I have a little bookcase where I have books about London, short story collections and other brief volumes (such as Penguin’s Little Black Classics) thinking of visitors who might want a quick read. Lately this bookcase has been my go-to resource when I can’t sleep.
Last night, unable to go to bed early worrying about everything that’s happening in the world, at work and at home, nearby and faraway, I grabbed one of those Penguins, number 47, “The Great Fire of London”, containing entries from The Diary of Samuel Pepys dated May 1st to June 31st, 1665, and September 2nd to 15th, 1666.
It’s common-place now to think of Pepys as a 17th century protoblogger. I have, in the past, many a time recurred to the Diary in a second-hand two-volume Everyman edition I treasure. I like dipping in and out from it at random.
The first half of the little Penguin volume, May 1st to June 31st, 1665, contains many references to the plague. What’s striking to me is how contemporary the account feels- though Pepys was noticeably concerned about the “encrease” of the plague, he also continued his daily life as socially active as ever, kissing people’s hands and all.
Pepys keeps count of the increasing fatalities, and the safety he feels being in the “City” relatively diminishes as the plague gets very close home:
10 June 1665
In the evening home to supper, and there to my great trouble hear that the plague is come into the City (though it hath these three or four weeks since its beginning been wholly out of the City); but where should it begin but in my good friend and neighbour’s, Dr Burnett in Fanchurch-street – which in both points troubles me mightily.
15 June 1665
The town grows very sickly, and people to be afeared of it – there dying this last week of the plague 112, from 43 the week before – whereof, one in Fanchurch-street and one in Broadstreete by the Treasurer’s office.
26 June 1665
The plague encreases mightily- I this day, seeing a house, at a bittmakers over against St Clements church in the open street, shut up; which is a sad sight.
The last entry from 1665 in the Penguin edition I read last night is from 30 June, where Pepys writes:
Myself and family in good health, consisting of myself and wife – Mercer, her woman – Mary, Alice and Su, our maids; and Tom, my boy. In a sickly time, of the plague growing on.
As expected I have been too busy to sit down and make another video. I made an extra video for my students instead.
Last night a friend shared this. The news arrives at a time in which I have been taking action to support in any way that I can students and colleagues online. Personally, I have also been trying to support those businesses that have been now closed due to coronavirus and who will surely struggle, such as bookshops, record shops, indie bands and musicians, newspapers and magazines that I like. For the time being, while I can, I am happy to make an extra financial effort that hopefully sends a small message of appreciation and support.
This led to me reflect out loud, as one does, on a Twitter thread today. I have reused some of that writing below, expanding on some related ideas.
I’m not a political economist but I find it sadly ironic that a system that eminently depends on the circulation of capital simultaneously would be so efficient at making participants so disconnected/alienated from the economic responsibilities and consequences of our actions.
The student petition covered by the BBC in the link above made me write in the thread that in the case of higher education it’s clear its marketisation is embedded in a system that depends on social polarisation; the dehumanisation of universities and their staff, seen by some stakeholders as semi-automated service providers.
I do think we had not experienced in our lifetimes such a paradigmatic moment where the consequences of fostering market competition through rankings, metrics, funding allocation, student fees will demonstrate its most acutely negative consequences. Where the educational experience has been transformed into an experience that can be bought and satisfaction measured (like one books, say, a package holiday or a cruise) we can’t be surprised solidarity and empathy between competing providers and their consumers will be scarce.
It is now more than ever that we urgently require solidarity between everyone who is part of society (and that is everyone); this is essential if we want any resemblance of an optimistic present and future to take place. The system of exchange we have all embraced has disconnected consumption from production and has made consumers believe they are always right and in a position to get what they want when they want it how they want it, irrespective of context.
Attitudes to Higher Education do not exist in a vacuum. In the context of immigration, health care and welfare we see a similar phenomenon too, where those ‘unskilled’ workers that a hostile environment has made its best to exclude are very likely to be the ones keeping society running at the moment. One wonders how many deaths could have been and be avoided if only the NHS, welfare, education, equality and societal cohesion had been priority instead of the sustained campaign against it in recent years, fueled by the bigotry of those who favour ‘the market’ over human rights.
