Media

Telling real stories in interactive time is the MIT Open Documentary Lab’s experimental turf. The lab brings together storytellers, technologists, and scholars to invent new storytelling modes that focus on collaborative, interactive, and immersive forms. The research goal is to understand the impact and evolution of such new story forms.

MIT Open Documentary Lab explores new storytelling modes.

The MIT Open Documentary Lab explores and studies new storytelling modes.

Documentaries are taking a creative leap thanks to influences such as television, ubiquitous handheld cameras, user-generated content, interactive documentary forms, and work that combines and crosses media, according to William Uricchio, director of the Comparative Media Studies Program, where OpenDocLab was founded in 2012. “The documentary field now is like looking at the first five to eight years of television…new tools, new storytelling techniques, new participants,” he said in an Great Ideas interview. “It’s a very exciting moment.”

You can get a sense of the approach by visiting Moments of Innovation, an interactive white paper that describes the long search for immersive story experiences and highlights recurrent themes in documentaries.

Q&A with OpenDocLab Director Sarah Wolozin:

Why is MIT a good place to investigate the future of storytelling?

The future of storytelling—and I would argue that the future is here—is interdisciplinary and based on innovative new uses of emerging technologies. Traditional storytelling is media specific; you make a film, a radio story, a television show, etc., and each has its own forms and processes. Today, digital documentaries are informed by all of these media as well as games, civic engagement, activism, artificial intelligence, creative computing, to name a few. MIT has researchers studying and experimenting in all of these areas and innovation at MIT is based on an interdisciplinary approach. It makes MIT a great place to incubate new storytelling projects, take the time to reflect, collaborate across disciplines and shape the future of storytelling.

Moments of Innovation

Moments of Innovation illustrates interactive storytelling.

What is the Moments of Innovation docubase and why is it important?

Moments of Innovation is a website we created together with the International Documentary Festival of Amsterdam’s Doclab in honor of their 5th anniversary. It’s designed and developed by the French company, Upian. And it’s based on Professor William Uricchio’s thesis that today’s storytelling practices such as participation, interactivity, and data visualization are not new. They have long and rich histories; people have always used the tools of the day to tell these kinds of stories. Uricchio also argues that documentary has always been at the forefront of innovation; documentarians were often the first to experiment with new technologies. It makes sense because we all observe the world around us and tell stories to make sense of it and some people are driven to express it and can do so in a public way. What’s exciting today is that public storytelling is more democratized than ever before; the means of production and distribution are in people’s pockets or purses in the form of a cell phone.

Docubase is a database that aggregates and curates the innovation taking place in documentary storytelling today and serves as a place of inspiration and education about new documentary forms. According to Uricchio, we are going through a major shift in documentary storytelling and Docubase is serving to archive these experiments for posterity and encourage them.

Learn more about OpenDocLab events, fellows, social media, and opportunities to get involved.

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This Sept. 1977 issue of the National Enquirer sold 6.7 million copies.

This Sept. 1977 issue of the National Enquirer sold 6.7 million copies.

Have you ever wondered who was responsible for bizarre National Enquirer headlines like “Adam and Eve were Astronauts,” “UFOs: The Big Govt. Cover-Up,” and “Man Eats Dog?” If so, Slice has your answer—and he’s an MIT alumnus.

The National Enquirer was founded and published by Generoso Pope, Jr. ’46, a former CIA operative who graduated from MIT in less than three years.

From The Godfather of Tabloid: Generoso Pope, Jr. and the National Enquirer, by Jack Vitek

“Pope breezed through MIT in two and a half years, by way of an accelerated wartime program, and earned, at age nineteen, a degree in mechanical engineering that he never used. Though he described himself as a ‘science nut,’ Pope also said that he never wanted to be an engineer but went to MIT because engineering fascinated him, that studying engineering taught him to think logically.”

