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How ephemeral is internet content?

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This post is about our sense of ‘time’ in relation to how we publish content on the internet.

A question: Are you reading my blog posts in order of the time in which they were written? Are you reading them forwards through time, or are you reading a single blog post; a single instance of a collection of my thoughts?

In my last post I started considering Anne Bogart’s ViewPoints and theatrical composition in relation to composition online. One of Anne Bogart’s ‘Viewpoints’ is the concept of Time in internet composition.

Since writing that post, and before writing this post, I have been thinking about Time and the online experience. I briefly want to expand that sense of ‘Time’ beyond website design, and consider how we perceive time in relation to publishing content on the internet.

This is a feeling I have: Every time we publish a piece of content, we are doing a kind of ‘fixing’ or marking the occasion of an image, a feeling, or a necessary statement (such as advertising or notifying). Nothing is nailed down, and yet things are nailed down. Here are some thoughts that consider how content-in-time manifests on the internet.

THOUGHT A

Content that was created to be time-specific or in-passing can always resurface as currently relevant (if it is not time-stamped). The web can remember everything you write and is written about you. In order to remove it, it needs to be overwritten, or it needs to be actively removed. Sometimes you can do it. Sometimes you have to go through a process of getting someone else to remove it.

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THOUGHT B

A poem I wrote for a poetry competition in the early days of the web constantly resurfaces on Google search results for my name. People say ‘I didn’t know you were writing poetry’. It’s embarrassing. I say that was an ‘old me’.

THOUGHT C

A good friend informs me that one of the rules for those who are active participants on online forums is to not make reference to a point that a forum participant has made in the past. His or her opinion may have been saved on the internet, but it should not be used to come back and bite them in the ass.

THOUGHT D

Publishing content on the web offers us the ability to be organic. Why not go back and change any or all blog posts according to changing opinion? The web facilitates the change of text and the organic evolution of content through updating.

THOUGHT E

Language in printed documentation is fixed and unchangeable. Language on the web is organic and amendable this means that content is malleable, organic and amendable over time.

THOUGHT F

“Study the historian before you begin to study the facts”  E.H. Carr, What is History?

Now the historian is more anonymous and fact is published and then checked. Wikipedia offers an interesting contribution to the formation of historical fact: where the core principles of publication are based on verifiability, neutral point of view and non-original research. Is wikipedia the originator and perpetuator of a chinese-whispers of fact? Is that a new thing?

THOUGHT G

The representation of ‘you’ from the past on the web is part of your personal brand. This is not easily disposed of. Be careful what you write. It represents you.

THOUGHT H

When I have insomnia I sometimes look at twitter in the middle of the night. At that time I read things written by a) Robots b) People who have insomnia c) People who are awake on the other side of the world. If I tweet something from the darkness of my bedroom, not many people in my immediate community will ever read it at that time. It’s pretty much disposable. I don’t tweet important stuff at night. Once I tweeted something about a pork pie and I was instantly engaged in conversation with robot – a chutney brand was communicating with me after midnight.

THOUGHT I

Publishing content on the web can be done with an attitude of ‘fixed in time’, ‘ephemeral’ and the ‘subject to change’. We are not yet culturally used to the process of ‘subject to change’.

THOUGHT J

Any undated content is current at the point it is received by the user.

 (Photo credits with thanks: Facebook photo of time stamp on hand: Marina Abramovic Exhibition 512 Hours, Serpentine Gallery, Yaron Shyldkrot, Gravity )

Is the web browser a space for theatrical composition?

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Because I was curious, I made this mind-map of Anne Bogart’s Viewpoints, which is a method used by theatre practitioners to think about the composition of people and objects on stage. I’ve made the map as a checklist of aspects of composition to consider in my theatre work.

Since I’ve been working with Viewpoints, and building a new website at the same time, I was having a think about how these design principles can be adapted for the composition of websites. It would take a long time to consider each of these points on their own and how they cross-pollinate with web design. It’s something I’m very interested in doing.

For now though, some thoughts around the heritage of design for the web in relation to the language we use for theatrical composition.

THOUGHT A

The web takes its pattern thinking from an amalgamation of the lines and columns of journalism and print publishing, the curation of exhibitions, and the taxonomies of libraries. It works with texture, buttons, button transitions and drop shadows. It is centred around searchability.When Flash was more ubiquitous, the web browser offered a more cinematic experience.

I’d like to hold this up against a recent online ‘organic’ document published by Google called Material Design (interesting that it is called Material Design):

“Material design: a cross-platform design system grounded in tactile reality, inspired by our study of paper and ink, yet open to imagination and magic.” Google on Material Design

THOUGHT B

I think that the screen itself, despite its hardness and flatness, is not a hinderance to using theatrical principles in designing for it.

THOUGHT C

A website is built on the contraints of programming and programming languages. It is predetermined by the formats of the inner architectures of WordPress, or CMS structures. Text cannot easily flow through or around images, and text is still constrained by character length and box sizes.

