Transmedia or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Complexity.

Applied Systems Thinking,Chaos & Complexity,Transmedia — John Bruce - December 6, 2011 @ 8:14 pm

“We’ve gone from being exposed to about 500 ads a day back in the 1970s to as many as 5,000 a day today.”  – Jay Walker-Smith, The Futures Company

48 hours of video are uploaded every minute, resulting in nearly 8 years of content uploaded every day. More video is uploaded to YouTube in one month than the 3 major US networks created in 60 years. – YouTube Statistics.

255 million websites existed as of December 2010, more than 21 million having been added in 2010. 294 billion email messages were sent per day, on average, in 2010. Pingdom.

Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 “jet-black-satire” film, “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” deconstructed a climate of perpetual anxiety over potential nuclear Armageddon. Amidst perceived threats and real fear, the film ushered in the playfully optimistic and youthful sixties-decade, evoking a feeling of liberation for cold-war-weary audiences. “Intellectuals and adolescents” alike loved Dr. Strangelove, Susan Sontag reported at the time, “but the 16-year-olds who are lining up to see it understand the film, and its real virtues, better than the intellectuals, who vastly over-praise it.” The film is essentially cheerful. Anxious preparedness motivated by fear crested a tipping point that gave way to giddy “groundlessness”, or as Rudolf Bahro, a prominent German activist and iconoclast, describes this as: “When the forms of an old culture are dying, the new culture is created by a few people who are not afraid to be insecure.”

Are we entering a similar era of transformative consciousness, this time in response to the anxiety and fear produced by an exponential uptick in the speed and volume of messages flowing through our communication landscape?

There is a contemporary movement democratizing the creation and distribution of information, led by the new-media savvy, and more specifically, digital natives – the first generation to grow up with the Internet. Naïve pioneers, like the first TV-weaned teens Sontag referred to nearly fifty years ago, digital natives don’t suffer the complexity of hyper-connectedness that has become for many of us a data-cloud cold war. We can get stuck struggling within the old habits of hope and fear that absolute knowledge resides in a certain place – waiting for a bomb to drop: obsessively checking inboxes, compulsively Googling, scanning feeds, texting, tweeting, posting, and pecking around at a dozen or more tabs loaded into our browsers (I have 37 tabs open as I write). Simple answers – facts and factoids – are a dime a dozen. Rather it’s the rich constellation of perspectives, opinions, and data woven through diverse groups, over time, into a personalized collage, vetted by communities of trust that forms the fabric of meaningful information.

Transmedia is a strategic approach to storytelling comprised of content, distribution forms, and formats that optimize the organization, interactivity, and utility of narrative, super-charged by the Internet – a complex adaptive system (CAS) of individuals and computers. An introduction to transmedia, along with some early examples, appears here, on the Forward Mapworks blog.

Transmedia storytelling embraces a healthy groundlessness brought about by our tech-driven velocity of perpetual learning, exhibiting properties of a CAS including: emergence, co-evolution, variety, connectivity, iteration, self-organization, nested systems, and the edge of chaos. All elements of a transmedia story, or its “storyworld” – thematic ideas, characters, narrative threads, audience members, symbolic artifacts, criticism, etc., are active agents within the system, and have the capacity to evolve within varying contexts and over time as the dynamic relationship of agents impact one another, thus restructuring meaning. Further, storyworlds posses the ongoing potential for integrating more agents – other targeted, strategic partners, new audience segments, sponsors, and so on, in an autopoietic fashion.

For individuals and businesses alike, it’s no longer a broadcast game of winning mindshare by providing the quickly attractive “right answer”. While we may still assume “positions” in order to differentiate ourselves, more importantly we make meaningful connections around our whole value through dynamic, interactive storytelling that speaks to our higher purpose with transparency and authenticity. Audiences are not captive, nor are they simply “won” forever. Audiences choose us, with temporal fickleness, based on the ways in which their needs and desires are carried forward, and ideally addressed, by engagement with an ongoing narrative.

In a short period of time, transmedia has attracted great interest from a variety of industries and disciplines. Here are a few more examples, of lesser and greater degrees, to explore:

Highrise: One Millionth Tower

- Interactive documentary experiment. More than a billion of us live in highrises. But most of these low- and middle-income buildings are now aging and falling into disrepair.

Highrise: Out My Window

- Interactive global stories about and by the people creating community, art, and meaning inside towers of concrete and glass.

Autodesk Sustainability Workshops

- System-story videos connecting tools to ideas.

Condition ONE

- Condition ONE is a technology startup developing next generation immersive video for media companies to move into the tablet space.

18 Days in Egypt

- A collaborative documentary about the revolution.

30 Mosques in 30 States

- Two men road trip across the United States, spending each night of Ramadan at a different mosque in 30 states around the US.

The Johnny Cash Project

- Participants draw their own portrait of Johnny Cash to be integrated into the whole.

The Wilderness Downtown

- Interactive film/music video built in HTML5, featuring Arcade Fire.

When I Walk

- A filmmaker’s journey about living with Multiple Sclerosis.

Mapping Main Street

- When politicians and the media mention Main Street, they evoke one people and one place. But there are over 10,466 streets named Main in the United States. A collaborative documentary project.

Gaza Sderot

- Life as experienced by men, women and children in Gaza (Palestine) and Sderot (Israel): their lives and their survival on a daily basis.


- Set in the near future, the international powers try to cope with a transition from fossil to alternative fuels, while dealing with political dissension, uprisings and a population terrified by increasingly frequent black-outs.

Top Chef Last Chance Kitchen

- Bravo’s attempt to extend their popular TV series.

BMW “The Hire”

- Branded entertainment for BMW by leading feature film directors with famous actors.


No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment