Finding the Future at the End of the (Analog) World

A few short months ago I spent the night locked inside the New York Public Library, playing an adventure game with hundreds of strangers. Just recently, the fruit of our labor— a book— was officially entered into the Rare Books Collection. I haven’t yet made an appointment to see it (there is a PDF version  available), but with summer coming to a close, I thought it high time to share a bit about my experience.

 One Hundred Ways to Make History was artfully sewn together page by page as we wrote it, using a medieval binding technique. (Photos by Adrian Camoens).

You may recall this summer kicking off in a rather fictitious fashion, with billboards and posters popping up everywhere to warn us of the imminent end of our beloved world. A sliver of the population— fans of the radio personality behind the hoopla— began publicly detailing bittersweet plans to ‘wrap it up’ here on Earth and embark on eternal lives elsewhere. May 21st would be Rapture Day, and I’m guessing these people spent the night of May 20th wide-awake.
As did I. Less than 24 hours before Hell on Earth was scheduled to commence for most of us, I made my own ascent, up the steps of the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwartzman building. There I spent the night, exploring its treasures with 499 others and writing of a future in which hell remained a theoretical place, supposedly located beyond the reaches of Google Maps.
We’d been invited to play Find the Future: a game masterminded by game designer and author Jane McGonigal in celebration of the NYPL’s centennial. I’d first learned of the opportunity back in March during McGonigal’s delightfully interactive presentation at South by Southwest.
The energy in the main lobby of the library was palpable. Many of us had once read and were now reminiscing about the children’s book From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, in which two kids run away from home, hide in and then stay overnight at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The eloquent marble sculptures and high, palatial ceilings of the Schwartzman building had temporarily dwarfed us back into excited little children.
Jubilant cheers greeted Jane and her colleague when they appeared on either side of the marble stairs. We were asked to split into two teams, named for the lions guarding the building’s entrance— Fortitude and Patience. After a moment of indecision, I scampered over to Team Patience, figuring it would be made up of easy going, pleasant-to-work-with folks, and seeing it as an opportunity to balance out my fast-paced NYC influences.
Once the crowd parted, both teams were led to Rose Reading Room— our writing headquarters for the night. There, we learned that each team would be required to find and “unlock” 100 historical artifacts from the library’s private collection (for example, The Declaration of Independence in Thomas Jefferson’s handwriting, the stuffed animals that brought on A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh series, and Charles Dickens’ letter opener– crafted using his deceased cat Bob’s taxidermied paw).

These relics of past human progress would serve to inspire us as we collaboratively wrote a future-facing book, preemptively titled One Hundred Ways to Make History.

The guidelines were outlined for us in the form of The Seven Secrets. Our mission was to write a book in one night and, quite frankly, we’d be screwed without a strategy. Some, but not all, of these “secrets” proved useful. To sum them up:

1) The Secret of the Artifacts: One hundred objects from the library’s private collection were “hidden in plain sight.” The Find the Future app mapped out which objects lay in which room. Once found, we could unlock each object’s QR code to reveal more about it.

2) The Secret of the Powers: The powers represented strengths we’d need in order to change the world. They were transferred over in a remarkably sparkly manner on our smart phones as we unlocked the QR codes, but proved inconsequential in the context of the game.

The Powers, as explained online.

3) The Secret of the Stories: “These stories have never been told. You have to tell them,” Jane said of the artifacts on display in the library. After unlocking one, we could log in on the website to learn more about it. Each was paired with a future-focused prompt inspired by its own unique history. Some prompts required writing. Others, drawing or photography. Appropriately, many were collaborative tasks.

The Declaration of Independence prompt involved writing a declaration of one’s own, reading it aloud to everyone, and collecting the same number of signatures that Thomas Jefferson did. I signed this Declaration to Bad Ideas (they’re necessary on the route to good ones!) after its creator gave an impassioned tabletop speech.

After unlocking the Beatles Playing Cards, my squad formed a fictional (for now) band of our own.

4) The Secret of the Teams: Team Patience and Team Fortitude existed in the spirit of fun, informal competition, but we were in this together and teams were encouraged to help each other out.

5) The Secret of Collaboration: Within the teams, we’d divide into smaller squads to make working together more manageable. Each team had to unlock every artifact and contribute roughly 300 pages, based on 100 prompts. Success meant that every player authored something in the final book— which they did.

