Our Species Needs Diverse Stories


That's a great community and a great blog.

I sincerely believe that our species needs stories. I think we need to confront new paths, voices, settings, emotions, identities, possibilities, and thus new types of stories which can transform and transport our hearts. We need diversity for reflection and growth. Right?

And now for TWO random music videos...

(explicit lyrics below)

Victory Gardens

We have been here before... and I'm imagining that we'll be here again.  When?  How?

During WWI & WWII, there was a national movement to grow food in yards and parks.  It was deemed a patriotic part of the war efforts.  I can imagine various ways our current agribusiness model might fail us as a society or become strained, returning us to a rather sudden demand for "victory gardens."

Over the last six years or so, I've seen how the South Bronx is increasingly embracing community and school gardens.  Of course, this city has a rich history with gardening and farmer's markets.  Meanwhile, our wider society is increasingly dependent on a centralized food industry where a handful of companies manage the entire production and distribution infrastructure.  Is our food system sustainable?

This question is compelling, for me, as both a citizen and as a fiction writer. 

Some historical links re: NYC's community gardens.

These two books appear packed with historical information: City Bountiful and Avant Gardening.

How resilient are we as a society?
And now for a not-so-random hippy music connection:

Tripped the Bots Fantastic

This iphone-controlled hover-drone was for sale at a Barnes & Noble in Florida (July 2012).   It has a camera.

If you had asked my childhood-self what life would be like in 2013, I would have imagined a scene out of the Jetsons:  jetpacks, flying cars, sarcastic robots that clean my room.  Are we there yet? I wouldn't have been able to imagine Facebook and social networking.  I wouldn't have imagined a world where video games are a bigger industry than movies.

However... TacoCopter makes perfect sense!

Yes!  That's right, there is a business in San Francisco that will be delivering tacos using unmanned aerial drones.

Most of the media attention on drones involves military and police application, but how might the rest of us use it?  Imagine what farmers, scientists, and industries will be able to do with advanced UAVs.  Imagine what the medical and emergency response experts might do with this power.  Unfortunately, it's also not hard to imagine what the commercial media and paparazzi will do with drones.  We might expect years of legal and regulatory struggles ahead.  For now, the Federal policy is to keep commercial applications illegal.  Whether personal and commercial drone use evolves as illegal activity or as regulated activity, it's going to explode.

Hummingbird drones already exist.
What might this mean for our daily lives?  

How long until Siri can hover next to us?

Small, personal robots combined with increasingly networked, sophisticated lifestyle-oriented AI?  This is such a natural extension of today's technology that I believe it's only a matter of years before the air around us is buzzing with them.

I believe we're entering a new phase of lifestyle and entertainment technology that will evolve at the same pace as social networking and gamification.

What might the sidewalks of New York look like in 2050 or in 2100?  Today's engineers are doing truly inspiring things.  Who will make the first flying gaming console? (and if nobody thought of this yet, can you please cut me a check for coming up with the idea?)

Fascinated?  Follow groups like DIY drones and DronesForPeace.

MorpHex (imagine if this thing could also fly!)



And now to share some random "background" music as I go back to writing... 

Diary of Seamless Kid on Fire

Irreverent but necessary mash-up of Wimpy Kid and Hunger Games

When I was a goofy teenager back in the 80s, I did a lot of creative writing and journal-style reflection.   A lot.  I was just imagining how wonderful it would be to have all of those ramblings from my old Apple IIe.  How interesting it would be to dig right into those teen emotions and memories!
That's an antique called a "stereo" next to an Apple.
Yes, my parents had to deal with me covering my room in graffiti

Perhaps it's best to let some of the past become... a little blurry?

Today, many kids start with Facebook in elementary school.  Even before they've begun the complex adolescent journey of identity development and values discernment, they've started carefully counting their online friends.   By the end of middle school, many of today's youth have spent countless hours online chatting and managing e-friendship politics.   

Real life and online life are seamless for them.  That part I can get.   I think.

But the part my head definitely can't wrap around is that today's young children can remain in immediate contact with this social network for their entire lives.   Imagine all of those kids who moved away during your K-12 years.  Imagine those you left behind when you moved.  Now imagine having been on Facebook/Skype with all them for your entire life.   Conversely, imagine being unable to distance yourself.  Even if you unplug, the social network reality remains.  That bully or that enemy from middle school is going to continue popping up as "somebody you might know" because you share friends and data.   That argument you had in 9th grade on Facebook will always remain.  

The day will come when elementary school friends will die and still be on Facebook.  I can't get my head around this childhood-to-graveyard, seamless social reality.

