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Cusp

23 Mar

Snapping bubble gum between her teeth in a way that annoys even herself, Al steps out of the front door, half registering that it’s warm enough to not need a coat.

She’s wearing one anyway.

Key lodged under the plant pot by the steps, her rubber soles thwack on concrete and she’s off down the hill. Her friend Lucy is waiting at the end of the road, as promised.

Lucy carries her awkward bundle of bones in her uniform. They stretched before she was expecting them to; adolescence and all its unreasonable anger poured into a glass like a dropped can of Coke, fizz rising to the top and spilling out before she could stop it.

They call out things that feel like normal teenage words. Perhaps “Hey,” or “Yo,” definitely nothing like OMG or LOL. This happened before all that.

They pass the woods on the left. The air hums with the start of summer.

New green things unfurling, becoming tall in the silence.

Chlorophyll flooding venation, a viridescent tide swelling underfoot and overhead, sweeping everything on it, under it, in it.

Damp earth warming in the already-potent morning sunlight and fermenting like wine. Photosynthesis everywhere.

Normally they chat. Boys, girls, teachers, TV. Not today.

The woods start to thin out and a hill rises in front of them. To their left, a gap in the hedge and beyond it: fields. They stop. They both know that they can just carry on and the other will go with it. That would be easier.

Each of them half wants the other to just walk forward and carry on up the hill so they can follow, but the plan said now or never. If you could have asked them afterwards, each would probably lay claim to being the first to turn away from the inevitable and towards the unknown.

There were no witnesses so early in the morning, no dog walkers or postmen. If there had been, they would have reported no sass. No teenage bravado. No jostle to be first through the gap.

Just two friends, disappearing.

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Image: @Jadhill98 on Instagram

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Film in learning – Learning Technologies Hangout, 2015

18 Feb

I took part in a Google Hangout as part of Learning Technologies 2015, talking about storytelling, social media, film and learning. Have a look here and let me know what you think. I talk about how I’m using video to engage learners, how I’m using content marketing techniques to connect with people and how we use social media to foster peer-to-peer sharing of knowledge through film.

Are you using video for learning in your organisation? How’s that working out for you? Want to get together to share best practice? Let me know!

I did a talk at this conference too, and I’ll share the video of that as soon as it’s available.

Hope it helps to inspire you to get out there and start using video to support your learners.

Digital (physical?) revolution

26 Aug

I recently went to Digital Revolution, an exhibition at the Barbican in London looking back – and forward through digital technology and our relationship with it. I was lucky enough to be invited to a talk by Jim Boulton, the curator of the Digital Archaeology section of the exhibition that explores the hard and software of the last 40 years, and the impact that this has had on culture (or, indeed, the reverse; how did our evolving culture affect the development of consoles, drum machines, art software and games?).

As a self-confessed nerd when it comes to tech and digital, I couldn’t wait to get stuck in and see loads of cool stuff. It didn’t disappoint.

Jim talked about how digital wasn’t confined to the last 40 years (even though that’s the timescale that the Digital Archaeology section spanned). Some of the stuff he showed us was from way back in the 1950s – like the Manchester University Computer Love Letter Algorithm that was used to write notes of affection that were then left around campus, always signed M.U.C. (xo <3!)

 Digital Revolution Gemma Critchley MUC love letter algorithym

Going into the Digital Archaeology section was like jumping into a deep, dark pool – the effect of all the video and sound was immersive and almost overwhelming; kind of how I’d imagine it would be to time travel from 50 years ago and end up confronted by a world of tablets, smartphones, video calling, contactless technology and augmented reality.

Two things struck me about Jim’s talk. First, I was surprised to see how far technology has come in those 40 short years. Second, I think most of us get how much this technology had impacted on our lives, but it was eye opening to see how much it had done this and how quickly.

Jim’s talk was limited to the history of digital tech, and the rest of the exhibition branched off to explore immersive and interactive technology, film, music, gaming and wearables.