6) The Secret of the Clock: In order to finish the book on time and win, deadlines were crucial. Stories one through five had to be submitted by 11 pm, stories six through fifteen by midnight, with another deadline hitting every hour or so until the last one, at 4:30 am. Also important to note: Certain rooms closed hours earlier than others.

Page 596 is made up of 4:30 am responses to a prompt inspired by Ernest Hemmingway’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech. We were to imagine awards we might win in the future and write speeches of our own. Mine was ‘The Award That Keeps On Awarding.” I guess I prefer a trophy that creates value over one that takes up valuable apartment space. We were credited by our user names.

7) The Secret of the Stacks: Only thirty people per day have access to the library’s underground stacks. That night, we were allowed fifteen-minute tours, of no ordinary sort. Five hundred messages “from the future” awaited us and we were each tasked with finding one and delivering it to its intended recipient. There was also a secret phrase to decode, which we’d use henceforth to identify ourselves as members of the “Find the Future First 500.”

I delivered the message I found with a little help from our Facebook group. (I posted my cell number and had the guy text me). Others walked around with blown up Facebook profile pictures, calling out names. There was even a designated corner where phone numbers and locations loitered on post-its, encouraging individuals to seek out their destinies.

We still don’t know what our shared code phrase, now de-coded, will give us access to. My first guess was freedom from library fees, but I’m not so secretly hoping for something more interesting.

The evening came to a close around 6 a.m. with tired but mostly happy players signing the last pages of the book, which was completed on time but for the binding. In true “pencils down” fashion, it exists as an unedited collection of thoughts, and for the rest of the year, anyone can contribute their own ideas by playing the game online. Who knows how many volumes will be completed by the end of 2011…

Photo courtesy of Adrian Camoens.

One thing is certain. The library itself escaped a massive budget cut (as I’m sure was the plan), following the Find the Future event and related publicity. Now it can continue on in search of its own future. (Cough. Old book scented e-books, please).

It’s already on its way with this ongoing, interactive game.

(See more great photos from the event on Flickr).


Born What Way? Lady Gaga Unlabeled

If you haven’t heard it, you’ve heard about it.

Lady Gaga’s new song, “Born This Way,” hit the airwaves Friday, about two weeks after she leaked the lyrics to the world via Twitter and five months after she initially teased a crowd with a line from the chorus. As usual, the pop icon is 100 percent confident about and invested in what she’s doing. The rest of us — “little monsters” included — are expressing everything from ecstatic support, to apprehension, disappointment, or even disgust after hearing the single.

(Video updated after the Grammy’s to show Lady Gaga performing ‘Born This Way’ for the first time).

Gaga has never suffered from a lack of attention, and reactions to her work tend to be as dramatic as the songs and videos themselves. Currently, critics are having a conniption over the undeniable similarities that exist between the melodies of “Born This Way” and Madonna hits “Express Yourself” and “Vogue,” while most of her adoring fans continue to defend their “Mother Monster” with conviction. It’s bewildering and amusing to watch label after label, good and bad, come out of the woodwork to pigeon-hole the singer into one stereotype or another in response to a song that’s so obviously meant to be a message of equality and freedom. So, what do you think — is she the second coming of Madonna? A Madge plagiarizer and stalker?Our generation’s John Lennon,” as one of her fans recently boasted?

Such comparisons are provoking (especially to already-upset, over-sensitive Beatles fans) and an effective way to get the masses all stirred up, but they’re hardly thought-provoking.

To equate her with a legendary predecessor — one of the many artists who’ve inspired her — is lazy.  Gaga is hyper-aware of what’s been done by the greats of pop-culture’s past. She pays homage to them all the time, and rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, I’d argue that she is picking up where they left off in order to push the boundaries even further. The top-selling song on iTunes right now is a pop song casually using the word “transgendered.” This is without a doubt Gaga’s breakthrough, but naturally she couldn’t have done it alone.

Lady Gaga’s expert use of digital resources to promote her songs and her agenda in the fight for equal rights is also worth noting. She may not be the first to equate race with sexual orientation, but Madonna doesn’t tweet at senators and activate her community of fans the way Gaga does. She’s responding to what she sees happening in today’s culture, negatively affecting today’s underdogs (the LGBT community) and is using today’s technology to fight back.