Though it’s easy to focus on what seems negative or pessimistic about the ideas above, I’d like to emphasise that what I seek is to communicate the urgent need for greater empathy and solidarity. It is possible for an apparently optimistic stand point, that focuses on individual, family unit or organisational self-care to fit within the structures of alienation/disconnect that have enabled inequality in our societies.
Any optimistic or ‘positive’ approaches to the coronavirus pandemic should, in my opinion, be framed and motivated by an awareness of the interconnectedness of everyone and everything. In order for us to be well others need to be well too, and others will be well only if we are well too. It goes both ways- and this wellness is also dependent on the circulation of capital, and this depends on people’s ability to earn a living. The pandemic affects everyone- and this means it affects everything we humans do.
Finding the balance between critically engaging with what is happening and trying to maintain a semblance of normality is important, but not easy. Gramsci’s motto, “Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will” calls for this ongoing interrogation of what happens whilst having trust in our ability to stand up to challenges pragmatically and strategically. There cannot be solidarity and empathy unless there is awareness of difference, and this implies an awareness of privilege, and of the fragility of that privilege.
In a time in which nearly everyone has the ability to broadcast publicly aspects of their private lives, and when many -but definitely not all- will be at home, some of which will be working from home- it’s to me essential that we try to reflect on the interconnectedness of everything- home, until recently the quintaessential ‘private’ space, does not exist outside society, even if we never physically leave it.
When we make a complaint or ask for our money back, when we buy all the possible loo roll packets we can afford at once- let’s think carefully about the consequences those actions have on others and on ourselves. This is not a time to treat others, including organisations or services, as mere means to an end- but as key interconnected points in the wide network of society- all playing a role, and forced to play many other roles whilst under these exceptional circumstances.
Drawn by Peter Wilkins and Melissa Martins, designed by Simon Grennan and edited by Yours Truly, I Know How This Ends is a 16-page comic book resulting from collaborative narrative research and co-design sessions with participants.
The book presents, in synthesised form, stories crafted from narrative data collected via interviews with professional caregivers, educators, and staff at Douglas College in Vancouver, Canada, who have cared for relatives and people with dementia in hospital.
[Personal warning: whereParables of Care was a tender, sympathetic and even funny collection of practical strategies, I Know How This Endsmay prove a tougher, darker read. As Peter Wilkins put it in a message to the team, “all of the interviews were about incredible weight, abandonment and suffering”. A someone whose late father had dementia I can relate to such feelings around the care-giving experience, and I Know How This Ends indeed does attempt to represent and interpret the experiences of the care-givers the project team talked to. We believe there is no way to make up the stark reality of dementia, its difficulty and emotional intensity. It would be unethical to do so. Some readers may be disappointed not to find more hopeful optimism in the book. In I Know How This Ends stories are being told and shared, and feeling and emotion, however difficult, are being channeled and processed. I see in this act of storytelling a significant source of hope. Personally I hope the book helps communicate the problematic and painful intensity of the experience of care-giving, saying to those that might be struggling that they are not alone].
The previous volume employed the form of the parable to tell individual stories based in real-life cases as told by carers. As the foreword explains, this new comic is structured like a classical Greek tragedy – with a prologue, three episodes, and an epilogue –because the stories the team worked with had the elements of tragedy: inevitability, stratagems to avoid fate that merely bring it on, and catharsis of negative emotions.
The intention of the book is to show the importance of feeling in care-giving, the professional aspects of which are sometimes at odds with the family systems aspect of dementia.
As we state in the foreword, by 2030, 82 million people are anticipated to have dementia and 152 million by 2050. With this project we aim to continue making a contribution to widen the dissemination of one of the key challenges of our time, following user-centred design and narrative research design methods.
The free print version of the comic will be available soon and you can request free copies via this form.
My gratitude to all the members of team, as well as other colleagues, friends and family members whose direct and indirect support throughout the development of this phase of the project was essential and is sincerely appreciated.
