From Film School to Bitcoin: A New Vision for Documentary Makers

For IFM2024, a conference on interactive documentary, I, like everyone else, prepared a video presentation outlining my research. For the panel, participants are asked to summarize their papers.

Instead of summarizing my paper, I would like to take the opportunity to react to the other presentations in this panel from a Korsakowian perspective, which is the focus of my research. By doing so, I aim to provide insights into my research and offer solutions to the problem described in the presentation by Umer Bilal and Manuel Contreras, which I would summarize as follows:

There is substantial criticism of the Western gaze in documentary filmmaking, and rightly so. The issues highlighted by Umer and Manuel indicate that documentaries, both past and present, often portray a distorted image of reality. They rightly argue that some individuals in the West act as gatekeepers, controlling the production and dissemination of images. Umer and Manuel point out that the lack of funding plays a major role in perpetuating this problem.

Sonali Sharma presents a case study of an artist who uses Instagram as a platform to share his perspective on a particular aspect of the world—his observations and comments on the Delhi metro.

I am a 52-year-old human ape, and I have struggled with the issue of distorted perspectives since I developed an interest in documentaries over 25 years ago. In response to this struggle, I developed Korsakow, a system that shares similarities with Instagram, such as the tagging system that Sonali described. In Korsakow, tags are called “keywords” and play a central role. At that time, I had to create my own tool as Instagram or YouTube were not available. These tools now allow for different strategies of ordering and sense-making, moving away from linear storytelling forms.

I generally agree with the points presented and would like to offer a concrete idea to address the problem of under-complex and mono-perspectival views on people and societies in the Global South. To explain this idea, I would like to conduct a playful thought experiment and invent a fictional character named Jan.

Jan is a 26-year-old who lives in Delhi, Karachi, or Bogotá. He understands that the images of the world presented in the media are often wrong, distorted, or incomplete. Jan considers becoming a documentary maker and thinks about attending a film school to learn the craft, write proposals for funders, and build a network within the industry. If Jan asked me for advice, it could trigger the following thoughts:

If Jan follows the traditional path of attending film school and learning to navigate the system, he will likely become the kind of documentary maker the market has learned to value. He will produce media products that align with the perspectives of those willing to pay for them. As Bilal and Contreras note, if Jan does not adhere to the “Western gaze” formula, he will likely lack the resources to continue his work.

So, what can a young person do when they see the problem of distorted reality and want to improve it? What could be a feasible path?

I think that at this particular point in time, there are numerous opportunities. I would like to connect two seemingly unrelated fields. First, as Sonali Sharma exemplifies, the internet and platforms like Instagram or YouTube (which I have studied much more deeply) offer possibilities to reach people without dealing with the old gatekeepers mentioned by Bilal and Contreras.

My solution might sound laughable or ridiculous to some, and if it does, I invite you to take it as a joke. But maybe there is a young future documentary maker who can sense the path and just needs a bit of encouragement from an old ape like me.

My suggestion to Jan: Don’t go to film school, art school, or university. Take the money it would cost and invest it in Bitcoin. Use the time you would spend at film school to learn everything about films using the internet and available tools. Study film history, theory, and practice. I recommend YouTube as a place to find some of the best teachers, no matter where you are. Learn about films and also study the workings and philosophy of Bitcoin, which will teach you about how people come to their perception of reality. Don’t trust old or even new knowledge blindly—Think through everything you recognize as relevant, use your own brain. Don’t trust, verify.

Use online platforms to conduct your own experiments. This hands-on experience will teach you a lot. There are many students like you out there doing the same, and you can learn from them as well and you can learn and experience how to think collaboratively. When you are finished with your curriculum after lets say four years Bitcoin should be ready and provide you with the funding you need.

That is my 10 cents of advice.

The Korsakowian Approach – A Metamodern Method That Shapes The Thinking Patterns Of Those Who Apply It?

And why this title is wrong

This is the paper I submitted alongside a video that can be viewed on YouTube.


The thesis with which I started my PhD, and which is also reflected in the title of this talk, is that my particular way of working with korsakow – which I call korsakowian – has shaped my thinking in a way for which I have been using the term “multi-perspectival” since 2012. My auto-ethnographic explorations now point to that it is the other way around. Media that affords a korsakowian approach attracts people with a certain kind of mindset, that I would like to call multi-perspectival.


multiperspectivity, media-literacy, Korsakow, korsakowian

1. Introduction

Six months ago I submitted an abstract to IFM with the title “The korsakowian approach –  a metamodern method that shapes the thinking patterns of those who apply it?”. Meanwhile I changed my thinking and as a consequence this talk is about why the title is wrong. 

