ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs Serial storyteller, poetry pusher, digital doodler, flâneur.

Power of Story

“Facebook: Unfriend Coal” (video via

Clever, clever, clever! A slightly annoying yet surprisingly compelling digital story about Mark Zuckerberg (the face behind Facebook), his web progeny’s appetite and the dietary choices Zuckerberg makes for said progeny. I’ll leave the conclusions up to you, but take a moment to experience this digital storytelling gem.


Activist efforts to green social networking giant Facebook appear to be gaining traction. Corporations around the world are watching and learning from Facebook, not just how to grow a business in record time, but how to respond to global pressure from the very social network you’ve created. Tolerance and dialogue are key, but so is weighing and responding to the needs of your constituents. The following stories are a good barometric reading. What will tomorrow bring?

  • Facebook Under Pressure to Be Greener “Facebook, the giant social networking site, is under fire from Greenpeace International, the environmental campaigner, over its construction of a data center in Prineville, Oregon, that will be powered by PacifiCorp, a company that gets 58 percent of its energy from burning coal…”
  • Facebook Saves Face, Joins Verizon, Sony, Microsoft in Green Coalition “Facebook is the latest digital giant to join the Digital Energy Solutions Campaign (DESC), a nonprofit launched in 2008 that brings together leaders in the information technology industry to work on environmental and energy consumption issues. The social network joins Intel, Verizon, Sony, Cisco, AMD, Microsoft, and Hewlett-Packard in the campaign, which works on sustainable best practices for large technology companies…”
  • Facebook Kicks Off A Weak Green Offensive “Facebook has been repeatedly called out for not doing enough to promote renewable energy for its new data center, so what is the massive social network doing with this public relations dilemma? Launching its own Facebook page and joining groups to demonstrate its green cred, of course…”
  • Facebook friends the environment … or does it?“Facebook announced today it’s going green. The social networking giant unveiled “Green on Facebook,” [and] … joined the Digital Energy Solutions Campaign, a group that works on public policy and setting standards for energy efficiency. In a way, the move marks Facebook’s position as a top, global company — it’s certainly trendy, if not mandatory, for all large, big-name companies to sign onto green initiatives…”
  • Facebook enlists in pro-green coalition “Facebook on Thursday unveiled “Green on Facebook,” a page dedicated to spreading environmental awareness and other “green” news, and in tandem announced its participation in the Digital Energy Solutions Campaign (DESC), a nonprofit coalition of large technology companies and trade groups designed to solving the problems of environmental degradation and energy consumption. It’s organized by the Information Technology Industry Council…”
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Creativity, Yes. Ownership, No.

It was difficult to think about metadata, RFDI chips and code breaking in the same context, or environment as storytelling. We had to rewire our thinking back to a simple place where story was central – but then apply the basics of that to an audience who consume story so very differently. Keep it simple, but then make it complex enough to engage on new, immersive and constantly evolving levels of engagement… I was lucky to debrief over coffee with Alison Norrington (PHD researcher, transmedia writer, storyteller) and we touched on the difficulties facing writers who want to work in this new environment… Lance Weiler called transmedia storytelling the return to a more ‘campfire scenario’ where stories become passed down, elaborated on, reinterpreted, and retold. So here we have flashes of Barthes ‘Death of the Author’ – since text and author are even less related under new storytelling methodology.

As a writer, or a storyteller, once again your creativity is at the heart, but ownership can’t be. (“It’s not you, it’s Media.”)

Wish I’d been able to participate in those three days in London!

In any event, the debrief is food for thought. For mind wandering. For wondering, and musing and mulling over and… Create. Share. Dig deep. Invent from the source. Share. Surrender your creation and move on.

What do you think about the future of storytelling in the digital age? Where do your storytelling dreams fit into the transmedia landscape?

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Why Do You Do What You Do?

Change (eye)Why do you do what you do? Because I want change.

Is it time to ask yourself why you’re doing what you do? Tony Deifell is suggesting it is. Not that you necessarily want to hear that. He didn’t. When a 12 year old crashed into his hermetic world with the question, “Why do you do what you do?” he paused long enough to struggle with the question. With an answer.

