Jonathan Harris is one of the foremost artists of the digital era, exploring technology, data, stats, storytelling and visual art at personal and planetary scales. My own interest in storytelling platforms emerged from one of his most recent works, Cowbird, described as a witness to life.
Cowbird is notable in that the motivation is not to create rich, featured software, but to develop community, voices and meaning amongst its participants. In an expansive exploration of his body of work, Harris recently reflected on the impact of Cowbird and the distortion of storytelling metaphors…
Storytelling, which used to be a reasonably small niche populated by organizations like This American Life,The Moth, and StoryCorps, was suddenly everywhere. Every advertising agency was now a “storytelling agency,” every ad campaign was now a “storytelling campaign,” and every app was now a “storytelling tool.” Storytelling had gone mainstream and become one of those words — like “sustainability” and “innovation”– that’s so ubiquitous as to be basically meaningless. Yet through all this, I was riding the wave.
Despite the noisy and unfolding ecosphere of storytelling platforms, Cowbird retains a unique perspective by orienting itself around personal and meaninggful content. The service recently launched another community storytelling project – All Together Now – with the Center for Digital Storytelling, collecting intergenerational stories of civil and human rights.
Read Harris’ retrospective of his work at… transom.org