For a list of credits and thank you’s please look inside the book. ;-)
[Provisional draft notes shared as a prompt for future research group discussion]
My interest in the sociology of texts, transmedia storytelling and the role of materiality in the reading/collecting/reception/user experience, particularly in the case of comic book cultures, originally found a welcoming conceptual framework within the digital humanities. Recently, my interest has been evolving towards exploring the role of media archaeology within human-computer interaction design.
Media archaeology, as discussed by Jussi Parikka (2011), is a branch of media history that studies contemporary media culture by looking into past (also called “residual”) media technologies and practices. Media archaeology takes a special interest in practices, devices and inventions that may be now otherwise forgotten. It addresses the rapid obsolescence of software and hardware, and poses that their collection, preservation, conservation and study can provide important context for multidisciplinary analysis and innovation.
In particular, I have been recently drafting arguments and potential methodological and domain approaches to critical narrative design and speculative design (sometimes also called “design fiction”, though both terms are not always used to mean the same thing). Needless to say, all these terms have specific meanings and require further clarification and discussion, even for the initiated, let alone those new to them. For an intro into the relationships between the terms “critical design” and “speculative design”, I recommend Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby’s books, Design Noir: The Secret Life of Electronic Objects (2001) and Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming (2013).
According to Henry Jenkins (2007), “transmedia storytelling represents a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Ideally, each medium makes it own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story.” Transmedia is a mainstream term within contemporary literary and cultural studies, but its application and study goes beyond the mainstream humanities. Interaction designers are well aware that humans “are increasingly living their lives […] in multisensory, narrative driven ways” (Spaulding and Faste 2013).
I took the photos above of two items in my record collection. They are two 7″ vinyl records containing the audio recordings of two stories based on characters, situations and fictional worlds at the time (late 1970s) mostly developed through comic books (today it would probably be film, rather than comics). I played them the other day and I was once again amazed at how immersive and engaging (in spite of some unavoidable and fully expected silliness that hasn’t aged well). As storytelling, both recordings qualify as fully immersive devices that expand fictional universes beyond their original media and that stimulate the imagination via different senses in a media-specific way. (For more context on these records and the label that released them, see Ettelson 2015).
This brief note is meant to share my interest in continuing exploring how media archaeology approaches to examples like these audio comic books in 7″ vinyl, can help us understand better how “residual media” could offer valuable context into the affordances of transmedia in both a pre-digital and in a fully networked, digital, cloud-based eras. This implies that “transmedia” is (of course) not only a 21st century phenomenon.
Within the field of HCI it is now well known that storytelling is a critical design tool in human-computer interaction, in particular by addressing how an exploration of potential futures can inform strategies around the problems of the present (see for example Dow et al 2006). How do form and content, materiality and information, inter-relate to participate in the user experience? Storytelling can also be a powerful strategy to understand the designs of the past, and to understand how these designs always-already include future designs- what can we learn from the design of things past, what stories do these objects tell, and what kind of insights can we obtain from them to design the present and the future?
Hoping these brief notes help as a starting point for further discussions between members of this research group.
Twitter is no longer niche as it once was. How has my thinking changed in relation to Twitter use by academics? In this post I bullet-point some ideas that can be taken if desired as tips or strategies by those academic colleagues who are new to Twitter. You can scroll down and skim if you want.
Motivation for this post
I‘ve been asked to become a “social media champion” for my school. I think it’s cool there’s an interest in embracing social media more widely, organically and effectively.
Things have changed significantly since Sarah and I started touring the UK in 2011 giving social media workshops for academics with Networked Researcher (RIP), and, indeed my own personal and professional views on Twitter have evolved along the way- what we call “social media” is no longer a niche, defined region of the Internet and the Web, but as mainstream as it can possibly get, reaching a relevance and centrality in today’s information and technological sphere that is yet to be surpassed.
I wrote dozens of blog posts for a variety of international platforms (some long extinct) in the distant past (2011-2013) on academic Twitter use, including the following pieces that got published by the Guardian Higher Education Network.
If you click on the links and read the articles, please do take them with a grain of salt and historical perspective as things have evolved significantly since. I would write them differently today (also; headlines were the Guardian’s, not mine).
