The kids are amazing

Recently I had a number of encounters with a group of people that I find absolutely fascinating. In fact they are so amazing, so bright, so intelligent, so knowledgeable and at the same time so humble, that to me they feel like a new breed of humankind. I met them in Germany where I live, in Mexico, in the States (places where I recently traveled), I find them on the internet. Those people are well educated open minded young adults, up to 25 years of age. Those are humans that grew up in the time of digital. Kids that, while their brains were assembled did not exercise in watching TV (as I did) but exercised in playing computer-games and using the internet.

Gonzalo Álvarez at Vertice Transmedia Conference in Mexico-City, Oct, 2018 

I was never a gamer, but I realized early on, that if you practice playing computer games, it must be a different kind of practice for the brain and therefor lead to a different wiring of the brain, that leads to a different kind of thinking. And I said 15 years ago, that when these kids are grownups, they will be able to think thoughts, that we might not even be able to understand, but those thoughts will be amazing. Those kids grew up now. You meet them at conferences, they deliver papers, they become visible by expressing themselves making music, uploading stuff to YouTube (for sure they become visible at more places, these are just the places I find them).

What makes them so fantastic is the effortlessness how they seem to be able to connect different bits of information from various fields of expertise. They seem not to be bound by the borders of particular areas of thinking. They are open-minded to an extend that I was not, when I was their age (and I always considered myself to be an open-minded person). Those kids are beautiful and it is sheer pleasure to watch them think.

Those kids know, what they don’t know and they are not afraid say that. I remember being that age and I was so full of myself. I knew, what I knew and that was a lot and in certain fields often times more than the elders. But I was not able to see what I don’t know and it took me many, many years to learn.

And because those kids that know so much, also know, what they don’t know, they are not afraid to ask others for help. This way they are able to collaborate in a way that I never was and maybe never will be.

I am not sure if all the kids are like that. Probably not. Maybe there are those kids that TV loves to portrait so often: The casualties of the digital, the kids that live in their parents’ basement, play computer games, smoke weed and suffer depression.

I personally never met one, but of course that does not mean they don’t exist. Those kids don’t show up at conferences or ask me for an interview. Certainly, I am just talking about the top of the iceberg. But the young top of the iceberg is so much more impressive than the top of the iceberg when I was young!

An other recent text about the same topic.

Das Neue Denken

Aufgewachsen mit Computerspielen, dem Internet und der Allgegenwärtigkeit von Wissen und Kultur, wächst eine neue Generation heran, die einer neuen Art des Denkens fähig ist. Es ist die Fähigkeit, die Welt gleichzeitig aus vielen Perspektiven betrachten zu können.

Die Jungen verfügen zwar noch nicht über so viel Erfahrung, wie die Alten, doch Erfahrung kommt mit der Zeit. Irgendwann werden die Jungen die Alten an Erfahrung eingeholt haben.

Dann werden die Jungen neue Muster sehen können, zusätzlich zu den alten. Die Alten werden diese Muster womöglich noch nicht einmal wahrnehmen können. Denn das Alte Denken macht dafür blind. Das Neue Denken integriert das Alte Denken und die, die des Neuen Denkens fähig sind, können sehen, was die Alten sehen und noch viel mehr.

Dann werden die Jungen mit dem Neuem Denken die Erfahrungen und das Wissen auf bisher unvorstellbar kluge Art kombinieren.

Anstatt zu versuchen die Alten mühselig vom neuen Denken zu überzeugen, sollten wir unsere Energie besser darauf verwenden, zusammen mit den Jungen die Welt von morgen aufzubauen.

Die Zukunft gestern

Der Mensch unterscheidet sich von allen anderen Lebewesen auf dem Planeten, durch seine Fähigkeit, Erfindungen zu machen. Der Mensch erfindet neue Techniken, neue Geschichten, neue Gesellschaftsformen.

Die längste Zeit der Menschheitsgeschichte betrug der Abstand, der zwischen revolutionären Erfindungen lag, viele Generationen. Und es dauerte Generationen, bis sich Erfindungen verbreiteten.

Seit dreihundert Jahren beschleunigt sich das Tempo, in dem der Mensch Erfindungen macht immer mehr.