Generoso Pope, Jr. '46

Generoso Pope, Jr. ’46

After graduation, Pope became editor and publisher of the Il Progresso Italo-Americano, an Italian-language daily newspaper in New York City owned by his father, Generoso Pope, Sr.

In 1950, he left Il Progresso and spent one year working for the CIA as a psychological warfare officer during the peak of the first Cold War.

In 1952, the 25-year-old Pope returned to New York and purchased the New York Enquirer, a Sunday weekly paper with a circulation of 17,000, for $75,000. Within a year, he dropped the paper’s sports-politics-news format and adopted a tabloid set-up.

Four years later, after watching a crowd gather round the aftermath of a car accident, Pope encouraged his staff to focus on gruesome photos and hard-to-believe headlines like, “I Cut Out Her Heart and Stomped on It.” By 1966, the paper was renamed the National Enquirer and circulation exceeded 1 million.

But the grisly subject matter prevented the tabloid from being sold in supermarkets. So in the early 1970s, Pope shifted the Enquirer’s content again, this time focused heavily on celebrity gossip. (Pope later published another tabloid, Weekly World News, that featured the macabre stories the Enquirer no longer covered.)

In the 1970s, circulation peaked at 5.7 million and the Enquirer’s cover touted the tagline “Biggest Circulation of Any Paper in America.” A September 1977 issue, with a front page photo of a deceased Elvis Presley under the headline “Elvis: The Untold Story,” sold 6.7 million copies. A later issue, headlined by “Drinking Beer Prevents Heart Attacks,” sold 6.3 million.

But Pope’s journalistic practices—like over-intrusive celebrity reporting, paying sources, and a devil-may-care approach to fact-vetting—earned the ire of many public figures, including actress Carol Burnett, who won a libel defamation suit against the Enquirer in 1981.

Pope was also well-known for his ill-fated pursuit to break the Guinness Book of World Records mark for world’s tallest Christmas tree. For more than 15 years, Pope would commission the Christmas-time installation and decoration of a massive Douglas fir at the Enquirer’s Florida headquarters, at an annual cost of more than $1 million. The largest tree measured 125 feet high, and could be seen for miles, but was far shorter than the 150-foot tree in Guinness books.

After his death, the Enquirer empire was sold to American Media, Inc., for $412 million.

From The Godfather of Tabloid
“No one at the Enquirer, not its cynical journalists and least of all Pope, who was after all a graduate of MIT, had to really believe these improbable stories about junk science, UFOs and Bigfoot; all they had to believe was that someone else did, or said they did.”

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ALC_social_media_Slice

Nearly 600 tweets were sent with the #mitalc hashtag.

The 2014 Alumni Leadership Conference, held Sept. 19-20, set a new record for MIT volunteer and alumni engagement. 614 attendees—including nearly 400 alumni from more than 40 class years—returned to MIT’s campus and took part in the conference, which focused on MIT’s role in the evolving landscape of higher education.

The conference excitement flowed into social media where, over the course of the two-day conference, roughly 100 Twitter and Instagram users posted nearly 600 messages and more than 100 photos. Attendees could view the online interaction in real-time, both on their mobile device and the custom ALC Twitter screen on display throughout the conference.

To commemorate the social media buzz, Slice of MIT presents our favorite 14 tweets of ALC 2014.

The online conversations started a few days before the conference, as alums from around the globe began their trek back to MIT campus.

Professors

Professors Fiona Murray and Vladimir Bulovic

In the opening keynote, Professors Vladimir Bulovic and Fiona Murray discussed MIT’s innovative education offerings, the value of a sustained connection, and the Institute’s global impact.

Director of Digital Learning Sanjay Sarma and Professor Karen Willcox discussed the edX learning platform and presented the final recommendations of President Reif’s Task Force on the Future of MIT Education.

Tiandra Ray

Tiandra Ray, Miguel Salinas, and Cara Lai

Day one closed with TIMtalks. Based on theTED Talks model, MIT students Miguel Salinas ’16, Tiandra Ray ‘15, and Cara Lai ’16 gave presentations about how connecting with the MIT community has shaped their Institute experience.

