Live Web week 1: Herd Mentality
I'm starting the semester by noting that I'm absolutely terrified by the challenges I face in this second and final year at ITP. This post feels like an appropriate place to get that off my chest, in consideration of the ethos of live web in all of its spontaneity, its graphic honesty, its potential for witnessed risk and failure. As the most awful Bill O'Reilly once said...
This is perhaps the only moment I enjoyed Bill O'Reilly, who was so upset that he didn't understand the phrase "to play us out" that he had a meltdown just before returning from commercial break, managing to compose himself in time to go live for the outro of his show Inside Edition. This moment was only revealed years later, but still reveals the uncertainty that makes a live taping so much more of a venture for both performer and audience.
Historically, my content output as an artist has been both hyper-curated (writer/editor) and totally improvised (audience-engaging performer); my curated self has existed mostly in the digital while the self that "wings it" generally appears in "meat life" so I'm particularly interested in how this class will bring those worlds together. Honestly I'm not a huge live web person—my online synchronous communication experience has generally reflected my desire to be with people I miss... a phone call, a conversation via text (though my synchronicity skills here are not very strong), maybe a video chat if I'm feeling particularly intimate. I suppose that's why I'm here though—to explore deeper ways of interconnectedness only possible through the digital realm. Both of my historical selves are driven toward affecting an audience. I'm here because I want to dive deeper into that skill.
I came for the wolves, but ended up staying for the pack
One of my daily therapies at ITP while we were at 721 Broadway was watching the live kitten cam that was set up in the lobby (I don't know who did it, but thank you whoever you are!). So for this week's assignment I thought I'd explore other live cam setups, and perhaps attend to my mental health in the process. I ended up at the New York Wolf Conservation Center site, which hosts a number of live webcams on their preservation property.
The setup is not particularly synchronous—you watch the wolves, but you can't interact with them (nor do I think that should be possible)—but there's a lot of room for delight and surprise that makes the choice to "go live" truly special. The conservation is appropriately large, and thusly the cam feed is often just empty forest. It ends up being pretty thrilling when you get to see the wolves, even though you know they're always there, just off camera, the whole time. It reflects the natural experience, a phenomenon of catching a glimpse of wildlife that has probably glimpsed you enough to know to avoid detection. I ended up keeping a tab open for the site, just to click back on every now and then in hopes of catching some canine shenanigans.
It turns out that I was in great company in keeping (literal) tabs: the most ingenious part of NYWCC's setup is that you can take screen captures of the live feed and post it in the comment section below each video:
There's an entire community that has been watching these wolves, documenting their moments, creating intimate relationships with them despite the fact that they likely have no IRL contact with them. The fans know their names, their patterns, their habits, their lifelong progressions. There's a multifold benefit here: individually, a personal experience that gratifies each person watching the wolf cams. Dynamically, a community has been created among fans, who share their best screen caps, report on action that others might have missed, and at the most basic level develop a camaraderie with like-minded strangers. Functionally, it makes people care about the wolves, which the conservation needs for fiscal support in order to sustain their efforts (you can "adopt" a wolf here!).
It's the sort of intimacy and care that digital utopianists hoped for (yep I'll admit I was one, I'm about to turn 32, I caught the last wave just before we crashed into our current state), and something I want to both create and sustain even if it's just for a very particular community. It gives me hope that—even though it may not occur on the global level anticipated by the utopianists—the digital realm can hold space for creating a distributed support network among strangers.
"1,000 true fans is an alternative path to success other than stardom." - Kevin Kelly
A huge failure point for me this week. It's been a while since I cracked into the "evil three" so to speak, and I recognize how much practice I have ahead of me. I managed to get an audio control going, but wasted an incredible amount of time trying to figure out how to trigger it with an "onmouseover" element. I moved on to try to trigger video elements in the same fashion since there seems to be a lot more documentation of that in the digisphere, but man I just don't have the chops in this first week. Here's a video documentation of where I got, I am not proud.
But it's fine! I know where my work is cut out. I'll make it happen.
Or hey. Fuck it, we'll do it live.