Wenn ich mich daran erinnere, wie es war, als ich das erste mal im WOM war. Das WOM, in München – WOM stand für Word of Music, meine Mutter hatte mich hingebracht. Im WOM konnte man alle Platten anhören. Aber nicht, indem man, wie in anderen Läden, die Platte aus dem Regal nahm und zu einem Schallplattenverkäufer trug, der die Platte erst aus der Hülle nahm und dann auf einen Schallplattenspieler legte. Die Platte hat immer der Verkäufer aufgelegt. Er hat auch den Arm des Schallplattenspielers weitergesetzt, wenn man das nächste Stück hören wollte. Man durfte es offenbar den Kunden nicht selbst machen lassen, er hätten die Platte verkratzen können. Über Kopfhörer oder, noch beschämender, im ganzen Laden konnte man unter den Blicken des Verkäufers dann die Lieder hören, die einem gerade die Welt bedeuteten. Der Verkäufer schaute einen die ganze Zeit gelangweilt an. Der Verkäufer, ein junger Mann, oder – noch schmachvoller – eine junge Frau, die schon ganz erwachsen war. Und man selbst war es nicht. Ich habe mich dann nie wieder getraut, in einem Schallplattenladen Musik zu hören und habe mir meine Platten blind gekauft. Meist aufgrund des Covers.

Im WOM in München war es anders. Nicht alle, aber gefühlt unendlich viele Platten, konnte man ganz einfach hören, indem man sich einen Kopfhörer griff, der an einem Spiralkabel von der Decke hing. Das Plattencover war leicht erhöht, schräg vor einem aufgestellt. Und so blickte man nach oben, schaute zu seinen Idolen auf und hörte die Stimme der Götter. Ganz unbeobachtet.

Heute stehen die Schallplatten, die ich damals gekauft habe, zusammen mit denen, die ich später über die Jahre sammelte, im Keller. Seit vielen Jahren schon.

Und ich stelle mir vor, wie ich dem Teenager, der ich damals war, erkläre, wie man heute Musik hört. Heute habe ich Zugriff auf die meisten aller Musikstücke, die jemals herausgegeben wurden. Ich tippe einfach den Namen einer Band in mein Smartphone… aber wie erklärt man einem Jungen, der 1985 im WOM in München steht, was ein Smartphone ist?

Man müsste erklären, dass das kein Schallplattenspieler oder Tonbandgerät ist, dass die Musik gar nicht in dem ‘Smartphone’ drin ist, sondern irgendwo im Internet gespeichert liegt. “Was zum Teufel ist das ‘Internet’? Und wie kommt die Musik vom Internet in das ‘Smartphone’“?

Die Antwort übersteigt meine Vorstellungskraft bei weitem. Damals und heute eigentlich immer noch, ich habe mir nur abgewöhnt, es mir vorzustellen. Damals hätte ich es schlichtweg nicht geglaubt: “Durch die Luft!”

HOW TO CREATE REALITY

You can only understand sex if you have sex – right?

Opening talk at Docmedia at Film University Babelsberg, June 21, 2018

People often think that the best way to understand a situation is to be in the situation. This is in fact false. When being in a situation, the personal angle on the situation becomes so convincing that it suppresses other, very often more meaningful perspectives.

When I grew up, I was told that there are things, that are true. People might not be able to see them, but they the are true nevertheless. And I was told, that there is a truth to everything. This meant, that you can either be right or you can be wrong. A politician can either be right, or wrong. Every opinion can either be right or wrong, you just have to drill deep down and then you can recognise the truth.

This was in fact all false.

Truth is, that truth does not exist.

So let’s better get rid of the word truth altogether and reframe the sentence: The reality is, that truth does not exist. This new sentence might sound similar. But it is not the same. Reality is not truth. Reality is, what we agree on – for the moment.

Think of a table. We can agree on a table. This is the reality that we now share between our monkey brains. But one million years ago, if this table would have existed, there was no-one there, that would have understood it, as a table. And in one million years from now, if this table still exists, it is very, very unlikely that it will still be thought of as a table.

It is very handy to live in a reality that is shared with others. And it is actually very painful, when this shared reality slips away. If you ever broke up with a person you loved – you know.

Not only with people, you are close with, shared reality comes in handy. If you are hungry, it is great, if you live in a shared reality, where you can exchange a 2 Euro coin for a sandwich.

So reality is not something that is already there, and we just have to find it, it is rather something, that we have to agree on. So how do we agree on reality? How does that work? How is reality built?

We agree on reality by sharing stories between each other.

We build reality by telling stories. Story-telling might not be the only tool to build reality, but it is the most powerful. It is the tool, that human apes developed the furthest.

It is not that you tell a story and then it is. For Reality to be, it needs to be shared between our monkey brains.

If I tell the story, that I own billion Euro, that would not change my financial status. But if I manage to convince everyone relevant around me, that I own one billion, then I would live the life of a very wealthy human ape.

This is a trick that some master very well. They use the trick to create reality the way they want it to be. And if the image of President Donald Trump comes into your mind now – yes this is an excellent example.