To keep this paper brief I will not talk about metamodernism, a concept Judith Aston linked to i-docs (Aston 2022). For more details on how I think Metamodernism is related to korsakowian practice please check out the talk I gave at the Mobile Studies Congress in December 2023.

Today I will talk about multiperspectivity and its counterpart monoperspectivity and thereby I hope to illuminate the understanding of what korsakowian practice is and what it is good for.

How I got to where I am

I am the guy who invented Korsakow, a software system that is commonly thought of as a tool to create interactive documentary. Korsakow came into being in 2000 and since then it became the center of my life and my thinking. 

For the first 15 years my energy mostly went into producing Korsakow projects (Korsakow films, Korsakow Installations, Korsakow Shows). After that I moved my focus more towards reflecting and trying to understand what I vaguely described as “the magic of Korsakow”. My turn towards research was inspired by people like Matt Soar, Judith Aston, Adrian Miles and others who I had the privilege to get to know personally, not so much through their writing as I did not have the necessary academic language skills. For many years I did my private research, in a style that Michael Hohl, who is now one of my PhD supervisors, calls *cowboy research*.

Two and a half  years ago I was granted the opportunity to quit my day-job and fully focus on my research. I am currently doing a practice based PhD, and in this presentation I want to report where I am currently at.

My autoethnographic research

After spending quite a bit of time, wrestling with the system and trying to learn academic languaging, I turned towards auto-ethnography with a focus on my first works, which includes the reconstruction of my very first computer based narrative work called Small World which I made in 1997, the piece with which the whole story started and that later led to Korsakow. Small World could be described as a nonlinear, interactive slideshow and is in many ways the predecessor of Korsakow, the software tool that still is being used today. Small World, puts flashlights on 54 data points of what it is like to grow up in a small town or and more concretely what I experienced growing up in a small town in Bavaria. Back then, I built a small world in Macromedia Director, a software that later became Adobe Director and which later went the way of all earthly things and largely disappeared into obsolescence. 

I am currently in the process of reconstructing Small World in Korsakow.

The thesis with which I started my PhD, and which is also reflected in the title of this talk, is that my particular way of working with korsakow – which I call korsakowian – has shaped my thinking in a way for which I have been using the term “multi-perspectival” since 2012 (explained here).

What do I mean by multi-perspectival?

Being multi-perspectival is the habit, one could also say the pleasure or compulsion, of looking at, considering and understanding things from as many perspectives as possible. It is a particular pleasure for someone who is multi-perspectival to hold contradictory or even mutually exclusive perspectives in the head at the same time. It’s like juggling and the more balls you can keep in the air, the greater the pleasure. On the other hand, there is the mono-perspective, which assumes that there is one best perspective from which to understand the world and strives to find this perspective. People with a multi-perspectival disposition are characterized by the fact that they are always delighted when someone comes along with a clever thought that renders their own system of thought obsolete or at least reveals a perspective that makes them say, “Oh, I never thought of it that way”. There can never be such a thing as truth for someone who is multi-perspectival, as all perspectives can never be considered. Mono-perspectival people strive to find the *best* perspective and once this perspective has been identified, they tend to propagate and defend it. Mono-perspectival people generally feel little pleasure when their ideas are criticized and viewed from a different perspective that contradicts their own. Multi-perspectival people, on the other hand, are often extremely skeptical when one perspective is presented to them as an unquestionable truth. 

This is, of course, a very and possibly overly simplistic depiction. Of course, no binary distinction can be made and it would be a little ridiculous to divide humanity into mono-perspectival and multi-perspectival people, so one should rather imagine a scale with mono-perspectival on one side and multi-perspectival on the other. Individuals then tend to lean in one direction or the other. People are often topic-dependent, mono- or multi-perspectival. Experts tend to develop a more multi-perspectival view in the field of their expertise, which means they see things in a differentiated way and usually don’t  take a single viewpoint. However, the multi-perspectival view in one subject area does not prevent mono-perspectival experts from not transferring the realization that things are complex and ambiguous to other areas.

There is no value judgment associated with mono- or multi-perspective. Both have advantages and disadvantages, I went into this in my talk at the I-docs Symposium, Crisis and Multi-perspective Thinking in May 2022. The talk is documented on my blog.