It’s the first branch that really interested me – immersive and interactive technology. Interactivity was something that flowed through the whole set-up of the event; touching, playing, taking photos and sharing was all encouraged. I won’t share too much as I’d suggest you go and experience it for yourself if you can, but there were some really awesome exhibits.

I had a go at controlling the ‘street folding’ scene from Inception, experienced the 3D graphics of Gravity, called up some birds made out of old mobile phones to make them tweet, controlled a game with my mind (yes, really – this freaked me out a bit but was pretty rad), changed the design of a skirt thanks to interactive LEDs, played some awesome indie games like Thomas Was Alone, went to what I can only describe as a sensory rave in the basement of the Barbican and saw some pretty sweet neon art:

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One of my favourite exhibits was wwwwwwwww.jodi.org – part of the Digital Archaeology section. This was an art project that was launched in the 1990s, using code as art (there’s also a big section on DevArt in the exhibition itself); but what I loved about this was the subtly subversive nature of it. What looks like pages of broken code are actually very cleverly put-together sites that have a message buried in the source code. Kind of using destruction as a form of creation – I like the idea of pulling everything apart and seeing what emerges…

wwwwwwwwwjodiorg

I’ve always been fascinated by escapism of all kinds – why do people play games, read fiction, watch films, drink alcohol, dress up? I won’t try to answer that now but what I will say is that this exhibition made it clear that the desire to escape – or to enhance – reality is very much alive and well.

You might have seen people sharing photos on Instagram of themselves as ‘digital birds’ or with smoking eyes… (if you follow me on IG you will have, nestled in between snaps of hipster food and nail art). Basically, there were several parts of the exhibition involving cameras that visitors could interact with to create an alternative version of themselves. These seemed to be the parts of the exhibition that people appeared most rapturous about. Does this show narcissism? Maybe. A desire to explore an alternate reality or other self? Perhaps. What I think it does show is that people are actively looking for next level digital tech – where it can transform us in a way we haven’t been able to achieve before, and where the physical and digital converge to elevate our experience.

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There were opportunities to whisper a wish into a flower and watch it emerge as digital text before transforming into a butterfly and visitors had the chance to design their own piece of 3D art, with the potential for it to be selected for 3D printing which would then be added to the exhibition. 

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This convergence of the physical and the digital is not just a futuristic vision that’s confined to a museum, though. Games like Ingress and James Frey’s new novel, Endgame, are real-world location-based experiences that tie story, community, digital and physical worlds together to answer this desire to anchor digital interactions in the physical, but to disconnect from reality. Oculus rift achieves something similar, but perhaps the games/story elements for this piece of hardware aren’t quite there yet to make this stick as well as things like Ingress. Facebook clearly sees its potential and is looking for ways to use it to help people feel more connected, as it recently bought the company behind the virtual reality kit – I can’t wait to see how this pans out. 

There’s been a lot of talk in retail and marketing for the last few years about how to combine social and local elements to drive action (and a few murmurs of it are rippling through the learning community, too), but few seem to have been able to get this right. The advent of games like Ingress, the level of sophistication of today’s mobile devices and the evident appetite for combining physical and digital worlds might mean that the time is right to combine these and open up doors for those looking to exploit the sweet spot between community, location and storytelling. Provided they’re good enough at harnessing the power of all three, of course…

If you’re interested in how the future (or even present) of digital looks set to play out, I’d definitely recommend going along to the exhibition and letting your mind wander. Digital Revolution was part art, part tech and it all made me think.

I reckon that the next frontier in tech/digital/innovation (call it what you will) is the relationship between the physical and the digital. The next digital revolutionaries will be those who are brave enough to explore these connections and who dare to exploit them to make messages stick with users. 