President Donald Trump is a magician that is able to create reality out of thin air. As long as enough people let him. As long as enough people chime in, to his reality.

So here we are, and I could now talk about the responsibility of media producers. So many of you – my friends – are media producers, storytellers, reality creators.

But I would like to talk about another angle of storytelling.

Exploring reality.

Storytelling is not only a tool to shape reality, it is also a tool to explore reality. And we do that all the time. Because we do not just tell stories, we also listen to stories. And you, as a producer of a narration, you do that. Before making a film or an i-Doc, or an article, you read books, articles, you listen to people. You take in other stories to get a better understanding of reality, before you express your vision of reality, yourself.

This is, what I am most interested in, in my work: To get a better understanding, how the world works, what reality is. To observe and to explore the world. And that means to explore the way we tell stories.

The edges of reality.

I am especially interested in the edges of reality. The borders of reality. So something is within the borders of reality and something is outside of those borders. Of course – the things that are outside of reality, we can’t see them, they are invisible, unthinkable.

But what is interesting, is that these borders of reality are not fixed. They change over time. There are things, that were not part of the shared reality in the past. But they became part of it. Things unthinkable in the past suddenly pop into existence. We live in a time, where it happens all the time, that, not too long ago unthinkable things, just pop into reality. 1000 years ago this was very rare.

Bacteria. Totally outside of the shared reality of human apes for the very most of their existence. Then suddenly, they became thinkable, measurable, and we could even make them visible.

As soon as something becomes thinkable, it is more likely to become visible, hear-able, touch-able, smell-able, feel-able.

Reality is a cloud.

The territory of reality changes its shape over time. New things become part of reality and others drop out.

Things that have dropped out, were part of reality in the past, but they are not any more. These things that are not part of reality any more, are difficult to see, because they are now invisible, only indirectly we can notice them. From evidence we find, we are able to tell, that they must have been part of the shared reality, in the past. When we find temples of ancient gods for example we know that these gods must have been part of the shared reality of the people in the past.

Tools

A microscope is a tool, and when it was invented and pointed at an edge of reality, a new reality became visible and reality expanded. This new reality, quickly became part of the shared reality. The findings of the people, that were the first to look through microscopes, are now taught in school.

You can also use a camera and point it at the edge of reality, learn new things and thereby expand reality.

Storytelling is a tool.

Like a camera is a tool. Like a microscope os a tool. Tools that allow to do two things:

  1. Explore reality and thereby expanding it – making reality wider
  2. communicate reality and thereby solidifying it

Expanding reality.

What is the best practice, if you want to expand your understanding – the premise to expand reality? You want to observe something from a perspective as neutral as possible. So what does that mean – neural?

You need to have a perspective like someone – who is not in the situation.

Let me give you an example. When I have a tense discussion, a fight with someone, often I get angry or emotional. That is not a good receipt to get a good understanding for the situation. Later, after my mind has calmed down, I usually get a better understanding of the situation. I know what I could have said, and usually I also understand the other person. Unimaginable for me, when I was in the situation.

This is a practise, an exercise.

In the beginning, when I got together with my later wife, we had intense fights. Fights so intense, like I had never experienced in previous relationships. But with every fight, we learned something about each other. Every fight became a learning experience. This is something I had also not experienced in other relationships. It was, because my wife taught me a trick: to get yourself out of the situation, while you are in the situation, so that you can look at the situation from a different perspective. And from this different perspective, I could see two people in a situation with each other, two people that I loved and I suddenly was able to understand them both.

Observer outside.

Storytelling can be a tool for better understanding reality, but only, if you are an observer that is outside the situation. If you are inside the situation, you are an actor. You have to deal with all your confusing feelings, but you do not get a better understanding for the situation itself.

You might get a better understanding for yourself. Yourself being in this particular situation, which makes it convincing, and you might think that you have a better understanding for the situation, but in fact, you are furthest away from understanding the situation itself.

This is how stories are told today: exciting, emotional, they try to create empathy.

CSF

The way we tell stories now – the current CONTEMPORARY STORY FORMAT is a result of the hyperlinear way of storytelling, that was only possible, after the invention of film.

Expanding vs. solidifying.

In the the beginning, when film was invented, people using cameras, were explorers of reality. And by exploring reality, they expanded it. But then, they started to edit what came out of their cameras. And by editing it into a fixed narration, that never changes, even if you looked at it a 1000 times, they explained reality and thereby solidified it.

This became more and more the focus of media makers: To explain reality. And by explaining reality you solidify it.

The computer changes the way we tell stories.

We have now new ways of narration, that became possible, with the computer. With the help of the computer, we can now create rich media narrations, that are not fixed. That expand reality, not solidify it. With the help of computers and the internet, we can collaborate with other brains. And that way, we can use the help of these other brains, to explore the edges of reality better.