Sharing these links here again as context and in case it’s of historical interest.
Those were the days. We were young. We thought everything was possible. (It still is, albeit in a completely different way!).
The present moment
How to think of academic tweeting in an age of overwhelming information overload and increased workloads? How has my thinking changed in relation to Twitter use by academics?
I cannot go in great detail here, but I thought I’d try to bullet-point some ideas that can be taken if desired as tips or strategies by those academic colleagues who are new to Twitter.
Twitter needs to be taken seriously. In spite of its ill-repute, it is an influential public platform for the dissemination of information. Precisely what information we disseminate on it is each user’s responsibility.
No one uses Twitter in the exact same way. Twitter is always-already experienced differently by each and every user. There are therefore no straight-forward rules. Most users learn along the way. An experienced Twitter user is more likely to use Twitter better than an inexperienced Twitter user who has read all the social media policies, terms and conditions and ethical guidelines available. An experienced Twitter user who has read all those documents will be an even better user, but that’s a personal view.
The default Twitter web client and the Twitter mobile app are not the right tools for busy people who are expected to author “content”. If you are busy, are already doubtful Twitter can deliver quality information, and feel being asked to tweet as an annoying imposition or a waste of time, there are no worse tools to start doing it than those.
For new users it may look daunting, but I totally recommended using TweetDeck to those academics being asked to manage a work account and/or wishing to be more effective locating and monitoring relevant accounts and content. TweetDeck is a free web-based application owned by Twitter. There is no mobile version. To use TweetDeck you will need a Twitter account. How to use TweetDeck guidance here.
In general, I think tweeting from your mobile phone for work is a bad idea- unless there’s no other choice, you are at a conference without space to place or plug your laptop, etc.
Before you start tweeting for work it helps to have clarity of purpose. Do not think of Twitter as an instant messaging service; think of it as a public publishing platform. What is it you need to communciate? To whom? Why? When? How?
Everyone and their dog is on Twitter. (And yet… so many aren’t so far). How will you become visible? Before joining Twitter, make a list of people and organisations you want to be visible to. Think of it as your Twitter contact list or address book.
Search for your stakeholders on Twitter via TweetDeck and create a list with a descriptive name. The more specific the list the better. You can have different lists. On Tweetdeck, you can get a column per list, where you will only see, if desired, tweets by those accounts you have added in your list. Think of it as an email folder for which you have created rules.
You don’t have to have a column for your timeline, where you would see everyone you follow. These days, to use your main Twitter timeline as your main way of monitoring Twitter is frankly inefficient, also because regardless of what your settings are the algorithm will prioritise some content over others and it will not be first posted first. We need to try to beat the relevance algorithm and curate our own dedicated timelines.
If your goal is to use Twitter to communicate the work you or your organisation does, you can schedule tweets in advance on TweetDeck. This means you don’t need to be on Twitter all the time. You don’t have to tweet in real time.
If you blog, make sure you add a social media sharing widget so that your posts get tweeted automatically when you publish. Make sure your site’s readers can share your posts on social media easily- customise the sharing widgets so the share text generated includes a mention of your username (e.g. “[Post title] [URL] via @ernestopriego“).
Systematically share what you publish or deposit in your open access institutional or data repository. If you don’t share your own work, who will?
Twitter is social, so it won’t work well if you only broadcast your own content. Even if your intention is to mainly broadcast what you or your organisation does, having columns of your stakeholders will allow you to check those columns at an appropriate time and see fewer tweets (more manageable) but potentially they will be more relevant because you have more carefully/strictly curated the sources in that timeline in advance.
Have a column for your notifications, and acknowledge positive feedback whenever you can. Often there’s no need to reply, ‘liking’ a reply suffices these days a an acknowledgement and it can go a long way. You are busy and others know it because they are busy too, but still appreciate a nudge of appreciation.
No user is an island. Create continents and archipielagos, build bridges.
Retweet what you find interesting or useful, support causes or themes you advocate, but avoid amplifying discord or bad vibes (those are, I’m aware, relative).
