My job is storytelling – peoples’ stories, corporate histories, stories of big needs and big challenges, personal moments, things learned and passed on. I’ve done a story that shares the lore of a lakeside cabin, one about an adult child’s devotion to mom’s cooking, and a salute to a family’s golden retriever that was part kid, part nanny and part saint.
Nearly three years ago, I started up a conversation with with Denim and Steel’s Todd Sieling and Tylor Sherman, and product designer Kaishin Chu about the possibilities for digital storytelling. We didn’t have an unconference in mind, but it surfaced pretty quickly. The four of us got seriously excited. It seemed like the natural extension of Todd and Tylor’s concept for a forum where people with tech and non-tech creative skills could come together. No insistence on outcomes, just a keen interest in what this kind of enriched chemistry might produce.
So, an unconference? I didn’t have the vaguest idea what that entailed. I had worked on conventional conferences before, and the stress those events produce didn’t carry much appeal. To get me started, the concept was outlined and I was given links to explore. I did my reading but remained pretty skeptical. I could appreciate the immediacy and power of the self-organizing, creative ideal, but figured it could just as easily devolve into a free-for-all, unfocused mess. But, my three comrades were eloquent and compelling, so I braved it out.
July 10, 2012, the day of the first Digital Storytelling Unconference. Fifty-plus people arriving at the New Westminster Network Hub (At the River Market on Westminster Quay – the view alone is worth the visit). Lots of friendly milling. People moving together and then apart and then together again, many times. On cue we collect in the Network Hub’s main meeting space. After a quick welcome, and quicker explanation of a few ground rules, we launch.
Thirty-second pitch slam not what I expect at all. It stokes the group energy. My turn. I stand up, speed through my session pitch (all about what I call life mapping, in just under 30 seconds, I reckon) and I sit down. Then the self-selection part that I am the most curious, and the most skeptical, about. We swarm the bulletin board to mull the pitch options written on Post-it Notes. Only a couple of moments of seeming confusion while choices are recorded, then a return to seats. The day is set. I’ve never seen a menu of possibilities so quickly parsed into a working schedule.
I decide to surrender my cynicism to the day. I’m excited now. A pause to review and clarify then we head to first sessions. Lots of talk in hallways and quick, impromptu meetings out in the Market concourse in front of the Network Hub.
From a year’s distance the energy resonance is clear, a good hum that I can still conjure – ideas still percolating. Most details are blurring now. But I remember the guy, Todd Smith of Motion Design, who sparked my interest with an idea he had about an interviewing technique he called “Breadcrumbing.” And there was the woman, seeking help for her community organization to get the success stories of kids at risk out to a wider audience.
I haven’t had a day like DSU in a very long time, where I found myself so juiced. I was surrounded by strangers who shared some of my questions about how community can be made stronger through digital storytelling. DSU Vancouver 2013 can only be better.
John Wellwood is the Creative Director at Echo Memoirs, an attendee and sponsor for this year’s Digital Storytelling Unconference, held at The Network Hub this coming Saturday, July 13 from 9:30am to 5:30pm. Your $25 (+ fees) ticket registers you for the event, plus gets you lunch and refreshments for the day. You can find them on Twitter @DSUVancouver or check out their website at www.digitalstorytellingunconference.org for more info.