Tool affects thinking vs. tool attracts thinking

Korsakowian practice affects thinking and sense making (Aston 2022; Wiehl and Lebow 2016; Soar 2014; Gaudenzi 2013), in the sense that it questions linear causal thinking, calls categories into question, and directs attention instead to circularly acting relations within complex systems.

So far I have assumed that my style of working with Korsakow – the korsakowian approach, which I would describe as an extremely open approach to any topic – that this korsakowian exercise was formative for my multi-perspectival thinking. 

This is how I have perceived it so far – that the korsakowian approach has reinforced my multiperspectivity. My auto ethnographic research now suggests something else, which my mother would simply describe as: I have always been like that. This in turn would suggest that it is not so much the medium and the way of using that particular medium that makes the thinking, but rather that a medium allows, or makes possible, a certain way of thinking that is already inherent in the individual. In general terms: certain forms of media attract certain kinds of thinkers,  in specific terms media that affords a korsakowian approach attracts multi-perspectival thinkers.

This is also suggested by a series of intensive conversations I have had with other practitioners in the field of interactive documentary. In this context, the dust has fallen from my eyes: I have never succeeded in convincing anyone of the korsakowian approach who has not already practiced multi-perspectival thinking. 

Conversely, it can also be said that no one has ever succeeded in teaching me a mono-perspectival way of thinking. 

5. Conclusion

Korsakow is a tool that affords a multiperspectival (korsakowian) approach but it can also be used in a more mono-perspectival way. This is because the mono-perspective is always part of the multi-perspective (it is just one of many perspectives). So Korsakow is not multi-perspectival per se, but it does afford a more multi-perspectival approach than more linear legacy media can. The same applies to other potentially korsakowian media, such as YouTube, Twitter or podcasts. This is confusing in that at least podcasts are neither interactive nor non-linear. The commonality is the digital and I would like to speculate at this point that it might be especially the abundance of resources that allows us to not have to know in advance the outcome of a media production, and that makes the korsakowian approach possible on a large scale. Interactivity might be overrated, one could say.

On the basis of this speculation, I would like to continue my research.

So the title for this talk should have been:“The Korsakowian Approach – A  Metamodern Method That ShapesHelps The Thinking Patterns Of Those Who Apply It?”

Ein Ansatzt das Internet zu reparieren


Digitale Interaktion neu denken: Über das Binäre hinausgehen

Soziale Medien haben prägenden Einfluss auf unsere Wahrnehmungen, Interaktionen und gesellschaftliche Gefüge. Das hat viele positive aber auch negative Auswirkungen. Ein dringendes Problem, das unsere Aufmerksamkeit erfordert, ist die zunehmende Polarisierung im Netz. Die Wurzel dieses Problems könnte überraschenderweise auch auf ein scheinbar harmloses Feature zurückzuführen sein, das auf Plattformen allgegenwärtig ist: ein binäres System von Feedback, oft ausgedrückt in “Daumen hoch” und “Daumen runter”.

Das Problem der Polarisierung

Polarisierung bezieht sich auf die Teilung der Gesellschaft in distinkte Gruppen mit konträren Ideologien oder Präferenzen, was zu einer fragmentierten Gemeinschaft führt. Das Internet, mit seinem enormen Potenzial für vielfältige Ausdrucksformen, ist paradoxerweise zu einem Schlachtfeld von Echokammern und polarisierten Lagern geworden. Dieses Problem wurde durch die binären Feedback-Mechanismen verschärft, wo komplexe Meinungen auf einfache Likes oder Dislikes reduziert werden. Solch ein System entmutigt Nuancen und fördert ein Umfeld, das von extremen Ansichten geprägt wird.

Der Binäre Übeltäter: Daumen Hoch und Daumen Runter

Das binäre Feedbackmodell, verkörpert durch “Thumbs up” und “Thumbs down” Buttons, gaukelt eine simplistische, schwarz-weiße Sicht auf Inhalte vor. Einem solchen Modell fehlt die Fähigkeit, die Komplexität menschlicher Meinungen einzufangen und reduziert reichhaltige, facettenreiche Diskussionen auf bloße Zustimmungs- oder Ablehnungszahlen. Die Frage, die sich stellt, ist: Was gäbe es für eine einfache Alternative? Eine Ansatz, die die Polarisierung mildern könnte, indem sie die Komplexität menschlicher Perspektiven sichtbar macht?