“I found myself at work way too late trying to figure out some way to explain to a 12 year old why I worked for a youth-media organization and why it was important for people to create their own images, video and music (keep in mind that this was in 1998 before all this user-generated content stuff). Meanwhile, I was trying to remember if it was, in fact, important and what else might I be doing instead. Why was I doing this? I came up with something that sounded convincing to me. But, I’m a bit embarrassed to say that it was harder to answer than I expected.” ~Tony Deifell

Now Deifell is asking you to stop and consider the question too. And your answer. Will you take the time? Why do you do what you do?

I took a stab at it, a “rough draft”, if you will:

“I wonder/dream/adventure because I’m curious. I create stories to share the wonder/dream/adventure w/you! #wdydwyd cc @wdydwyd @Deifell” ~ @virtualDavis

But I’m going to revisit it. Or keep visiting it. Maybe there are many answers? Or different answers at different times? It feels good to chew on this question. Healthy. In fact, I’m heading off to Turkey with my bride and two friends. I’m thinking of asking them all to consider the question. Maybe I’ll convince one or two of them to let me share their thoughts when we get home. I’ll keep you posted…

Storytelling Humanizes

Social Media Success Process (graphic via Ripple100)

This graphic grabbed me. Irritated me. Fascinated me. Lead me to the Significant Objects Project… Eureka!

Let’s start with the grabbing. The graphic is titled, “Social Media Success Process” not “Process by which social media CAN drive increased market share.” There’s an implicit confidence, an assertion that collecting and sharing stories help a company. That humanizing a corporate entity through storytelling is beneficial. Amazing! Not everyone sees it that way. Some worry about the stories. Not the good ones. The other ones. Some worry about the loss of control. The potential damage to a brand. Of course, the near ubiquity of social media has changed so much for big corporations, not the least of which is that they can’t control and spin their message the way they once could. The consumer can access and share information readily, freely, easily, often. It’s easy enough to come up with the risk to companies today. Better play fair! But it’s even more intriguing to consider that stories of all sorts serve to humanize companies and therefore contribute kinship, community, value.

So, what irritated me? Perhaps this same confidence, er, hubris. Maybe it’s that third step: “Humanization Creates Kinship“. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it reinforces bias, distinctions, tribalism. Unless the stories are being curated carefully, thoughtfully, continually. But that’s not really the problem either, because I actually do believe that open storytelling will lead to open corporate culture which will lead to corporate consumables that have nothing to hide and nothing to spin. Some bumps and bruises might be incurred during the transition to this ideal model, but I’m confident it will happen. So maybe it makes sense to say that kinship will follow humanization, but it will be organic and gradual if storytelling and story sharing is truly open. Which leads me to the principle irritant: harvesting. In a model where we’re talking about humanizing a company, it is disingenuous to speak about harvesting stories. You harvest corn. Or apples. You don’t harvest people’s lives, people’s experiences, people’s memories, people’s emotions, people’s emotions, people’s stories. That would be dehumanizing. Make sense?

My fascination has already revealed itself. Stories and storytelling – at best – are not formulaic. Sure, we all learned the basic ingredients for a well crafted story as school children, but good stories invite us into an un-formulaic relationship with another person. Good storytelling is personal, authentic, intriguing, original. Good storytelling builds a unique bridge between story creator and audience. This is why we trust the storyteller, why we WANT to trust the storyteller. So it fascinates me to see this corporate storytelling model reduced to a tidy flow chart. A formula. Fascinates me largely because I think it is pretty accurate!

It lead me to writer and New York Times columnist Rob Walker, and the Significant Objects project. But first, let me connect a few dots. I got hooked up with Ripple100’s Andre Yap (@andreayap) a day or two ago in the magical jungles of Twitterlandia. Turns out we’re both story traffickers, albeit of slightly different stripes. This graphic was the top story on his blog, a good read if you’re a storytelling wonk, and after a little poking around while ruminating on the graphic, I learned about Rob Walker.

