The Importance of Imagination: An Invitation

Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times recently quoted President Obama as he reflected on his Secret to Surviving the White House Years: Books. “At a time,” Obama says, “when so much of our politics is trying to manage this clash of cultures brought about by globalization and technology and migration, the role of stories to unify — as opposed to divide, to engage rather than to marginalize — is more important than ever.”

In today’s polarized environment, where the internet has let people increasingly retreat to their own silos (talking only to like-minded folks, who amplify their certainties and biases), Obama understands that storytelling stands as a bridge that might span usual divides. He knows that the art of stories holds truths that remain “under the surface of what we argue about every day.”  

In my post-election DML blog regarding the Importance of Imagination, I suggested that at this critical juncture in our cultural and political history, we should never underestimate the power of fiction to lead the way in our real lives. Imagination is our own, personal, infinite playground. It is, by its very universality, a shared capacity. What we imagine together becomes the very foundation of the human community. Before the world can change, people need the ability to imagine what alternatives might look like. What if we imagined what the world could be like by examining where we are now, and then devising the steps that take us from here to there?

This question leads me to an invitation to join us in a special kind of experiment. Alan Levine and I have partnered to devise an open emergent community of storytellers. We have embraced the notion of being “digital alchemists” as we thoughtfully mix together “elements” of media and storytelling. Our open connected course is called Networked Narratives: a networked “collaboratory” in digitalstorytelling, worldbuilding and co-learning. Look for us on twitter at @netnarr and/or #netnarr. We do have a full class of undergraduate and graduate students at Kean University who are taking this course for credit. But #netnarr also lives on the open web as a hybrid mashup of DS106 media creation and an exploration of networked forms of E-Literature. You are welcome to syndicate your blog and join us on this stranger-than-fiction journey. There is a loose outline of the “skeletal structure” we have mapped out for both Kean University students and our open participants/co-learners. Each month we have a different modality of interaction:

  • The remainder of January will be about getting set up, creating a blog, interacting online in twitter, blog comments, and hypothes.is.
  • February will be a series of virtual visits (Google Hangouts) to E-Literature artists, crafters, going to their studio.
  • March will be a series of virtual “bus tours” where we plan to visit different classes or groups from dispersed points on the globe as we continue our media/storymaking activities. We hope to capture more intimate understandings of the places we live in, and what some of the challenges that arise there might be. We have lined up partnerships with young writers from Geoff Gevalt’s Vermont Young Writers Project, along with students/colleagues from Eygpt (thanks to Maha Bali), Mexico (thanks to Ken Bauer), and the UK (thanks to Laura Ritchie), as well as some other excellent colleagues from varying locales. There is room for more collaboration if you are interested!
  • April will be a #netprov game experience, where we apply the digital media and network communication schools in some kind of live action performance experience. We are talking with John Stewart and Keegan Long-Wheeler about deploying their games-based GOBLIN approach.

And, some weird stuff is already unfolding! We may have more than the Russian hackers to deal with:

Somehow private video planning chats between Alan and I have been intercepted and published to our site by “Rebeg” and later by “MProphetissima”:  

The breech has us wondering. What does it take to build a storytelling network that takes imagineering, world-building and #civicimagination seriously? Please join us to help find out!

Banner image: modified “Attic Door” pixabay photo by Kincse_j with a custom logo superimposed on the door by Alan Levine