Looking Under the Hood: Where Stories Meet Code
When I first began my career in documentaries, I was excited because I felt like this was a job that meant never having to choose. I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to be a scientist or a politician or a game ranger. Being in documentaries meant that I could spend time in all these worlds, and many others.
When I first started dipping my toes into the waters of interactive documentary, I thought that this was basically a continuation of the same thing with a bit of exciting technology thrown in. But as I became more involved with interactive documentary projects through my work with the TFI New Media Fund, I realized that this was opening up worlds in ways I had not previously anticipated.
There was something about this new landscape where stories met code and design that made me feel newly excited about the possibilities not just for understanding things but for making things too. I would go to the Mozilla Festival or various unconferences and see people just making stuff, good stuff, bad stuff, wonderful stuff and I saw how important agency was and how great it felt to be able to take things apart and put them back together again.
This idea of “looking under the hood” has become something I think about a great deal now when I’m thinking about who gets to tell stories. I think agency is hugely important. It means that we feel less powerless in the face of algorithms that tell us what to buy and who to like. And it means that we think about who has agency, who tells stories and who listens. I like the idea of making the web, not just using it. I like the idea of giving kids Arduinos and Raspberry Pis and soldering irons and letting them see how to construct things that beep and move and do things.
I like the joyful, DIY spirit of Super Awesome Sylvia. I think a lot about digital access too and I’m endlessly impressed with all the resourceful local solutions coming out of Kenya and other developing countries around the world that are based on local need and local ingenuity. I love that suddenly lots of people want to learn to code, even if all they manage is six lines of code in Processing (that’s me!).
This led me to develop Tribeca Hacks, our latest hackathon series for storytellers who want to experiment with new ways of telling stories through/with/despite technology. Our first event with Zeega reinforced my excitement about helping to build a platform for new kinds of stories to emerge. It’s always wonderful when you see people getting that first sense of, “I made that”—and I increasingly think about this sense of agency when I’m thinking about the programs I’m developing.
My wish for the future is that everyone is allowed to discover their own sense of agency so that they feel like they can make a positive difference in the world. I’d like everyone to be able to have that feeling of, “I made that.”