In a 2009 Barbara Walters interview, Lady G. actually removes her sunglasses to explain the goal of her music, performances and activism, albeit vaguely, saying, “I aspire to try to be a teacher to my young fans who feel just like a felt when I was younger….I guess what I’m trying to say is I want to liberate them…I want to free them of their fears and make them feel like they can create their own space in the world.”

Patricia Grisafi, who is pursuing her Ph.D in American Literature, has written of Lady Gaga as a pop culture and feminist icon. Skimming through the song, she was less than impressed.

“I’m disappointed because I consider it to be overwhelmingly clichéd,” she said, “but if you’re going to appeal to a mass audience, if that’s who she’s writing the song for…it’s perfect.”

She speaks of one of two groups Gaga is targeting with “Born This Way,” which is, when it comes down to it, a strategic communications message. The entire album will be dedicated to her “little monsters,” who feel like outcasts in society, but it is also meant to get the masses — those responsible for making Gaga’s “monsters” feel bad about themselves — dancing and thinking differently.

Without ever hearing the melody, Patricia commented that “Born This Way” was reminiscent of Madonna’s “Vogue,” but, unlike other critics, she notes plenty of stylistic differences between the two culture-shaping performers.

“Lady Gaga is more fashionable and more interested in the avant-garde than Madonna,” she commented. “From Gaga, I expect darker, more visceral songs.”

I, too, was surprised by the simplistic, uber-cheery anthem and can understand why people might accuse Gaga of ripping Madonna off, but I also agree with the ‘hausofgaga’ blogger who called “Born This Way” Lady Gaga’s answer to two criticisms often thrown her way: that she is constantly ripping off Madonna without crediting her, and that she’s always going on about her monsters and gay this and that, and then producing club songs that only diverge from popular norms in very abstract ways.

It doesn’t get much more in-your-face than “Born This Way.” Although I won’t be replaying the song endlessly myself, I’m looking forward to seeing Gaga perform it live at the Grammys tonight and wouldn’t be surprised to see Madonna sitting front and center, wearing a knowing smile.

In the meantime: If earlier this week you missed Ellen, Justin Bieber and James Blunt setting the lyrics of the then-unreleased song to music, their predictions of what it would sound like were hilarious.

Cross-posted on The Next Great Generation blog.

Werner Herzog Directs Us Into Humanity’s Past and the Post-Digital Future

I recently attended a screening of director Werner Herzog’s latest documentary: Cave of Forgotten Dreams. The film, narrated by Herzog himself, invites us on a journey into the depths of France’s famed Chauvet Cave. Over a period of an hour and half, the oldest human-created cave art in known existence – in pristine condition from over 27,000 years ago – is unveiled, interspersed with insights and reactions from various archaeologists and historians.

After the discussion post-screening between Werner and New Yorker journalist Judith Thurman, it struck me: If Herzog weren’t busy being the talented filmmaker he is, he could be invaluable asset at a digital agency.

Here are four takeaways from a night with Werner that are undeniably relevant when it comes to creating digital that works:

1. Study people with extreme viewpoints

In his discussion with Thurman, Herzog explained his disinterest in what he calls “the phonebook of facts.” Anybody can look up a fact. Facts aren’t what make people interesting. It’s their interests, opinions and feelings that do.

Herzog’s personal mission in his career and in life is to uncover “the ecstatic truth.” He speaks of the sort of unifying, underlying truth UX designers and digital strategists seek out on a daily basis, in order to provide people with experiences that are both useful and enjoyable. This type of truth is elusive because people rarely articulate their actual wants and needs when asked flat out. We need to sit back and observe to uncover them- and it’s best to zoom out when choosing whom to watch. Looking beyond the average user of a site or service (at opposite ends of the spectrum) in the research phase will bring us closer to the core truth needed to spark a great idea and truly connect with one another.

Herzog’s path to gaining insights on humanity as a whole has been one spent studying extreme topics and people. If lines can be drawn between an über-careful and responsible archaeologist (Cave of Forgotten Dreams) and a man who spent 13 consecutive summers living alone with wild grizzly bears in Alaska (Grizzly Man), there is a good chance the rest of us share the same basic human want, need or inherent characteristic.

As professionals working in the post-digital age, we should observe and talk to “extreme users” – not just the average Jane or Joe (do they even really exist?) – when creating a product or service for a group of people. This might be the best approach to devising an experience that works for more of us.