During day two, Professor  John A. Ochsendorf, a 2008 Macarthur Foundation fellow,  discussed the history of MIT’s  architecture and and shared potential future plans for the Institute’s oldest buildings.

A three-part seminar by executive coach and alumnus Stever Robbins ’86 focused on life hacks and on ways you can increase productivity, avoid procrastination, and build stronger relationships.  

MIT List Visual Arts Center Director Paul Ha led ALC attendees through a guided afternoon tour of MIT’s extensive public arts collection.

Per tradition, ALC culminated with the formal Leadership Awards Celebration, which honored the valuable contributions of MIT volunteers, including Roy W. Haygood III ’78, a Harold E. Lobdell ’17 Distinguished Service Award winner.

Throughout the conference, MIT alumni showcased their brass rat and explained why they volunteer for MIT.

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Clara Fernández-Vara SM ’04 has read her share of mediocre game reviews, whether in commercial video game journals or on industry blogs. In a new book, Introduction to Game Analysis, Fernández-Vara hopes to raise the level of discourse for the field of game theory, one that has gained traction in recent years as a field worthy of academic interest. Listen to the podcast here. 9-4-14 fernandez vara

“Games are not only a technology-driven field, but a humanities and social sciences field [too],” says Fernández-Vara. “I see a lot of teachers who want to include games in their curriculum…even though the book is aimed at students, I would hope that professors and teachers would find it useful in thinking about how they incorporate games in their curriculum.”

In one respect, the book is a history of modern gaming, covering everything from Monopoly to Minecraft. While its intended audience is those considering an academic career in game theory, the book sets out a strong argument for critics of the field who might not yet deem it worthy enough for funding at major research universities.

To counter the mediocre game analysis out there, Fernández-Vara points to exemplary analysis in her book that has inspired her and her students. “I’ve been really happy to see that there are now monographic volumes that analyze one single game like Silent Hill or Doom or Myst,” she says. “It’s fantastic, because you’re showing that games have the kind of depth and complexity that other media might have.”

Is Tetris, for instance, “the perfect enactment of the overtasked lives of Americans in the 1990s”? What rhetorical devices did Super Mario Brothers designers employ to teach a new player the rules? How do transdiegetic sounds in a game inform a character or player about future events? Fernández-Vara and her sources entertain such questions.

After earning her master’s in 2004, Fernández-Vara was named visiting scholar at the Trope Tank and worked for five years at the MIT GAMBIT Game Lab, both labs within the MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing department. She is now an Associate Arts Professor at the Game Center at New York University.

Listen to the complete podcast here. Listen to past books podcasts on immigration, economics, parenting, and architecture by visiting MITAA on Soundcloud.

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Social media isn’t going away any time soon—and, in fact, it will expand in industries like utilities and be used in new ways—according to a new MIT Sloan Management Review (SMR) research report.

8.12 SMR logo

SMR has been conducting the social business survey since 2011.


Those insights come from annual surveys on social business conducted over the past three years by SMR and Deloitte. The report defines social business as “activities that use social media, social software, and technology-based social networks to enable connections between people, information, and assets.” This year’s survey, which included 4,803 business executives, managers, and analysts, found that social business use is deepening across industries.

The report, authored by Gerald C. Kane, Doug Palmer, Anh Nguyen Phillips, David Kiron, and Natasha Buckley MBA ’97, notes that some industries that have eschewed social media in the past—like consumer finance and utilities—are increasingly social.

Consumers are increasingly demanding that utilities connect with them via social media, and utilities report seeing social’s value in improving crisis communications and educating consumers about energy efficiency.

In fact, many businesses are now using social media to problem-solve and address needs outside of promotion. For example, the Red Cross used social media outlets to alert those affected by Hurricane Sandy to the locations of Red Cross trucks. They even helped people who did not engage the organization directly—like a babysitter that took to Twitter with questions during a tornado warning. The organization connected with that tweeter by tracking Twitter keywords like “tornado.”

