-uncool-but-its-morphing-into-a-different-beast-21548), the ideal application for these days’ teenagers does not have to be functionally optimally working. It has to be cool, naturally. It’s even allowed to step into their private sphere, because it doesn’t need to be free from the suspicion to observe its users. But there is one factor that has a high level of importance for teenagers: It is the fascination for the newest, the latest. It has to be something that clearly distinguishes the teenager generation from their parents.

If this notion is a correct reflection of today’s youth and its needs and wants, there are some challenges for businesses which want to reach teenagers via social media. The challenge will be either to create this novel social medium, or to cover an old one with new-looking sheets, so it can convince the hungry eyes of the pubescent masses. This is a rather demanding challenge, and depends on the craftiness of the minds in your business. It is a matter of creativeness, and it is not easy to give advice on how to be creative (although there are people who work on that, I am sure). So, apart from novelty, there are other aspects which need to be thought of. If your business wants to reach teenagers, you also have to mind some basic steps, which are well explained in the article Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of Social Media by Andreas M. Kaplan and Michael Haenlein (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0007681309001232). I want to highlight some of them, in order to allow you a deeper insight into the challenges awaiting you or fellow pursuer of medial success.

Kaplan and Haenlein stress that it is essential to choose your social media application after thorough consideration, as participating in too many opportunities simply takes time which could be used more effectively. You should also define your target group and find the right application speaking to them (Kaplan & Haenlein). This is a core issue in the context of the question characterizing this post: What is required of businesses that want to reach today’s youth? At first, your business has to identify who exactly it wishes to talk to. Then, you have to determine which application(s) suits this purpose best. Kaplan and Haenlein point out two different approaches for the next step: Your business can either choose an existent application or create a new one. If you decide to use more than one medium, you should be aware that activity alignment is important, because otherwise your audience will be confronted with different messages via different channels. Confusion and ambiguity harm the overall signal you want to send.

Another good advice from Kaplan and Haenlein: Dare to use traditional media as well as social media, and, once again, watch out to keep the message clear. If you think you can use television, for example, to fuel your success, then do so. But make sure that your different applications of media and the content they convey match and support your goal.

What may seem obvious, but is actually not noticed by many companies, is the fact that your employees have to access the applications in order to make it successful. Of course, no employer wants its workforce to spend its time gossiping on Facebook – but, nonetheless, you should find a way not to avoid your employees’ creativeness from contributing to the development of your application of social media.

Reading the article by Kaplan and Haenlein, it becomes clear that the social in social media is essential. Let me refer to one sentence that should be kept in mind in the process of using applications of social media:

It’s all about participation, sharing, and collaboration, rather than straightforward advertising and selling. (Kaplan & Haenlein, 4.1.2.)

So, it is definitely worth it to look at Kaplan’s and Haenlein’s tips on how to be social! They focused on five main characteristics how to behave: Be active – Be interesting – Be humble – Be unprofessional – Be honest! While some of those aspects may seem obvious (being active and interesting doesn’t seem new to most of us), others can be surprising. Being humble, for example: The advice is simply not to underestimate an unknown application, but to carefully get to know it. However, it doesn’t matter if you make small mistakes in the beginning, because it is sometimes quite the opposite: It might seem sympathetic if you behave a bit clumsy, but sincere. This is what is meant by being unprofessional. And, as a last advice, do not try to force manipulation via social media – it can be easily spotted, and you will risk losing your audience ten times faster than you won over it.

So now that you have a short guideline how to challenge the task to catch your audience’s attention, it is finally time to start. For any further assistance, have another look at the article by Kaplan and Haenlein – and, most importantly, enjoy your work!

The importance of Martha’s petals

Martha accidentally kills Dank’s dog with her poisoned flowers. What a sad story! Naturally they get into a fight about this (who wouldn’t?), come on, Dank, tear out those stupid petals of Martha! But he’s not reacting the way I should think fit for a bereaved ex-dog owner. He yells some advice over the fence, but that’s it.

Eventually, even I get the hint and notice that this little short story by Lawrence Lessig is set in cyber space, not real space. In a massively multiple online game, in short MMOG. Oh, okay, I think. But then, who would care for a virtual dog dying from poisoned plants? Not me, certainly. But that is exactly where I, and many people I know, go wrong.