“Here is what Rob did. He purchased a bunch of random objects on Ebay. He then distributed the objects to his friends, asked them to write a short story about each. He then put the objects back up for sale on ebay, essentially sold $120 worth of objects for $3,612 – a 2,776% significance markup as he calls it. All based on stories.(Ripple100)

Wow! That’s right. He turned $120 worth of knickknacks into $3,612 by adding a story to each auction item. Genius. Or is it? Maybe it’s just real world proof of what we already know. We love stories. Whether we realize it or not, part of our human nature is an appetite, possibly even a need for storytelling. And yet, it is difficult to put a value on stories. A book? Sure. A movie? Sure. A song? Sure. A short story published in a magazine. Sure. But in each of those cases, the value of the story gets muddled with the value of the storytelling vehicle.

“What is the actual value of a story? Are people prepared to pay more for something if there is a story attached to it? It turns out that they are. That is the outcome of a very original experiment by writer / NYT columnist Rob Walker… So people were prepared to pay a lot more than the initial value of the storyless object. In fact the difference was so big that Rob concluded that the real value was in the story – the object was merely the vehicle for the story.” (DoubleThink)

So it would seem that the value of each story was the difference between the original price of the object and the final price paid for the object and the story. You can review the experimental data, but it only tells part of the story. Remember that the storytellers intentionally or inadvertantly promoted the experiment, as did the organizers, bidders, etc. In other words, the experiment developed a story of its own. So not only were the objects vehicles for stories, but the entire project became a metastory. It bridged people, connecting them, creating meaning, memories, emotions. In short, the items, the storytellers and the project organizers were “humanized” by virtue of telling stories and weaving others into those stories. Or am I pushing the formula too far? You decide.

“What are people really buying? … There are no easy patterns to sort of say, like, well, this is exactly the answer… Every single object sold for more than we paid for it… The project itself became a story and what, in some ways, people were buying was a souvenier of this experiment.” (Rob Walker)

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Vonnegut Short Story Tips


Kurt Vonnegut on short story writing (video via

“Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut

Do you ever find yourself wishing you could shoot Ernest Hemingway a quick email to ask for a few tips? Or Jack London? Stephen King? Well, Kurt Vonnegut’s not such a bad fall back, so listen. Then re-listen. Then get to work!

Johannesburg Flaneur

South Africa, Johannesburg: Fashion show
South Africa, Johannesburg: Fashion show (photo credit kool_skatkat)

“… there is something to be said for the joys of being a flaneur, even one in a taxi. As Walter Benjamin, that flaneur par excellence, said: it takes real skill to lose oneself in a city.” (Business Day)

Jacob Dlamani, author of Native Nostalgia, reflects on the “joys of peregrination” in Johannesburg. In 2008, inspired by Ivan Vladislavic’s Portrait with Keys, Dlamani began exploring Joburgh on foot. Vladislavic didn’t shy from the omnipresent risk of wandering in this dangerous city: “It is also a melancholic take on what it means to live in anxious times and to walk through a city filled with nervous energy.” Dlamani also acknowledges the risk, recently having shifted from perambulations to vehicular meanders.

“My intention is to see Johannesburg from a different vantage point. This time, instead of seeing Johannesburg from the pavement up, I am trying to experience it from the relative “safety” of a minibus taxi seat.” (Business Day)

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Metro Flaneur

Yesterday Linda Hollier (@lindahollier) put me on to “a new concept: a metro flaneur!” A what?!?! Of course, she had me at flaneur (What is a flaneur?), so I headed on over to Shoba Naraya’s post,”Solution to urban isolation: become a Metro flaneur“. The article, looking inside of the much anticipated opening of Dubai‘s Metro Gren Line, pits enthusiasts against indifferent Dubaians. She’s sympathetic to the former, helpful to the latter. Her wonderful waterfall of flaneurial advice flows from her friend Ria’s question: “And what would I do on the Metro?”

I have three words for her: be a flaneur. As the essayist Alain de Botton says, flaneurs stand in deliberate opposition to the two imperatives of modern society: to be in a hurry and to buy things. Flaneurs do neither. They stroll and saunter; eavesdrop on conversations; watch people, wonder who they might be, and construct narratives about their lives. All this is possible on a train. Even better, your environs are air-conditioned and spanking clean. The Metro provides a convivial, civilised way to be a flaneur. (The National)

I couldn’t have answered any better myself! Though her words, her advice, her logic are oh-so familiar.