THOUGHT D

Interactivity is traditionally centered around button panels. It still is. I think of the interactive displays at the science museum in the ’80s. Buttons are a satisfying point of ‘action’, they need to behave at the appropriate speed.

THOUGHT E

On a website, the speed at which a story is told is determined by its balance with space and click-through-rate. Time is therefore a vital consideration in design. This site is the fastest site I know: http://www.lingscars.com/

THOUGHT F

There is an upsurge in the popularity of the term ‘calm technology’. An App made by Catherine Wheel, an object theatre company, is the calmest example of interactive design that I know of.

THOUGHT G

Choreography is becoming a big word in design, coming to the fore as technological languages develop. There is now an undeniable fusion between the heritage of paper based technology, animation principles and the necessity of ergonomics in mobile devices. The dimensions are changing, demanding a new composition language.

Language like ‘motion’ and ‘meaningful transitions’ come straight out of theatre. With the growing tactility of the web and recognition of the necessity for user-centred experience, the choreography of data is becoming more and more necessary.
 

The seduction of the screen

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THOUGHT A

I’ve just realised it is dark outside. I’ve been typing a blog post for 20 mins. A timer has gone off on my phone to remind me to take a break. I stand up from my chair and my legs feel a bit funny. I blame the chair. It’s not very comfortable. I go to the kitchen and get some Ribena.

But earlier when I was sitting in front of my computer, I forgot I’d put a timer on. I didn’t notice that my legs felt funny. I didn’t notice that I’m thirsty. For the last 20 minutes I have given my entire attention to the screen; I outsourced my body to a convenient chair. This is why I have a timer.

My landlady next door is watching the TV with the dogs.

THOUGHT B

I forget my body at a screen.

I don’t need to sweat to move anything along.

I don’t want to be romantic about this. Books are the same. Once I’m in the zone.

THOUGHT C

Jean Baudrillard quotes Querzola in the chapter “The Ludic and the Cold Seduction” in his book ‘Seduction‘;

Electronic narcosis: it is the ultimate risk of digital stimulation… At the end of the self-management of our bodies and pleasures there would be a slow narcissistic narcosis. (Baudrillard 1979; 157)

I am reading (on my iPad, next to my computer) that this act of computing I am taking part in now is in fact a kind of game. I am at play. Re-ordering ‘my networks’ (Baudrillard 1979; 159) to discover a state of optimal functioning. I am narcissistically gripped by the playable world of my screen, because it gives me an endless cycle of gazing into the mirror of myself – which I have the constant opportunity to re-order.

The internet, then, is a pond into which I am gazing at myself and in turn rewarding me with my being-in-the-world as the constant editor of myself and the simulation of myself.

THOUGHT C

A computer screen is such a private thing. Two or more people come together gather around a screen they get confused, and their private behaviours are disrupted. What does a social computer look like?

THOUGHT D

The screen itself, like any object, is a device in the environment of our lives, a tool, a piece of furniture or a costume. But, when in use, we’re asked to not notice it. It’s form is a little bit dirty when it isn’t glowing with light.

Like a magician’s hands, the trickery is only noticeable when something slips. Or at the beginning and the end of the magic.

THOUGHT E

When will a screen become an old fashioned thing?

THOUGHT F

A screen is a small and safe source of light that indicates levels of security and regulates our wellbeing. It’s a private access to the confirmation of our territory as social beings in the world. Like meerkats, we are ready to pick up on the signals, propelled by a little dopamine rush. We are secure in our pack – the light says so.

THOUGHT G

The screen is the skin of the ungraspable elsewhere of data.

 

A puppet carving course with John Roberts at Little Angel Theatre

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‘A rites of passage for puppeteers and makers.’

‘Be prepared for it to be full on’

‘Be prepared to not finish your puppet’

‘Careful of your fingers’

‘John Roberts is lovely’

I guarantee people will say one of the above phrases when you ask them what John Roberts’ puppetry course is like.  I’d say it seems to be a rights of passage for anyone that wants to be a puppeteer, or a maker, or anyone at all in fact. One of John’s most dedicated students is an osteopath, apparently.

I’d never held a power drill in my life.

As you can probably see from my other blog posts, I’m happy enough with a needle and thread in my hand, or a lump of clay, or a laptop. But I’ve never used a power drill, never handled a gouge, and never had to sharpen a pin on an electric grinding machine, until John Roberts came along.

Swapping the desk for a work bench.

John Roberts is the calmest, most zen-like teacher I have ever had – particularly given the intensity of the course. His sense of humour is also very, very special.

There were six of us, all working on our own puppets, each with our own workbench and equipment in the making workshop at the side of the Little Angel Theatre. Everyone at the theatre is very welcoming and helpful and serious about the craft of puppet making. It felt like being at home on a completely new planet.