MIT Alumni Association building community socially.

MIT Alumni Association building community socially.

Social business success stories have a lot to do with leadership, the report concludes. Not surprisingly, a majority of survey respondents from companies with effective social business strategies have leaders who support their ideas. Companies where leadership embraced a vision “premised on the belief that social can fundamentally change the business” found greater success with social business than other respondents.

Companies can no longer ignore social business, the SMR report notes. As consumers are increasingly deciding when and how social business happens, more industries can be expected to engage socially.

Read the complete findings and the supporting research.

How is the MIT Alumni Association using social media to build a community of alumni? Check out our channels: FacebookTwitterLinkedInGoogle+Instagram

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This sullen (fake) MIT professor has no idea which Tetris block will come next. Image via The Onion.

This (fake) MIT professor has no idea which Tetris block will come next. Image: The Onion.

For more than 25 years, the news satire group The Onion has poked fun at nearly every major institution or public figure, and MIT is no exception. More than 50 stories included mentions of the Institute on the Onion’s website.

Slice’s 10 favorite stories are listed below. Some of these phony stories attribute quotes to real faculty, like Professor James DiCarlo, while others cite research and studies by people like “MIT mad scientist Dr. Otto Von Verruchtheit.”

By the way, none of these stories are real, but if someone can finally split the Smithereen, please let us know.

Modern Science Still Only Able To Predict One Upcoming Tetris Block,” Feb. 27, 2014:

“Supercomputers have now reached speeds of 30 quadrillion calculations per second but …we’re no closer to solving this problem than we were a generation ago,” said MIT professor Michael Haemlin.

MIT Physicists Split The Smithereen,” May 31, 2000:

“It now appears that it is possible, under certain special laboratory conditions, to blow something to sub-smithereens,” said Dr. Jonathan Eng.

Sensitive Scientists Report 5 In 5 Women Don’t Know How Beautiful They Are,” Oct. 4, 2012:

Sensitive_Scientist

Sensitive (fake) scientist Sidney Kaplan. Image: The Onion.

“In clinical trials, we discovered 100 percent of test subjects were oblivious to the fact that they are and always have been thoughtful, intelligent, and gorgeous, inside and out,” said sensitive MIT scientist Sidney Kaplan.

 

Corpse-Reanimation Technology Still 10 Years Off, Say MIT Mad Scientists,” Jan. 17, 2001:

“They said we were mad to attempt such an unholy ambition by the century’s end,” said MIT mad scientist Dr. Otto Von Verruchtheit. “Fools, all of them! However, in this case, they were actually right.”

MIT Think-Tank Develops 20 Great Gift Ideas,” Dec. 10, 1996:

Twelve professors at an MIT think-tank announced their latest brainstorming success: 20 great holiday gift ideas for the loved one who seems to have everything.

Study: Humans Display Highest Cognitive Abilities When Trying To Retrieve Object Dropped Between Car Seats,” March 14, 2014:

“What we observed under these conditions represents the very pinnacle of the human brain’s vast potential,” said professor of neuroscience James DiCarlo.

New Study Going To Take Another Week Or So, Report Scientists Who Look As If They’ve Been Crying,” Jan. 6, 2012:

“You all came here today expecting a study, and we let you down,” Professor Michael Frazier said. “There’s just no way was it going to happen. Not after this. No way. Please don’t yell at us.”

Doritos Celebrates One Millionth Ingredient,” Jan. 17, 2001:

“Disodium guanylate (NaCl2O3G) should help slow the oxidation process in Doritos, serving as a valuable hydrolyzing reactor,” MIT chemistry professor James Steuerbohm said.

Sullen Time-Traveling Teen Reports 23rd Century Sucks,” April 3, 2002:

The son of renowned MIT theoretical physicist Irwin Geremek was transported to 2202 when he wandered into an experimental tachyon particle accelerator being developed by his father.

