On thursday i had the pleasure of attending my first symposium at FACT in Liverpool. Not really knowing what a symposium was i was a little wary about what lay in store. I must admit for the first half an hour i felt totally out of my depth as i realised that the speakers seemed to have digested an academic dictionary before attending the session – and i wondered if it was also going over the heads of the other attendees?

The symposium was opened by the curator of Fact – Omar Kholeif, and incredibly well informed man, who was just a wealth of information on the ever changing role of the narrative.Omar introduced the type of questions that would be considered during the symposium as:-

*has the internet changed the way we  tell stories or give out information?

* has it altered our attention spans?

* has it made us more or less engaged?

* what role has the hyper-linked society?

* how can social media be used to its full capacity in narrative formulation?

Omar discussed whether the internet had changed the way we looked at things – with reference to art he mentioned the website http://www.artplayer.tv/  where art can be explored in a virtual environment, through the internet. My initial thought was that this saddened me a little as so much of art is experienced by actually being within its presence, but then i suppose if the art is conveyed in a digital  format then there wouldn’t be that much difference would there? However we seem to be breeding a world of solitary experiences, encouraging the use of the internet, the computer, the viewing of the digital format……..i tried to be open minded as i listened to the speakers throughout the afternoon…..

As i am very interested in the effect digital media has on our imagination and also our engagement in a narrative i was really looking forward to listening to this symposium. The list of speakers were :-

Andy Campbell – writer and media artist

Andy presented an interactive experience called ‘inanimate alice’. This is a digital experience that unfolds over multiple platforms, the series producer being Ian Harper of the Bradfield Company (http://brad-field.info)  and the writer being Kate Pullinger. He says that there is no book,TV or film series attached to it, and that it is designed to be read from the screen only.He classes is as a ‘digital novel’, where technology meets literature! Originally it was purely web based but it then morphed into being used in the classrooms (on interactive whiteboards) and they have found that because of the interactive aspect of it it is actually encouraging young learners to use their literacy skills, and has also inspired people all over the world to develop their own episodes.

Inanimate Alice uses text, sound, images, games and much more. It tries to get maximum participation from its users,by including games and such like where the reader has to complete tasks as well as reading in order to progress ( i am wondering though at this stage what makes the experience that much different to a Playstation or Xbox game where most of the time participants are having to read and problem solve to progress through the game? – Have they worked out the fact that as kids are so pre occupied with gaming that they may as well include it in the reading experience or else they will not be able to compete? On first looking at inanimate alice i felt totally over stimulated with all the digital information that was being thrown at me.At one point there is a mobile phone on one side of the screen where you are supposed to be taking part in a game, whilst also reading the text at the other side and also listening to some very upbeat sounds and seeing moving colours and lights – all a bit too much for me, whether that is because i have ‘irlens’ syndrome ‘i don’t know, or whether it is to do with my age and the fact that i am not a ‘gamer’ and am not used to it i don’t know.

Here is a teacher called Sarah Brownsword who does a pretty good job at explaining what it is all about:-

You can also experience this more on the official website – http://www.inanimatealice.com/

I think i am going to test this site out on my 12 year old and let him play on it and give me some feedback, as at the end of the day it is kids of his age that will probably get the most out of it.

I was concerned though about the effect on the imagination in children and whether or not we are just flooding their senses by over stimulating them. I was pleased to hear Andy say that as Alice herself is never shown in the episodes young children have actually been encouraged to draw alice and create their own. This is good, but i did wonder why they could not encourage more participation with reference to creativity – it is not all about a child’s ability to read – it is about children’s ability to also be able to create from what they read!! They did however mention that there are only 4 episodes so far and that they think that episode 5 may consist of contribution from others, so that in itself is quite creative, however as this application is aimed at all ages, i wonder if they could create one that is only geared at children and included much more scope for children to create their own characters, sounds etc?

I may post again after my sons experience!