I remember discovering the metro trains and buses in Washington, DC as a college undergraduate. Fair to say I was an unusual freshman in plenty of ways, but one was that I’d wander the city for hours, sometimes entire days on busses and metros. No, not to commute. Not even to get somewhere specific, not always at least. If you haven’t ridden public transportation in Washington, it’s worth trying. Impeccably clean. Efficient. Safe. Well layed out. And well used. It’s this last merit of the metro system that attracted me the most. People. So many people, and so many different kinds of people. I was most familiar with NYC where the subways, although fascinating in their own right, are often filthy, sometimes a bit unfriendly and even a bit more crime prone (think pick pockets). In DC it was so civilized. I felt safe. Safe enough to ride all day on a rainy Sunday learning my way around the city and observing my fellow travelers. I began to record my observations, “found poetry” I called it. Narrative sketches and fragments of dialogue… I even mused over the direction people faced when traveling, positing a theory that those who selected forward-facing seats were commuters, racing off to their next commitment. While those content to face backward – to watch where they’ve been instead of where they were going – were travelers, tourists, joy riders. Somewhere in a ratty notebook there’s a poem to this effect, though I’ll have to bury it if/when I ever unearth it.

Naraya dishes on whether or not a handful of countries/cultures are flaneur-centric or even flaneur-likely, but it is her reflection on the origin and nature of flanerie that I find appealing:

It was the French poet Charles Baudelaire who came up with the word “flaneur” to describe the attitude that he thought we should adopt while walking the streets… sauntering… eying the women walking by and enjoying the drama of the streets… [taking the time] to observe, imagine and gossip… Great cities of the world engender people’s hopes and aspirations. To plunge into Piccadilly, Fifth Avenue, Boulevard Saint-Germain, or Paradeplatz is to feel part of a great and variegated group of beings who are both similar to us and intensely different. Being in a public place is an exercise in subsuming the ego for the pleasures of being a part of the great tide of humanity. Sitting together on a subway allows people of different classes to mix and even decompress together. Soon, commuters will start talking, sharing stories and chores.(The National)

Intoxicating idea. Addictive occupation. I believe that many feel the flaneurial tug, but most have trained themselves to resist the siren-call in the name of focus, discipline and productivity. Fair enough. No doubt these ambitious souls are accomplishing and producing more than I. But at what cost? And not just to themselves. Is the race to the swift? Sometimes. But not always. And even when it is, is the race worth winning if you’ve missed the swish-swish-swish of the tedder raking the freshly cut hay into labyrinthine mounds for the hay bailer? If you’ve missed the smell of freshly drawn sap being boiled into maple syrup? If you’ve missed the feel of cool water against your skin while skinny dipping in Lake Champlain, swimming in the shimmering moonbeam? If you’ve missed the sight of three pheasants chicks breaking out of their shells in a corner of the back meadow?

In addition to Naraya’s article Hollier shared a blog post that she’d written a year ago to commemorate the passing of a date which intrigued her. There is much to ponder this fellow flaneur’s thoughtful post, but it’s her train reflection which offers the most apt and eloquent denouement for this morning’s rumination on the metro flaneur.

09.09.09 is a special day in Dubai’s history. It sees the opening of the Dubai metro which has taken 49 months, 30,000 workers and Dh28 billion to achieve. It will be the world’s longest automated driverless rail system and this new system… will no doubt have far-reaching effects on the lives of all who live here…  As I think about the metro, I think too of my late father whose love for trains and railways finds itself somehow continued within me. As Dubai’s first Metro train rolls out of the station today, another page of history will be turned. I am one passenger on the train of life.  Today is one station along the way.  Today is my birthday.  I feel privileged to be on this train. (Integral Life)

Why should you take the metro? What would you do on the metro? Be a flaneur. At least once in a while.
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Wired Introduces New Digital Magazine

Video of Scott Dadich via

“There’s a revolution going on right now in the way that people consume journalism. We’re at a point where technology is going to enable us to view and consume media in an entirely different way… One thing that we’ve been great at doing is telling stories… This is just adding one more avenue of communicating and connecting with the brand of Wired… We really would like to offer more choices to our readers and to our advertisers and move beyond just the static notion of ink on a piece of paper.” ~ Scott Dadich (Creative Director, WIRED)

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Seth Godin and the Dutch Auction

Tippingpoint Labs founder Andrew Davis dives into the publishing bruhaha in a provocative post, “Seth Godin and the Flower Clock“. Flower clock?!?! Yep, and a clever connection made. Here’s the skinny.

