What’s Going On In This Picture?

The digital New York Times has been upping its image-text game ever since it published the groundbreaking multimedia story, “Snow Fall,” by John Branch. Incidentally, “Snow Fall” is the first digital narrative that made me believe I actually might be able to read online—really read, in the fully immersive way I get absorbed in a book. It actually made me think that a well designed digital narrative could not just be as immersive a good book, but maybe even could do it better.

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Lately, I’ve subscribed to the New York Times daily briefing, which offers “what you need to know” to get through your day. Today’s briefing led me to stumble upon some word-image stories from the archive produced for Black History Month, which led to this educational initiative, “What’s Going On In This Picture?“—which reminded me of a kid’s version of Sean Hall’s This Means That.

There could be a cool idea for a project lurking in these new digital forms and platforms. Check ’em out and “sead” for yourself (I just made up the word “sead” as a portmanteau of “see” and “read”). Or cultivate what Pagan Kennedy calls the Art of Serendipity and search the web to make your own surprising, inspiring discoveries.

Speaking of serendipity, making up the word “sead” gave me an idea for the “Picturing Texts, Making Media” seminar I’ll be teaching next fall. I’ve been reading Steven Johnson’s fascinating book Where Good Ideas Come From. He argues that great ideas require environments that nurture and allow the “slow hunch” to come into being. Guided by this principle, “Google famously instituted a ’20-percent time’ program for all Google engineers: for every four hours they spend working on official company projects, the engineers are required to spend one hour on their own pet project, guided entirely by their own passions and instincts…The only requirements are that they give semiregular updates on their progress to their superiors” (93).

So what if in the seminar, for every four hours of required reading, students are required to spend one hour “seading”—exploring the web to discover ideas, stories, images, videos, games, tools, platforms, and resources, guided entirely by their own passions and instincts? The only requirement is that they publish semiregular blogposts on their discoveries, not to their superiors, but to their peers. Could this idea turn a course website into a fertile network for generating ideas?*

Please let me know what you think. I’d love your suggestions and wishlist for the seminar, and I’d be happy to tell you more about my current, hackable plans for it.

*Speaking of which, writing this post led to me write another on my personal blog, on “serendipity” and “seading”—an idea I owe to you.

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