Roomba Violates All Three Laws Of Roombotics,” April 14, 2007:

“In 50 years humans will be prisoners in their own homes, living in constant fear of tracking mud through the dining room or scuffing the kitchen floor,” said MIT researcher Harrison Lowell.

What’s your favorite faux story about MIT? Let us know in the comments below, then check out the archived list of all MIT-mentioned stories from The Onion at www.theonion.com.

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MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito at TED

MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito at TED.

MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito is on a tear, appearing at edgey conferences in recent months, pushing that edge even farther. In a recent TED talk, Ito announced his new motto: “deploy or die.”

The very nature of innovative has been changed by the Internet, he says, because individuals and small groups can create new products by taking the software development process—continual A/B testing, iteration, and new testing—into the marketplace. He described a “rainforest of innovation” coming out of China’s manufacturing plants as students design in real time on the factory floor and desktop gene sequencers radically change bioengineering from multimillion operations to a dorm room experiments.

“The Internet caused innovation, at least in software and services, to go from an MBA-driven innovation model to a designer-engineer-driven innovation model and it pushed innovation to edges, to the dorm rooms and startups, away from the…stodgy old institutions that had the power, the money, and the authority.”

The Media Lab’s founding director, Nicholas Negroponte, famously said ‘demo or die,’ as opposed to publish or perish, the tradition academic way of thinking, Ito told the TED audience in March. “The demo only has to work once because the primary mode of us impacting the world was through large companies being inspired by us and creating things like the Kindle or Lego Mindstorms. But today, with the ability of to deploy things into the real world at low cost, I’m changing the motto now. And this is official: deploy or die.”

Less planning and more presence in the moment can accelerate innovation, he argues. Getting objects out into the real world is the point. Don’t be a futurist,  he urges, be a “now-ist.”

What to know more?

  • Watch the TED Talk—Joi Ito: Want to innovate? Become a “now-ist”
  • After being inducted into the SXSW Interactive Festival Hall of Fame in March, Ito described the future of making as an interaction between human needs and the new technologies.
  • Wired magazine’s coverage of the O’Reilly Solid Conference in May focused on Ito’s discussion of the “phenomenon of convergence, where bits from the digital realm are fusing with atoms here in the physical world.”

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A computer voice speaks the words as the viewer points to them.

A computer voice speaks the words as the viewer points.

What’s new at MIT? Here’s one thing: the FingerReader, a wearable device that assists in reading printed text, developed in the Media Lab’s Fluid InterFaces Group.

Perched on the index finger, the device reads as viewers move their fingers along the line of print text. The ring houses a tiny camera and some haptic actuators for feedback.

The goal is to provide an affordable version, perhaps delivered via cell phone, that offers a real-time tool for visually impaired people and an aid for language translation and would work on print documents, from menus to contracts, as well as touch screens.

The FingerReader in use.

The FingerReader in use.

Want to know more?

The Boston Herald reported on a June demonstration of a research prototype created via 3D printing.

Watch a video, showing how it works and read the FAQs on the Fluid Interfaces website.

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Two YouTube videos kicked off a keynote at April’s Graduate Women at MIT Empowerment Conference.

In one, a young dancer improvises during a cookie-cutter recital and steals the show. In the other, Louisiana State University gymnast Lloimincia Hall performs a 10.0 floor exercise that looks more like an ad-lib tumbling act than a traditional routine. These performances are examples of what Ruha Benjamin, assistant professor, sociology and African American studies at Boston University, calls social hacking.

In her talk, Playing the Game or Hacking the System, Benjamin lauded these social hackers, encouraging the women in the audience to tap into their childhood defiance to break through norms and advance in their desired careers. Benjamin was quick to note that they would not always be praised for hacking the system. “Off stage in institutions, challenging systems is typically threatening, not entertaining,” she said.