Let the puppet making begin.

It was a week of FULL-ON, fast paced, no-messing-about puppet carving. We started off with a short tutorial about wood grain, carving tools and how to avoid gouging our own eyes out. Then we launched into what felt like a non-stop week of 9am until 7pm of measuring, drawing, tracing, sawing, carving, gouging, drilling and chopping.

There was no time for pondering, theorising, facebooking or nattering. Tea was made, but making time to drink was a skill to develop in itself. How often does such concentrated work happen for 5 days in a row? It felt good – exhausting – but very wholesome and good.

I have never made so many mistakes in my life.

The first thing I gained from the course was a much deeper respect for craftsmanship; all the minute considerations, the accuracy required down to the millimetre, the history, the quirky names for tools and the importance of looking after your chisel (including how to avoid letting Larry the theatre cat sit on your chisel).

I also learned that getting things wrong is a pain in the ass, but a problem isn’t a disaster – it’s part of the process. You just do it again and you do it right. At points during the process I became very frustrated with myself. Very very frustrated. But luckily there was no time for the inner critic to do anything about it. John doesn’t permit meltdown. I just had to pull my socks up as quickly as I could and keep going. That was a lesson for life; don’t dwell on it for too long, just get on and do it better.

The end result.

There is an end result and there isn’t. As in the picture above, the end result is in pieces, and far from finished. Doing a course with John Roberts is about the journey. It’s like being a fly on the wall in the life of a dedicated master craftsperson, but getting roped in. Actually, being a fly on the wall in The Little Angel Theatre for the week is a hugely valuable life experience in itself. The puppet is incidental.

Now that I know my way around a chinese chisel, and I won’t get the fear when someone hands me a power tool, I’d love to do it all over again. I might well sign up for another week next year. I know now that I can just get on with it.

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To book a course with John Roberts go to http://www.puppetcraft.co.uk/. I’d highly recommend it.

Do we all have it in us to make a symphony of one kind or another?

Life Lessons from Invisible Thread’s ‘Les Hommes Vides’. Walking back down the flights of stairs after the show in Soho Theatre’s uppermost performance space I thought ‘As humans, we’re capable of creating ridiculous joy. All we have to do is manipulate a tiny puppet who dings a xylophone three times when his co-puppet calls out a raffle ticket number’.

Once upon a time I was in the Barbican for a performance of a Shostakovich symphony. As I was listening to it I had a similar feeling. I thought ‘ Do we all have it in us to make a symphony of one kind or another?’

So that’s what I think Invisible Thread’s ‘Les Hommes Vides’ is – Liz Walker’s personal miniature symphony. Ok. So it’s not grand. It’s the complete opposite. It’s short, ramshackle, broken and super basic. But it’s still a symphony. Liz Walker knows some serious stuff about object manipulation, movement and how to get an audience to empathise with an object.

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The show’s big stars are two endearing puppet men with big heads and pleading eyes, of the same breed of character as Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot – they’re waiting, but who knows what they’re waiting for. It’s all pretty pointless, but that’s the ultimate beauty of it all.

So, like Beckett, the theme of the show is about the futility and emptiness of stuff, objects, materialism, humans, life – everything. But here’s the thing: It’s playful. Ding a xylophone with a puppet – anything goes. And that’s the moral. Everything is futile, so you may as well play with conviction. 

http://mimelondon.com/invisiblethread2013.html

Handing over Monkey to Dr Frankenstein’s Freak Show

This monkey puppet was commissioned by Tin Shed Theatre for Dr Frankenstein’s Travelling Freak Show. She took one month to make besides my day job. She’s now on tour with the company.

I’d like to thank Daisy Jordan and Isobel Smith for helping me out with the structure and the concept, David Robinson for the help with sewing, Mandarava too for the advice. And Justin from Tin Shed Theatre in particular for giving me the opportunity to make her.

The black puppets for White Night.

Here are some images for the walk-through puppet performance we did for Brighton’s White Night 2011 as the intro to Jake Spicer’s drawing ‘heaven’. The theme was Utopia and Dystopia.

I’d like to warmly thank Jake Spicer, Silvia Laurenti, Ady Griffiths, Petra Bongartz, Daisy Jordan, Zoe Gray, Helen Keevy, Ollie Bettany, Robert White, Tess Howell, Andy Hume, Sarah Nell Walpole, James Green and Wendy Greenhalgh for all the work you put in. And thanks to Andygintonic on Flickr for the photography too.

It was a great experience, hopefully it won’t be long before I concoct some more plans so we can work together again…

Baba goes to Playgroup.

Ellen and Baba tell fortunes at a festival.

The Hilton Sisters. The siamese twins.


These two are a work in progress. They’re siamese twins called Daisy and Violet – based on the Hilton sisters who lived in Brighton in the 1930s.

In this video we’re just messing about – trying to work out whether they’d be best manipulated as a marionette.