2. Make every decision with the design of the overall experience in mind

Cave of Forgotten Dreams was presented entirely in 3D. It would be easy to dismiss this choice as being trendy and gratuitous, but the reality is that many factors were taken into consideration, from the Paleolithic people’s utilization of the cave’s curves in their paintings (The drawings almost appear to be moving as they strategically follow the indents and bulges of the cave’s inner walls), to Herzog’s desire to thread a strong element of mystery throughout the length of the film, representing the 30,000 years of unknowns separating our culture from that of the artists. Also taken into account were scientists’ estimations of how the early humans may have experienced the space.

Werner fully understands the story at hand before he decides how to tell it and we it would behoove us to follow suit in digital. If executional tactics are chosen too soon and without good reason, entire projects end up ringing false. Tactics are what bring ideas to life – not vice versa.

It’s important we focus on story first, so that the world might see more work with honest, organic depth to it.

3. Build on the ideas of others

As the film crew shone their flashlights on the cave art, it became apparent that some drawings had been added onto or covered up by newer versions of rhinoceroses, cave bears, etc, up to 5,000 years later. At this point Herzog’s disembodied voice comments, rather cryptically but poignantly, on what he takes this to mean: “We were locked in history and they were not.”

He may be alluding to being locked in a post-Paleolithic, but now outdated, mindset. At some point, our penchant for adding onto one another’s ideas fell by the wayside in favor of ownership and copyrights. Laws came into existence, asking us to act counter-intuitively when doing creative work.

A September Wall Street Journal article, entitled The Genius of the Tinkerer, provides an in-depth exploration of our history of mass collaboration and what was actually a well-intentioned change in approach. Author Steven Johnson points to the fact that the walls (both literal and legislative) currently separating people and ideas were, ironically, erected “to encourage innovation.” He also states that all ideas, past and present, are “works of bricolage.” The new ones evolve from combining and/or riffing off of the old, and more minds pooling together means a bigger bank of ideas and viewpoints with which to innovate.

In the end when we create interactive work, Herzog’s abstractly articulated observation is actually an astute one worth recalling. It’s always a good idea to ask ourselves: “Are we producing something relevant, that somehow acknowledges and builds off of the path that culture is taking?” A “Yes” to that question will likely lead to other people embracing and adding onto the work.

4. Have a point of view about what you’ve learned

The discussion after the screening would have been far less interesting had Werner, as the inquirer, omitted his own musings from the film.

This is smart behavior when it comes to social media. It’s not enough to have an insight and communicate it to people. If you want to generate passion around what you’re talking about, you need to demonstrate your own passion for the subject in the way you communicate. If your goal is to curate, you can still include your own ruminations as a preface or after-thought to the content you’re curating. If you’ve chosen to share it, you must feel one way or another about it. Take a minute to take a stance, whether it’s in the form of a question you’re mulling over or a more overt comment.

To return to the more intangible truth, never be afraid to bring an insight- or even the breadcrumbs of an insight you’re chasing- to the attention of others in your own way. As people, we like to care, and we’ll care about what you’re saying if it’s clear that you do.

This post was originally published on the Big Spaceship Think blog.

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Movie Plots Upgrade with Social Media

The last decade has witnessed both the emergence and evolution of social networking sites. Not one of the platforms we’re familiar with today is more than seven years old, yet they’ve become an essential form of everyday communication. First came Friendster and MySpace, neither a threat to AIM, in 2003. “The Facebook,” confined to the safer world of college, became a friend to many in 2004. YouTube made everyone a star in 2005 and Twitter began gaining loyal followers in 2006. Naturally, an interactive marketing explosion coincided with all of this.

As Facebook gained momentum and opened up as a business, corporations created fan pages at warp speed, including film studios, which began harnessing the power of social media to energize moviegoers. The Twilight Saga page, which focuses on the next film due out in the series, has garnered over 12 million “likes.” Paranormal Activity launched a campaign that included a “tweet your scream” promo.

So isn’t it time movie content caught up with the marketing?

Kurt Vonnegut once said, “Novels that leave out technology misrepresent life as badly as Victorians misrepresented life by leaving out sex.” I believe that films taking place in modern-day, first world countries will soon be equally difficult for people – especially our generation – to relate to if social media is omitted. A character’s exclamation of  “Why doesn’t he answer his phone?!” is going to be received with annoyed grumblings of “Who does?”