Benjamin

Professor Ruha Benjamin speaks at the GWAMIT Empowerment Conference.

Benjamin’s talk supported the empowerment theme by focusing on the pros and cons of both stepping out and fitting in as women navigate their careers and lives. The title of Benjamin’s talk provided two viable options for women.

Benjamin highlighted benefits of playing the game through code switching, defined as how a person’s behavior may change based on the people around them. Code switching can be essential to everyday life, but women often code switch to be subservient—Benjamin cited women’s changed body language and decreased assertiveness around men as one switch. This kind of code switch allows women to navigate conversations and careers within male dominated institutions, but may also impede women, preventing them from breaking rules and growing professionally as a result.

Benjamin closed her talk by encouraging the graduate women to be aware of the sociological aspects of their future careers. She explained that in even the most technical sciences, “what and who we chose to study” can make profound difference in the norms and pathways created for the next generation of women.

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Nick Montfort SM ’98 is on a mission to connect the act of writing and composing poetry with computation. As an MIT digital media professor with a background in both computer science and poetry, Montfort leads up MIT’s Trope Tank, a living laboratory of vintage computers and game stations where scholars create new forms of digital media and poetic practice.

An excerpt from Montfort's "Taroko Gorge"

An excerpt from Montfort’s “Taroko Gorge”

“One of the things computers can do more easily than humans is iterate,” explains Montfort. That’s the premise behind his “Taroko Gorge” generator poem. Every 1.2 seconds the poem produces a new line of text based on the rules and predetermined words set out by a JavaScript computer program that Montfort wrote. It’s like computer-generated magnetic poetry.

Line structure is meant to mimic Montfort’s own feelings of exploring the poem’s namesake—Taiwan’s Taroko Gorge National Park. Longer stanzas symbolize wandering the trails while lines with dashes suggest entering the Gorge’s many tunnels where you can’t see to the other side.

The poem is also an open source collaboration—21 poetry coders used Montfort’s program to create their own generative poems. Scott Rettberg’s “Tokyo Garage” is a spoof on what he imagines to be the exciting night life of Tokyo, and J.R. Carpenter’s “Gorge” is about overconsumption and gorging.

Screenshot from "Alphabet Expanding"

Screenshot from “Alphabet Expanding”

“Even if people aren’t doing the work themselves, my hope is it is cognitively liberating,” Montfort says of the participatory aspect of reading a generated poem as it slowly unfolds on a computer screen.

In his “Alphabet Expanding,” a concrete poem generated through the Perl computer language, letters of the alphabet frantically move around the screen, at times raining down sideways and other times dancing. Watch a video of it here.  “There are different ways of exploring poetry and language,” says Montfort. Computer-generated poems offer a new avenue to do that.

This article as a Deletionist poem

This article as a Deletionist poem

His Deletionist project designed with Amaranth Borsuk and Jesper Juul is a JavaScript bookmarklet that allows web surfers to convert any webpage into a poem, giving a new perspective on the same webpage text. Such poems are part of an alternate Internet Montfort calls “the Worl.” Listen to Montfort read a page from the Worl here.

By far his most expansive poetry generator, “Sea and Spar Between” written with Stephanie Strickland automatically pulls language from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and the poetry of Emily Dickinson to create stanzas of new compound words like “bliss disk” or “Loose-fish.” There are 225 trillion stanzas—matching a rough estimate of the world’s sea fish population—and they are numbered with longitude and latitude coordinates. One stanza asks, “And what are you, reader, but a Loose-Fish and a Fast-Fish, too?”

“It’s not supposed to be beyond anyone’s grasp, but it’s also supposed to be a little bit difficult and disconcerting,” he says. Sounds like the quality of any good poem.

Nick Montfort’s work has been showcased on the Alumni Association’s social media channels throughout the month of April along with other alumni-authored poems, haikus, and code compositions as part of National Poetry Month. View a slideshow of poetry excerpts

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