I've lost touch with many childhood buddies.  Isn't that "natural"?
I moved quite a few times as a child and went to many different schools.   From the big city to a small one.   A central part of my adolescent development was about "getting out" of that small town life… about dreaming of new horizons.   Like many people, my life involves critical breaks from the past as I explored the world and essentially developed my identity.  How many of us had at least one time in their life where they just needed to break away?  Travel.  New friends.  New world.  It's one thing to reconnect with the past.  That is exciting.  It's entirely another matter to never disconnect.

Will today's youth ever be able to venture out "on their own" like youth of yesteryear?

As a writer, I find this question to be a powerful challenge.

Imagine if you could never truly break away?  Your elementary school, middle school, high school, and college "friends" are all right there on Facebook (or whatever)… for your entire life.   And there's no escaping mom and dad during college!  Now I respect that kids learn to negotiate and manage these online dynamics, sometimes purging "friends and family," but it still seems like a profoundly different developmental reality with this new type of social networking.   It isn't just a matter of privacy.

scene from The Hunger Games
Kids today seem pressured to think of themselves in terms of publicity and public relations on a level that we never had to worry about.   Remember being 14 and feeling like you were always on stage?  Even when alone, teens often feel that sense of eyes on them.  Do today's youth ever get to let go of that feeling?  Just think of all the news stories of online bullying, suicides, etc.  For them, there seems to be no sense of breaking free of the publicity and visibility (not the same thing as fame).  What does it mean to be "independent" in that panoptical context?  This seems like a great theme for YA writers to wrestle with.

Are we surprised that "unwanted publicity" themes explode in popular stories for youth?

scene from Harry Potter
I believe this theme is one of the reasons Hunger Games resonates so deeply.  The protagonist's life is at stake in how she manages unwanted, nearly seamless publicity.  This goes way beyond our worn discussions of reality television.  

However, I also wonder about the reverse side of this thematic coin.  

What will today's youth remember?  Will their life stories be too carefully managed and edited?  If you can never completely lose touch or distance yourself from it, then will you ever fully appreciate it?

Isn't the juicy stuff where our stories snap apart?

And in the fully-alive-but-blurry moments of complete privacy...  

"Don't it always seem to go...that you don't know what you've got till it's gone...
they paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

The Game Layer (inspired)

image from Storify

Are we heading into a world where everything is turned into gaming?  

Points for brushing your teeth?  For watching certain TV shows?  

Is gamification the next big revolution after social networking?  I think so, although I doubt we can completely predict exactly what this will mean in 10, 20, or 30 years from now.  Some of it may be easy to imagine (and perhaps scary), yet I suspect there will be unforeseeable dynamics and serendipity.

If you find the idea of gamification interesting, check out these two videos.  

Jesse Schell, DICE 2010: When Games Invade Real Life (full video here)

Seth Priebatsch, TED 2010:  Building the Game Layer on Top of the World

What do you think?

Microsoft has an entire research division devoted to this as well as a non-profit partner created with MIT (Education Arcade) to explore gaming implications for teaching and learning.

How will gamification change us?  Will it change how we feel about life?

Personal Drones (inspired)

Kids like power and cool things.

Can we imagine personal hoverbots/drones on the street in 10, 20, or 30 years?  What types of uses and capabilities will consumer drones offer in the years ahead?  Micro-drones, UAVs, nano quadcopters, octocopters, nano-drones, etc.  Whatever they end up being popularly called, how will they change our daily lives?

Check out these examples of what's already out there.  Truly inspiring.

An iPhone-controlled commercial toy/drone.

July '12 Update:

Browsing a Barnes & Noble in Florida, I spotted the "Parrot AR.Drone" from the first video.  If these are in B&N in mid-2012, then can you imagine what might be available in 10-20 years?

Why a blog? (reflection)

My students are my deepest inspiration for writing.

When I shifted from school system bureaucracy into the K-12 classroom, I created some personal narratives to model the writing process with my 6th graders.  The hook sank right into my bones.

For over three years now, the writing bug has woken me up early in the morning.

In this process, I've come to see myself as a writer-for-life.  As a professional challenge, it makes sense to share inspirations, reflections, and perhaps some reviews-of-sorts.  It's an exciting moment.

I'm currently revising a YA novel that's set in a near-future NYC.  My goal is to craft a book that youth will not be able to put down.  I want them to fight over copies.  I want them to pull out the book to read when they could (or should) be doing other things.  That's the dream.  This blog cannot be separated from this writing process - the joys, the hope, the strains, the moments of complete bafflement.

So, I just picked up Story Engineering by Larry Brooks as well as the Gotham Writers' Workshop text on fiction.  As impossible as it seems, I also hope to take a week to step back and reflect.  I'll probably dump quite a lot of posts and media during this time.  :)