The Social Network, due out in October and often referred to as “the Facebook movie,” is highly anticipated by almost everyone I know, whether they expect to sincerely enjoy the film or sincerely enjoy mocking it.

I remember people discussing ideas for shows and movies based around social networks back in 2007, and wondering why nothing was materializing. But Facebook has broadened its reach considerably in the last several years and now my mom’s Boomer friends will probably see the movie (she herself hasn’t signed up yet), in addition to those in Gens X and Y. In 2007, it probably would’ve been Gen Y alone at the ticket booth. Well played, Hollywood.

People are ready to see social-networking-inspired movies, which explains why The Social Network is one of three opening this fall. Both The Virginity Hit (09/10) and Catfish (09/17) will grace theaters first. Luckily, neither film is fully based on a website (like Twittamentary or Googled: The End of the World as We Know It, both sure to be streamed by Silicon Valley types).

Instead, the stories are supposedly enhanced by casual use of such sites within the context of the plots.The Virginity Hit is American Pie for today’s high school crowd, but this time protagonist Matt is the only virgin in his group of friends, who aim to help him change that – oh and YouTube exists now, so, you guessed it! Matt’s pals plant cameras in an attempt to document his journey, and naturally upload a video or two, much to his initial dismay. See the trailer for the heart-warming (no, seriously, it’s familiar and oddly comforting) scene where friends are beside themselves watching their own YouTube videos. Nobody I spoke to will pay to see it, but most laughed at least once during the trailer. The filmmakers are Will Ferrell and Adam McKay.

Catfish is a reality thriller directed by Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost, which premiered at Sundance to rave reviews. In summary, Ariel’s younger photographer brother Nev is contacted by Abby, a talented eight-year-old who wants to do a painting of a photo he took. He ends up talking to Abby’s older sister Megan, and the two converse regularly through the site and via phone, essentially dating before ever meeting. Ariel and Henry film the budding relationship and eventually the trio heads to Megan’s family’s farm, with the help of Google Maps. That’s when everything changes.

That’s also undoubtedly when Dateline, worried parents and social media skeptics will begin discussing how the film validates their distrust of the Internet. Bloggers recommend seeing the movie knowing as little as possible going in, but clearly Rogue Pictures disagrees, providing a groundbreaking way to explore what the film’s all about with this voyeuristic website.

Unsurprisingly at the Sundance screening, there were questions surrounding how “real” the story is (the directors claim it unfolded naturally). Regardless, the way the trailer is shot reminds me a little bit of The Blair Witch Project – creepy enough that I now have to see it to regain my peace of mind.

I’ll end this post with some stalking candy: you can find characters from Catfish on Facebook and Twitter.

Cross-posted on The Next Great Generation blog.

‘Life During Wartime’ and War During Our Lifetimes

I’m going to be writing about independent film once a month for The Next Great Generation blog. This is my first piece, on Todd Solondz’s Life During Wartime.


“Imagine a world where nobody pretends,” muses Shirley Henderson as the always positive, but chronically depressed character, Joy, in Life During Wartime.

She speaks not of child’s play.

The film is Todd Solondz’s indirect follow-up to his 1998 indie hit, Happiness. Ostensibly, it’s ten years later and we are looking into the complicated lives of the same three sisters, still injected to the max with pathos of every sort.

The youngest, Joy, lives this way quite willingly, as a wise, but angst-ridden, criminal psychologist aiming to help the floundering resolve their issues and function in the society she herself has trouble with. Trish, an everything’s-going-to-be-fine-type mother of three, wants nothing more than to leave behind her messy past, in which she was married to a pedophile, and start anew. The third sister, star-powered screenwriter Helen, seems to have lost any ability to see the world through non-narcissistic eyes.

The characters are all played by different actors than in Happiness – a bold move that usually hurts the end result – but in this case, the change of faces adds to the writer/director’s exploration of who people are, versus who they pretend to be.

Poignant and often uncomfortable, Solondz is once again confrontational when illustrating how ill-equipped humanity is when it comes to dealing with trauma and coming to terms with the truth, specifically in regards to life in post-9/11 America.

This movie takes a darkly funny look at the personal battle each of us faces with empathy and forgiveness and details the lengths we’ll go to in order to pretend and/or forget, when we aren’t able to forgive.

