Week 10 – Helen De Michiel – Combinatorial Thinking

I began this quarter with a post about combinatorial storytelling. I’ll complete it with a post about combinatorial thinking. I feel that together we have engaged in an amazingly rich exchange among twenty-four highly creative and insightful authors and thinkers.

I have been so impressed at the way each of you – through your own particular vantage points and in your own fully-flavored voices, have taken on the challenge to dive into the issues — both visible and invisible — of the digital sphere.

Every week I noticed how your questions became more nuanced and harder to answer with simple platitudes. I watched how your vocabulary for a dynamic relationship to digital culture expanded and deepened. I stood by as you challenged conventional wisdom, and figured out ways to absorb the lessons of combinatorial storytelling and “spreadability” through the experience of making and circulating your curated web-based multimedia projects.

A few More Questions on Ethics

Last week, I read with avid interest your posts on the ethics of this medium. In a short blog piece I wrote, “Engaging Ethics and Social Media,” I identified three of the same issues you’ve touched upon – yet entering into it from the perspective of an artist-filmmaker. From a practical working perspective, these are some of the situational questions I consider as I work on projects.

1. As we make films that connect with expanding stakeholder groups, what are my obligations to them and the community? To negotiating conflict that may arise? Or are we unwittingly echoing their agendas and claims? Or the outcome desires of the funders? Neutrality is not always an option – loyalties shift over time.

2. What and where are the limits to the filmmaker’s freedom to express a truth she sees? Especially without a large media organization behind you supporting your work? Another angle on this would be how does the filmmaker negotiate autonomy within the community frame?

3. How do we create a safe space for open dialogue about conflict and misunderstanding that is neither absolute (“you are with us or you are not”) nor completely relative (“everyone has a right to eat Hot Cheetos whenever they want”).

*  *  *

To be sure, from today’s “solutions,” tomorrow’s questions will proliferate in new guises. As so many of you realized, working in the digital media environment is both exhilarating and intriguing as well as scary and uncontrollable. The ability to exercise combinatorial thinking, where we are in continual dialogue with one another is one of the most powerful aspects of this environment. To think together, to iterate ideas, to change perspectives. Nothing remains stagnant.

From all that you have written and shared here, I have no doubts that you will make, permeate and circulate extraordinary media throughout the digital culture of the future.




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