I’m dreaming of a bookish Christmas

13 Dec

Everyone knows that books are the best Christmas gifts, whether giving or receiving. Well, imagine how awesome it would be to have your wrapped presents sitting happily under this awesome Christmas tree made out of books:

book christmas tree literature lit gifts awesome tree festive xmas

Imagine that little beauty nestling in the corner of your living room (or, if you’re living the dream, your library):I’m going to make it my goal to collect old books over the next year and make one for Christmas 2012.

Paper cranes

11 Oct

Tonight, I have tried (and failed) to create a passable paper crane.

I followed these instructions and yet still managed to get it quite wrong towards the end. I’m normally not too bad at craft stuff but this completely stumped me.

It was my first proper attempt at any kind of origami and the first time I had introduced the art of paper folding into Craft Night. This was my (really quite terrible) attempt:

paper crane swan origami paper folding japanese craft how to guide gemma critchley craft blog

I’m going to keep trying, get really good at it and get some proper craft paper to make loads of pretty ones to decorate the flat with at Christmas.

After that attempt though, I thought I’d better call it a night so instead had a disco half hour dancing around the living room with the lights off by myself.

Rock and/or roll.

The Creative Panic

10 Oct

I’ve shown love for my fellow bloggers before via my one a day blog, and I think it’s time you all witnessed the glory and wonder that is The Creative Panic.

Written (or should I say drawn) by Ben Hood, this is a collection of awesome drawings as part of the same project. He’s one of the most talented illustrators I’ve ever come across and this is my recent favourite:

get your geek the creative panic ben hood one a day project #oneaday gemma critchley illustration geek glasses nerd glasses drawing art

Dude also does commissions and prints if you so wish to adorn the walls of your office/abode.

Enjoy!

Playlist Club

5 Oct

I recently got involved with a great little project that my friend Greg and his friend Marie look after, called Playlist Club.

It’s a music curation project, with different people submitting a music mix each week all in the crusade to help the good folk of the internet to find music that is new to them. What I love about Playlist Club is the idea that it is a “haven of curated music amidst a world wide web of algorhithmic recommendations.”

playlist club mixtape music curation gemma critchley greg povey kipikapopo illustration cassette mix

Illustration by kipikapopo.com

Real music, chosen by real people for real reasons, with a bit of a back story. A digital sharing of a very analogue past time.

This week it was my turn. I made a mixtape about feeling poorly, it inadvertently ended up full of pop punk and ska, with a smattering of indie for good measure. You can listen to my mix and read about it here.

What to do with a derelict high street

2 Aug

Digital is brilliant, but the mass online exodus towards the virtual aisles of formerly high-street shops have left many town centres looking forlorn and run-down. So:

Q. What do you do with a derelict high street?

A. Ask the people who live nearby and use the space around it what they’d do with it, of course!

That’s exactly what ‘I wish this was’ did.

i wish this was civil project town building derelict shops

Imagination, interactivity, straw poll, market research, civil involvement, dream-sharing… Call it what you will, it’s a beautifully simple idea, brilliantly executed. What would you turn the empty buildings in your town into?

Achieving my life’s dreams by proxy

25 Jun

I’ve been reading books by a rather fabulous author, Lindsey Kelk for a while now. Anyway, she doesn’t just write stories, she also blogs quite a bit, about beauty, (good) music and her own adventures.

On her blog a while back, she asked her readers to submit their ‘to do’ lists as part of the launch of her latest novel, The Single Girl’s to do list. So I did. She posted it on her blog alongside the others and I was thrilled with that, but I never imagined it’d end up in the actual printed, published book.

But it did!

Gemma Critchley Lindsey Kelk the single girl's to do list book writing published chick lit i heart new york cover       Lindsey Kelk the single girl's to do list waterstones book offer cover

I hope no one was offended by anything in there (especially my lovely family or chap, I said I felt like the black sheep as I wasn’t married/had kids but we don’t actually have any kind of black sheep – and I’m not a single girl, but I do have a to do list – it just sounds good for dramtic effect. It was either that or ‘SHARK ATTACK’ and I don’t think that would cut it, judging by the odd looks given to the woman on the direct line advert when she suggests it).

I saw it today in Waterstone’s in all its papery glory and I was dizzy with happiness. Okay, so it’s one page in someone else’s book so I’m not a published writer in the proper official sense, but if you look at the technicalities, I can kind of say I’ve achieved a small part of a big dream. My name is on there, and even the link to my blog got published and it mentions the very wonderful One a Day Project, too (which you can donate money to for Cancer Research here if you’re feeling generous). I’m rather proud and can’t wait to get properly stuck into the rest of the story, too. You can buy it here if you want to read it.

This has all spurred me on to write even more – not just via this blog but to carry on with the stories as well.

All in all a great day. I also found out my amazing little sister passed a big part of her teacher training course and one of my best  friends got a first in his engineering degree. Hurrahs all round!

Without wanting to sound too much like Heather Small: What have you done lately that makes you feel proud?

Cathode Narcissus

19 Jun

I’ve just finished reading Dorian: an Imitation by Will Self.

As always, I was blown away by Self’s intricate and knowingly clever prose, and the fact that story was built on one of the best-loved books of my adolescence – The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde – just added to the mix to make it all the more enjoyable. Disturbing, heartfelt, evocative, provocative, saddening and terrifying in equal measures, the book serves to recreate Wilde’s dandies as a portrait of the Gay scene in London and New York in the 1980s and early to mid 1990s – the hedonism and cultural liberation of the fin-de-siecle art world swirling together in the grip of the emergence of AIDS. It’s a gripping read and splendidly told at the bedside of several of the characters, sucking you into a sordid underworld of drugs, sex and vanity; but at the same time having Self’s telltale wry sprinkling of humour. I absolutely loathed some of the characters but loved the book and on more than one occasion found myself stopping to re-read a particularly well-crafted sentence.

Will Self Dorian An Imitation post it notes wall ideas author cathode narcissus

Every book I read by Will Self inspires me to get my pen out, or put fingers to keyboard and create something. If you’ve read the book recently, or re-read it in the context of now and not of the ’80s/’90s, you might draw parallels with any of your own user-generated content and Baz Hallward’s Cathode Narcissus, which forms the centrepiece for the novel. The image below is as close as I could get, it’s Nam-june Paik’s video installation, ‘Moon is the Oldest TV’. No one seems to have made an actual Cathode Narcissus yet – I was sorely disappointed when I discovered that www.cathodenarcissus.com a) did not exist and b) did not even pretend to exist – maybe I should create it? Maybe I really shouldn’t – maybe that’s the point? I loved how one of my other favourite writers, Joe Stretch, intertwined both Friction and Wild Life with the real world and the virtual one, but then again I suppose Dorian was written in 2002, right before or even on the cusp of the explosion of mini-Cathode Narcissi sites like Facebook and Myspace, so it is perhaps to be expected.

Cathode Narcissus Dorian An imitation Will Self The picture of Dorian Gray Nam-june Paik’s video installation, “Moon is the Oldest TV

My interpretation of Dorian: an Imitation was made all the more resounding by an article I read in today’s Observer, by Aleks Krotoski, about the ever-blurring lines between online and offline identities. It talks about how online we have the power to create ourselves as we wish to be seen, rather than how we actually are; but due to the fact that technology and ‘real life’ are becoming more and more intertwined, that polished version of ourselves has inevitably become more real. Our Facebook pages, our Twitter feed and our blogs (yes, including this one) are increasingly brighter, shinier versions of our own lives. We can edit out the undesirable bits and amplify the good parts of ourselves. We can curate our interests, leaving out our guilty pleasures and instead tailoring our personalities to be the version of ourselves that we want the world to see. We are effectively leaving the digital world strewn with billions upon billions of our own versions of Baz Hallward’s Cathode Narcissi.

I’m not a morbid person – for the most part – but I do sometimes wonder what kind of eulogy I’m building for myself online.

Are these banks of links and pages of profiles really the only legacies that we want to leave in our wake?

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