TV.

I happen to work at a TV news broadcaster. This is how TV was done in the past and is still done, today: There are – actually just a few – people, who go out into the world and explore reality (mainly using cameras). Then they return to the TV-station, edit their material and explain to the audience, how the world works. The TV-station is an institution, that does a very tiny bit of exploration and a lot of explanation. A tiny bit of expanding and a lot of solidifying reality. That practice is rooted in old TV technology. Before the internet it was not possible to do it in another way.

Future media institutions.

Now things can be done differently and we can already see new institutions appear. And these new institutions might replace the old ones. Institutions, that focus on exploring and understanding reality. The media-institution of the future is less of a broadcaster, and more of a university.

People working at these new institutions go out, explore reality, and they take back what they found. Up to this point it is not much different from how it is done traditionally. But then they discuss their findings with others – with the audience – and they ask the others – the audience – for advise. They document the whole process and make it available. This way of working, is far less focussed on the end-product, but much more on the process.

The mindset of media-makers today is: think about the audience, think about what they want.

The mindset of media-makers in the future will be: think about the audience, think about what they can do for you – for getting a better understanding of reality.

Spannende Geschichten sind Zeitverschwendung

Markus Reuter von der Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz hat mir einige Fragen gestellt. Dies geschah im Zuge einer Recherche für einen gemeinsamen Vortrag mit Dr. Katja Schupp zum Thema „Impact on the audience“. Ich hatte großen Spass, die Fragen zu beantworten und ich hoffe, sie können ein etwas anderes Licht auf die Frage werfen, wie man sein Publikum erreicht.

Markus Reuter     Bieten Webdokus besondere Möglichkeiten für eine Wirkung auf die Gesellschaft und/oder das Individuum und warum (nicht)?

Florian Thalhofer     Neue Arten des Erzählens ermöglichen es, Zusammenhänge neu sehen und denken zu können. Die alte Art – ergänzt um die neue Art – führt, wenn man es richtig macht, zu einer Erweiterung des Blicks. ‘Richtig machen’ bedeutet, dass man das Nichtlineare einsetzt um zu beobachten, das Lineare, um zu beurteilen/zu erklären. Wenn man das durcheinanderbringt entsteht Chaos. Genau das passiert zur Zeit  – man kann die Auswirkungen wunderbar beobachten.

Markus Reuter     Stellst Du Dir die Frage nach der Wirkung Deiner Webdokus, ist es für Dich eine wichtige Frage?

Florian Thalhofer     Ja, das ist eine sehr wichtige Frage und der Kern der Arbeit des Korsakow Instituts. Doch es geht dabei nicht um die kurzfristige Wirkung, die derartige Erzählweisen auf den Menschen haben (die Zuschauer finden die Geschichten spannend, unterhaltsam, klicken irgendwohin). Die Gesellschaft formend sind die langfristigen Auswirkungen, die verschiedene Arten der Narration auf das Denken haben.

Markus Reuter     Wie willst Du eine Wirkung in Deinem „Korsakow“-Format erreichen? Das ist gerade interessant, weil Du eben keine „Botschaften“-Webdokus machst, sondern den Zuschauer/innen einen möglichst großen Freiraum gibst.

Florian Thalhofer     Ich habe bemerkt, dass sich, durch die Übung mit Korsakow-filmen und anderen narrativen Formate, die eine ähnliche Wirkung haben, das Sehen und Denken, die Toleranz und das Verständnis erhöhen lässt. Diese Wirkung fasziniert mich, diese Wirkung zu verstehen bemühe ich mich.

Spannende, mitreissende Geschichten können diese Wirkung nicht erzeugen. Die gängigen Rezepte, nach denen derzeit Geschichten gestrickt werden, müssen von Grunde auf überdacht werden.

Markus Reuter     Ist es vielleicht erst einmal eine Frage danach, überhaupt ein Publikum zu erreichen und damit eine Frage nach der Distribution?

Florian Thalhofer     Wenn man die Frage, wie man am besten ein Publikum erreicht, an den Beginn der Arbeit stellt, wird diese Frage das Ergebnis formen. Ziel meiner erzählerischen Projekten ist es, relevante Werke zu schaffen. Die Frage nach dem Publikum ist nicht hilfreich, um dieses Ziel zu erreichen. Es scheint mir vielmehr offensichtlich, dass die gängigen Rezepte, Aufmerksamkeit zu steigern, direkt zu irrelevanten Arbeiten führen. Sich als Autor oder Publikum mit irrelevanten Arbeiten zu beschäftigen ist Zeitverschwendung.