Persons taking part in MMOGs are often not taken seriously. My background and education taught me that people who are fond of those games are some kind of special outsiders – depending on the degree they distance themselves from real space, they are categorized on a scale that goes from 1 (A little bit weird, but still, we love you despite your eccentricities.) over 5 (Should we talk about this? I think you’re taking the wrong way.) to 10 (Totally detached from reality, you should spend some healthy weeks in the countryside without connection to the internet). Those categorizations origin from the thoughts that seethe deep down in the minds of our teachers, parents, grandparents – in short, the generations before us. We learn from them. We learn to consider cyber space as something like a refuge for people who shun from real characters, real interaction, real life. I don’t want to generalize; there definitely are people who differentiate. But many people do not see the wealth, potential and danger combined in cyber space as it is described in Lessig’s text. Why do we even assume the right to decide what is real and what is not?

The high amount of people living their second lives in MMOGs tells us a lot about the influence it will have on real space. As Lessig states, Edward Castranova estimates that 20 to 30 million individuals are part of this development. So shouldn’t we start to have a closer look at the whole thing instead of dismissing it as a trend of the geeks, a funny spin-off of today’s conditions? Because it is far more than that. And the fingers of MMOGs will, without doubt, touch real space and do changes there, if it hasn’t done so already. So, this is our first challenge; to start acknowledging cyber space as a relevant factor in our daily lives. Otherwise, this blindness might result in a loss of control over interaction in real space. For if we do not see the implications of MMOGs on real space interaction, we cannot control the results of those implications. How can we keep something in check that we cannot grasp?

For a start, we can examine Lessig’s question What does it mean to live in a world where problems can be coded away? It is a question which is highly relevant for the development of our society’s values. One implication of this MMOG trend in real space might be that individuals stop trying to find solutions in real space, because there’s no need for it in cyber space. The god-like ability to change settings and laws of nature with a few clicks – can that evolve into a danger for our communities? We could lose valuable processes; discussions in friendships, fights between lovers, and other situations which aim at improving the interactive environment in real space.

As we cannot go into detail here, I just want to call on you to think about this issue – what does the increasing participation in MMOGs mean for social interaction? However, I am sure we should heighten our awareness in order to be prepared to deal with the consequences that are lying ahead of us.

Rising Expectations

Blogging? Until a few days ago, this term was not more to me than a distant idea of sharing information in a way that was still unknown and strange. It was not until I attended the seminar concerning Digital Presentation at the University of Agder that I was first introduced to the world of blogging, posting, and sharing. As you may have already noticed, my first post is of a very basic and simple kind. That is the reason I want to gain knowledge about various aspects concerning blogging in the process of the course.

I decided to apply for this course more than two months ago. Even earlier, when I began the studies at my home university, I became aware of the importance to be able to present oneself in an appropriate way. Today’s channels of information and communication are complex and have to be handled with care and preciseness, if the intention is to use them in order to achieve specific results. In other words: It is essential to use the possibilities we have due to the development of the internet in the best possible way. After attending this course I want to be in the position to say that I have expanded my skills and abilities in this area.

Another reason for my interest in digital presentation is the fact that I am fascinated by the subject area of aesthetics. I want to learn to create layouts that support and highlight the contents of my blog. What is more, I also want to grasp the meaning behind different layouts of blogs made by other individuals.

At last the matter of digital presentation is also connected to certain questions of identity: How do I define myself? Which aspects of my personality do I want to emphasize, which ones do I value less? I think that it is extremely useful to explore what my priorities are and which reactions of other people I intend to trigger. As soon as I have a notion of how I want to present my identity and its attributes, I will have made a big step towards the proper use of means of digital presentation.

Apart from all those ideas, I feel my excitement growing when I think about how the work with blogs in this course may also bring forth surprises. I am wondering whether my expectations will be fulfilled or disappointed; I am looking forward to the way it maybe opens up other possibilities than the ones I anticipated. I am sure that, no matter if my goals are achieved or not, I will be able to use the knowledge about blogging in my future academic development.