Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Art of Micro-Story: Parodies, Sayings and Rants

This is the third in a series of posts based on a presentation at the 2012 Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education Conference.
Parody is a powerful micro-story modality with strong pedagogical potential. Imagine how fun it would be for each student to write a tweet each day commenting on a current news item. Through the use of a distinctive hashtag, their collective work would create the social network equivalent of The Onion. Of course, this wouldn’t replace traditional forms such as essays,  but I believe it would move students to think critically about the issues of our time and help them get in touch with their unique take on events.

Second Lie is my favorite parody micro-story writer. His Twitter stream is a non-stop roast of emerging news about Linden Lab and Second Life. Within minutes of a new event, he starts posting strings of parody tweets that make transparent the Emperor's new clothes. His stream is the Metaverse equivalent of parody news programs like The Daily Show and Steve Colbert. His character is a cross between Rodney Dangerfield and Tony Clifton. (Tony Clifton was Andy Kaufman’s darker twin.)

Here are a few of my favorite tweets from Second Lie:
BREAKING NEWS: Quarterly economic reports have been discontinued. (We lost the dice we used to generate the numbers.) 
Inventory server maintenance underway. This may affect logins for some residents. God forbid, we tell you which ones. That's no fun. 
BREAKING NEWS: Linden Lab sues Google for Plus, which steals a patent for a platform used exclusively to complain about that platform. 
Unfortunately, Second Lie retired his character shortly after the lecture (no connection.)

Aphorisms have proven themselves as one of the most enduring forms of idea-transmission. The identities of the authors of sayings such as “don’t put all of your eggs in one basket” have been lost in time, but their work has endured for hundreds and even thousands of years.

I’ve found a lot of creative satisfaction using Twitter as an incentive to come up with pithy sayings. I want to stress again that what’s most important about writing micro-stories isn’t the quality of each post, but rather how the process of creation hones our awareness. It allows us to connect some of the otherwise unintegrated and unexpressed ideas that lie in wait within our subconscious.

One of the ways I think of Botgirl is as my Muse. She’s the voice of my subconscious whispering in my ear. But you don’t need an avatar identity to tap into your inner landscape. The journey from blank screen to finished work (even a tweet) is an exploration into uncharted territory. You never know what treasure is around the bend.

I’ve played around with a number of different formats on Botgirl’s stream over the years. One of the most personally rewarding is the Deep Tweet. The idea started out on the blog as “Fortune Cookie Wisdom”, which was a funny quote at the end of a serious post to lighten things up.” Here are a few examples from Botgirl's Twitter stream:
The word “tolerance” bothered me until I realized what we are tolerating is our own discomfort about those we don’t understand 
Objectification isn’t seeing someone as a person in a box, but rather seeing the box as being the person. 
The blank page is Sacred Space
The idea of the blank page as sacred space is the foundation of my love of micro-story. Every time we face a blank screen and allow ideas to emerge we are building a bridge between our everyday mind and the deeper levels of our being. And in bringing them to some soft of tangible and shareable form, I believe we are participating in the collective evolution of our human potential. Pretty deep for what is typically viewed as the shallow wasteland of social networks.


The last social network format I’m going to discuss today involves posting a series of tweets over the course of a day based on a theme. Botgirl calls them micro-rants. As a whole, they don’t form a linear narrative. The individual tweets may even be contradictory. The intent is to stimulate thinking rather than to promote any particular point of view.

I was inspired to take this approach by Marshall McLuhan’s “probes,” super-charged phrases that force you out of habitual ways of thinking. Micro-rants are intented to take readers on a ride through multiple perspectives and provoke fresh thought. Here are an example of a complete micro-rant that was published over the course of one day. It's about re-evaluating our virtual lives:
The info-stream is growing ever vaster than we can attend, little alone comprehend. Discretion is the better part of consumption. #reboot 
"Stop and Facebook the roses" is a more congruent aphorism for these times. And to mix the metaphors, it doesn't smell as sweet. #reboot 
Just-because-I-can is becoming a less and less compelling reason to create something. #reboot 
"All the world's a stage" does not suffice anymore. Human life itself is becoming as much public performance as private experience. #reboot 
Another tweet falling into the bottomless abyss. Thanks for catching it. Now what are you going to do with it? #reboot 
The stream is a treadmill. #reboot 
The Social-Net values only what is made public, for that is all it perceives. #reboot 
We are starting to experience our own lives as if we were editors of a Reality TV show. #reboot 
Amusement sweetens the spirit as a dessert but smothers the soul when it serves as the sole sustenance. #reboot 
I can't think of any modern technology whose primary impact has been to actualize wisdom in the cultures it permeates. Can you? #reboot 
Insights without action are like crops rotting in the field. #reboot
One of the curious aspects of this format is that each reader may receive them somewhat differently. Some people check their stream a few times an hour, others a few times a day. Depending upon how many people a reader follows, the micro-rant tweets may show up pretty close to each other or be separated by dozens of other tweets. They may be viewed in order, in reverse order, or only partially. I usually post about every half hour. I want to give each enough space for it to generate some discussion, but be close enough to have some resonance between them.

This is another format that would be great for education. How about a weekly micro-rant Monday, with a topic and hashtag classmates would post to. They could be collected and published in other formats like a class blog, wiki or e-publication.
In the final segment of this series I’ll  cover visual micro-stories, describe some of the tools I use to create and publish them, and sum up with thoughts on the medium’s educational potential.

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