Self-forgiveness is explored too, and in the bleakest of circumstances, showcasing the difficulty in admitting a mistake when its consequences are grave and everlasting. Hello, subconscious realm. Hello, ghosts of the suicidal, begging the living to change the unchangeable past by looking at it differently, emotionally. Hello, post-war thoughts on where we went wrong. Oh, wait – aren’t we still at war? Title.

Every character we meet in the film is in the process of turning a new leaf in one way or another. Trish herself is loving Florida (“It’s the perfect place to start over!”) and the new portly, older guy in her life, whose very normality is enough to earn her undying affection. Joy is struggling with her husband Allen’s relapse into drugs and perverted behaviors and heads to Florida to take a break from the marriage (she is our ticket into the other sisters’ lives), Helen is struggling with her overwhelming success as a writer (woe is she).

Central to the theme, however, is the turmoil Trish’s younger son Timmy is experiencing, as he prepares to Bar Mitzvah into manhood while coming to grips with the fact that his father isn’t at all the man he’d seemed to be.

Young Timmy asks a lot of questions – brave ones that the adults are weary of answering, because of the deeper issues that might be dredged up. His mother is stunned and disturbed by Timmy’s inquiries, specifically regarding terrorists – could they be forgiven if they had good reasons? The boy then poses the question:

“What happens when you can forget, but can’t forgive?”

Solondz is hinting that even though, as a nation, we’ll never forgive the terrorists, we seem semi-willing to forget about the attacks of 9/11 and all the darkness of the past decade, if it will help us return to a more carefree lifestyle.

Timmy speaks about freedom and democracy, things he doesn’t comprehend, in a way that screams, “I want something to believe in!”

We all witnessed the narrative morph between September 11 and when we officially went to war in the spring of 2003, redirecting our anger from Osama bin Laden to Saddam Hussein in a way that was insulting to even a child’s intelligence. People self-editing their own lives won’t go down in history, but it’s something deeply human we can all relate to. When wartime spans an entire decade, it inevitably becomes a backdrop (except for those with loved ones in the Middle East, who think about the war every day) and a norm.

Although Gen Y can definitely remember the years between the Gulf and current wars and even pre-Gulf War years, most of our “adult” lives have taken place post-9/11. It’s hard to remember what it’s like to not be on Orange Alert. Then again, even when the U.S. wasn’t actively in a war, I can remember my dad closely monitoring one on the six ‘o clock news.

Is humanity hopelessly addicted to the battlefield, or will we eventually see a generation of people who tackle monumental problems in some other way? What role will technology play?

I want to believe that there are war-free days ahead but regardless of what’s in store for international relations, the psychological battles happening within individual people, dealing with forgiving, forgetting, honesty and self-preservation, are sure to remain omnipresent.

Let’s just hope most of us can avoid having to live at the level of dysfunction Solondz prescribes for his protagonists in Life During Wartime.

Destroying the “lizard brain”

I recently read “Linchpin” by Seth Godin- it was extremely refreshing and inspiring at the same time. Throughout the book, Godin equates the fear of shipping- meaning getting ideas out of one’s head and into the world- to being controlled by “the lizard brain.” I think it’s a problem faced by anyone who’s ever so much as wanted to create something.

In class at BDW, we were challenged to destroy an image using only compression. I decided to create my lossy using this photo I took of a lizard while backpacking through Australia in 2005.

Goodbye, lizard…brain and all. It’s time to ship, get feedback, reiterate and ship again.

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Group ideation: headlines and press releases

In my last post, I mentioned that the next project- really the first big one of note at Boulder Digital Works- would be coming up with a public art installation to improve the experience in the alley next to our downtown Boulder schoolhouse. The assignment is nebulous to say the least and there are limited funds, but what we will certainly have by March is a prototype of some sort: most likely a video or Arduino prototype.

After two weeks of heavy research, (we investigated the physical space we’re working with, city restrictions, the people who use it, when it gets the heaviest traffic, how neighboring business owners feel about it, and researched similar project spaces around the world) the ten of us are diving into ideation together. Once themes emerge, the plan is to break into three smaller groups and continue the process.

Ten people could easily turn into an unproductive brainstorming session, but Ivan Perez-Armenderez and Peyton Lindley, of Crispin Porter Bogusky and Effective UI, respectively, have armed us with an efficient way to go about it.