Include the disclaimers “RTs and likes are not endorsements” in your bio, to be safe. Avoid/do not RT tweets you wouldn’t have tweeted originally yourself (ask yourself: would I have published this for the world to see? By retweeting it, you are doing just that), including those tweets with links to content you have not checked before. Check and read links before retweeting/tweeting them.
In a way these same strategies have already been in practice for a while. They are not new. If anything, the pressing realities of employment in a digital age mean we need to be more drastically pragmatic and strategic.
I realise there’s way more I have to say about this, but I have surpassed the 1000 word count so I will have to leave it there. Thanks for reading, if you did.
I am delighted my paper for the Creating Comics, Creative Comics 2020- BEYOND Symposium at the University of South Wales: Cardiff Campus (Monday 6th – Tuesday 7th April 2020) has been accepted. I am looking forward to participating.
Below I share a slightly revised version my abstract.
DIY Digital Comics Without Drawing: Craft, Collaboration and Materiality in the Digital Age
Dr Ernesto Priego, Centre for Human Computer Interaction Design, City, University of London
In this presentation I will discuss examples of the poetry, autobiographic and non-fiction comics that I have been producing through purely digital means since ca. 2006.
The usual assumption is that a precondition of comics is drawing or illustration, particularly in some traditions. For instance, bande dessinée in French means “drawn strip”, whereas in other languages terminology refers to tone or genre (“comics”, originally referring to the content being comical), length or cultural status (“historietas”- meaning little or pseudo stories) or layout features (“quadrinhos” literally meaning little boxes, panels; “fumetti”- literally little puffs of smoke; balloons). It is interesting that in the English language, the term “fumetti” is frequently used to refer to photo comics, regardless of origin or language.
I grew up surrounded by comics and fotonovelas or photo-comics (see, for example, Priego 2011), and though this fact most have defined my experience of graphic storytelling up to a certain extent, my work making comics without drawings has been more properly inspired by the collaborative nature of, initially, the craft of DIY fanzine making (I co-founded and edited Hemofilia, a horror comics fanzine [see Trujillo 2020], when I was 15), and, later on and more recently, the Web and Internet-mediated collaboration.
I will show examples from A Life Deferred (2006-2008), The Blank Page (2014), The Strip Hay-na-ku Project (2008-2019) and stand-alone examples such as “Addressing Sylvia” (2019a) and “Salut, Notre-Dame…” (2019b) and discuss how I have repurposed writing and images created by me and others, and how that practice fits in with my long-time interest in the comics grid (the array or layout of graphic panels; the specific distribution of images on a comic book page) as a poetic force, as a space for poetic revelation (Priego and Wilkins 2018). These are comics made with computers to be shared via computers (and of course mobile devices) that nonetheless are also embedded in the tradition of DIY fanzine making that, though digitally-mediated, still aim to achieve the feel and should I say “aura” of mechanical reproduction*.
I am interested in discussing the affordances of contemporary off-the-shelf software as a continuation and transformation of material practices of cut-and-paste and détournement, as exemplified by my own attempts at graphic storytelling with digital means.
*At this stage the Benjamin citation is not really needed, is it? ;-)
Priego, E. and Wilkins, P., 2018. The Question Concerning Comics as Technology: Gestell and Grid. The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship, 8, p.16. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/cg.133 [Accessed 23 January 2020].
Priego, E.2019c. The Strip Hay(na)ku Project. A collaborative experiment in sequential graphic poetics. California, USA: Meritage Press and L/O/C/P. ISBN 9781934299135. http://openaccess.city.ac.uk/21927/ [Accessed 23 January 2020].
Ernesto Priego is a lecturer at the Centre for Human-Computer Interaction Design, City, University of London. With a background in English Literature and Cultural Studies, he completed a PhD in Library and Information Science at the Centre for Digital Humanities, University College London, focusing on issues of comic book materiality in the digital age. In 2009 he co-founded The Comics Grid as a peer-reviewed scholarly blog. With Ernesto as Editor-in-Chief, the project was rebranded as The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship in 2013, becoming a fully-fledged peer-reviewed open access journal. The Comics Grid is now published by the Open Library of Humanities.