The Aalsmeer Flower Auction located in Holland is the world’s largest flower auction. Cool, right? Bet you didn’t thought about the back story for those iris you planted last spring, did you. Now you will. And you’ll think about flowers a little differently. And maybe the future of publishing too…

What’s amazing about Aalsmeer isn’t its sheer size, or the volume of flowers they ship. It’s not the high-tech, precision supply chain management process they employ. It’s the financial model they use to set the price of one flower… This is what’s known as a “Dutch Auction,” and it’s been taking place since 1860. (Tippingpoint Labs)

So what do Dutch tulips have to do with the publishing industry? Davis takes us back to the post-dot-com-bubble-burst hangover days early in Y2K and reminds us that one silver lining of the tech market collapse was reevaluation of the traditional financing options. Instead of relying on investment banks to create, find and tap the market for a company to go public, some innovative firms decided to bypass the middle man and go it alone. and, decided to cut out the middle man (the investment banks). They looked to the Aalsmeer Flower Auction as a model for going public. This new approach set the stage for one of the most innovative and successful IPOs in market history: Google. In August of 2004, Google went public with lower fees and a more diverse investor base. It demonstrated the power of democratic finance at its finest. Google proved that an innovative approach to raising money (more than $20 billion) existed outside the widely accepted and traditional approaches to investment banking.(Tippingpoint Labs)
Starting to make a little more sense where Davis is headed? Overstock, RedEnvelope and Google bypassed the traditional middle men in favor of a DIY model that was wildly successful. Mostly. And the pricing was fair and democratic. And everyone won. Except the middle men. Make sense?

Traditional publishers are in a frenzy. Book publicists, agents, and the publishers themselves are challenged with disruptive technologies that are “destroying” their traditional business models. It looks a lot like Wall Street after the dot-com bust. There’s confusion and frustration in the marketplace… With each and every second that passes by, traditional publishers are watching their market erode. The first publisher willing to stand up and bid on a new publishing model will set the standard for the future. (Tippingpoint Labs)

Man’s got a point! And cleverly illustrated. So what can the publishing industry learn from Seth Godin and the Aalsmeer Flower Auction? Everything. First of all, the economics and many of the exclusive assets of traditional publishing have shifted, are shifting, and will continue to shift. New paradigm time. But what does the new paradigm look like? Fair. Nimble. Efficient. Author-centric. Consumer-centric. Not editor-centric, publisher-centric, agent-centric, bookstore-centric. Which brings me to the most important attribute of the new paradigm. The gap between creator and audience will shrink dramatically. Authors know their consumers. Or they need to. The new paradigm will challenge and empower the writer, storyteller, creator to directly cultivate their consumers. And to respond to their consumers’ needs and desires. More democratic, yes. And more entrepreneurial too.

There’s absolutely no reason that traditional publishers couldn’t play the pivotal role in this new paradigm. They have the talent, the resources and the leverage [still] to reinvent publishing. But they need to make dramatic changes very quickly to survive, much less lead. They need to adapt a less static understanding of content, content packaging and content distribution. They need to emphasize collaboration, content sharing and collaborative content curating. They need to look at the rapidly evolving content marketplace, and they need to look at satisfying the end consumer every time. Quickly. Efficiently. Affordably. Without wasting time on swan songs and recalcitrant grandstanding. Stop bickering. Stop whining. Lead!

A Little Peace

“Peace is most likely to happen when we are able to drop our notions of defending our own, separate ‘selves’ and can release into trusting the interconnected nature of life.” (Integral Buddha)

Letting go. Laying aside our egos and self interests and defences. Trusting is of course the most difficult part for many of us. Fear. Experience. Caution. Stand in the way. But going deeper, a memory of the connectedness, of the shared humanity. Part of all that. A different sort of trust. But the wariness still tickles my sensitive underbelly…

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