Step one: Individually, turn each idea we have for the space into a headline. Step two: As a group, go through all of them and cut the list down to ten headlines/ideas. Step three: Everyone write a press release based on one of those ten headlines.

Below are some of the headlines I submitted, as well as my press release.

Idea headlines:

1. Boulder Digital Works Students Turn Timesaving Shortcut Into Spare Time Aggregator

2. Boulderites Contribute Thoughts Via Texting and Touchscreen Technology to Newly Unveiled ‘Vocal Corridor,’ Watch in Awe as Town’s Mood is Summarized with Projections, Lights, Sound

3. Going Beyond a Face: Magic Binoculars Quietly Introduce You to Those Nearby as You Pass Through Recently Unveiled ‘Voyeur-Way.’

4. Nineteenth Century Boulder Alive and Well Between Walnut and Pearl Streets.

5. Experience History Through the Eyes of the Future In the Smarter Universe Located Between Pearl and Walnut Streets

6. Lane of the Lost: Boulder Students Turn Well-Trafficked Passageway Into High-Tech Lost and Found

7. The New Letter to the Editor: Boulderites Speak Up About Their Town’s Best Attributes, Make Submissions Heard Via Light and Sound Graffiti.

8. New ‘Friend-Way’ Connects People By Amplifying Each Passer-By’s Presence with Spotlights and Sounds Unique to Walking Style

9. Take a Thought-Provoking Journey Through the Seven Stereotypes of Boulder in Revamped Alleyway

10. Taking Boulder’s Temperature: Experiment Listens, Defines the Boulder Psyche Via Instant Messaging ‘Hallway Pass’

11. Local Artists Perform In Voyeuristic New ‘Reality Channel;’ Traffic Doubles

Press Release:

Students Turn Timesaving Shortcut Into Spare Time Aggregator with Collective Mood Display

Boulderites are saving a lot of time between Pearl and Walnut Streets but until now, they didn’t know just how much was building up.

BOULDER, CO, February 16, 2010–Natives, students, transplants, tourists, families, the young and old, the busy and the bored: more people than not have cut through the arched alleyway in downtown Boulder to save time while getting from Walnut to Pearl Street or vice versa. It’s only a few minutes lopped off your trip, but, over time, it adds up.

Eleven grad students at Boulder Digital Works are doing some major math, and art, figuring out just what the sum of that equation is and what joy it might bring to all of us passing through.

The recently unveiled public art installation, which lives in the aforementioned shortcut between 9th and 11th streets, connecting Walnut and Pearl, uses motion sensor technology and digital displays to collect time in three minute increments- the average amount of time one person saves by taking the shortcut instead of circumnavigating the block.

As the total amount of time saved by Boulderites changes, the imagery on the website dedicated to the project,, also evolves to reflect what might be done with the current “extra time” count. Suggestions and voting on what to do with the time aggregated by the end of the installation’s quarterly run is also on the site. Those who live or work in Boulder are invited to watch the vote change and chat with one another about it.

The other leg to the joyful installation keeps tabs on the ever-changing morale of Boulderites- both those using the alley on a daily basis and those passing through Pearl Street Mall several blocks away. Pedestrians can select the facial expression that best represents their moods from an array of emoticons available on either of two touch screen booths (one at each location). Through an impressive light and sound display, mainly in the time-aggregating alley, but with hints of light accenting other shortcuts throughout the city, people will be able to see and influence the local mood in real time. If not nearby the booths, one can opt to submit his or her mood via text or on the site, which is mainly dedicated to the race to save free-time, but has a “mood gauge” in the corner, along with the selection of emoticons, to participate in that vein of the project.

Local businesses are excited about the opportunities the project has opened up for them.

“I’ve been able to get specials from the restaurant onto the SpareTimeBoulder website, to show people what deliciousness they might experience with the growing amount time on their hands,” commented an amused manager from Brasserie TenTen.

Several other businesses have also added fun offerings and giveaways into the mix, on the site.

When the alarms on the piggy bank-esque time aggregators sound off, the period allotted to save as much time as possible has ended. All of the imagined ways to spend it can still be seen on the project website and, because it was up to citizens to decide what to do with the time, the final mood displayed is bound to be a good one.


See what sort of time is on our hands and how we’re feeling right now at


Erin McHugh

I think this was a fun way to concept in a large group. Thanks, Peyton and Ivan! Really looking forward to the prototyping process…