Die Vorgeschlagene Lösung: Der “Schieberegler”

Stellen Sie sich eine digitale Welt vor, in der die Meinungen der Benutzer anstelle einer binären Wahl mit einem Schieberegler inkrementell präsentiert werden. Dieser Schieberegler würde es Benutzern ermöglichen, ihre Meinungen mit größerer Präzision auszudrücken und bietet ein Spektrum an Werten, die die nuancierten Schattierungen von Zustimmung oder Ablehnung einfangen. Solche Systeme könnten die Art und Weise, wie wir online interagieren, revolutionieren, indem wir uns von der spaltenden Natur binärer Entscheidungen wegbewegen und hin zu einem inklusiveren, gradiellerem Verständnis von Inhalten und Meinungen.

Hochauflösende Reflexionen von Uns Selbst

Durch die Implementierung eines Schiebereglermechanismus könnte das Internet zu einem Spiegel werden, der hochauflösendere Bilder unseres kollektiven Bewusstseins reflektiert, statt grobe, 1-Bit-Grafiken mit wenig Nuance. Dieser Übergang zu einer “Graustufen” Darstellung von Meinungen könnte zu einem durchdachteren Engagement ermutigen, Empathie fördern, indem gemeinsame Grundlagen zwischen scheinbar unterschiedlichen Ansichten hervorgehoben werden und letztlich zur Heilung der polarisierten Landschaft beitragen.

Neue Realität

Wir sind gezwungen eine neue Vorstellung von Realität zu entwickeln, weil das nicht Reale im Sinne des Virtuellen offensichtlich all zu real wird. Das ist nicht ein neues Phänomen, Medien-Historiker wie William Uricchio haben es eingehend untersucht. Neue Medien erschreckten immer wieder Eltern, die sich Sorgen machen, dass ihre Kindern die reale Realität nicht von der virtuellen unterscheiden könnten. Es mag immer noch Vertreter der Theorie geben, dass Computer Spiele zu Gewalt-Verbrechen führen, Fernsehen dumm macht oder Comics Schund sind. Vertreter der letzten Theorie sind gerade eher am aussterben, ausgestorben sind bereits die, die Sorge vorm Radio, Telefon, der Eisenbahn, Fotografie oder Buchdruck umtrieb.

Es war immer die gleiche wiederkehrende Sorgen die in “unserer Zeit” aufkam, die Sorge in Information zu ersaufen und nicht mehr unterscheiden zu können, was wahr und was falsch ist. Bisher haben wir es geschafft uns an diesen durch neue Technologien hervorgebrachten neuen Realitäten anzupassen, zumindest die jeweils nachfolgende Generation hat es mehr oder weniger hinbekommen. Wobei wir mit der Adaption ins Hintertreffen geraten zu sein scheinen, wenn man die Zahl der Verwirrten um sich herum betrachtet. Ganz subjektiv, ganz gemein, ganz ehrlich.

Wir müssen eine neue Vorstellung von Realität entwickeln, nicht nur in der Art, in der es die letzten paar hundert Jahre gekappt hat, nämlich in der Anpassung unseres Verständnisses der Realität, sondern wir müssen ein grundsätzlich neues Verständnisses von dem was Realität ist entwickeln.

Auch das ist nichts neues in der Geschichte, wie es Davor Löffler in komprimierten Worten beschreibt. Die alten Griechen, Ägypter, Mayas sie alle hatten uns “mystisch” vorkommende mit userer Realitätsvorstellung inkompatible Vorstellung von Realität.

Wir können zum Beispiel gar keine adequate Vorstellung haben in welcher Realität die Ägypter oder Mayas gelebt haben, weil sie eine andere Vorstellung von Realität hatten, die mit der unseren inkompatibel ist.

Dergestalt wird die neue Vorstellung von Realität sein, die wir schnellstmöglich entwickeln müssen. Bevor uns unsere gegenwärtige Realität oder besser gesagt die unzureichende Abbildung derselben, umzubringen.

Falling in love with a ghost

The system makes it possible to fall in love with a spirit. With someone’s mind without relating to the body.

I met a friend today. The friend told me about his life in an online system. About the friendships he has found there and what goes beyond friendships. He described a system, a society in which people meet who have a similar views of the world, similar dreams and fantasies. They follow similar paths to get closer to happiness or at least contentment. Those online people give themselves avatars that they choose themselves, that they design themselves according to their wishes and ideas.

Strict rules apply in the system, every now and then people disappear, sometimes because they have died in “real life”, more often they have been banished from the system. The rules give the system structure, a framework that holds it together as a system and prevents it from falling apart again, from dissolving back into its component parts. The individuals within the system are aware of the system and adhere to the rules. Everyone knows that anyone who does not abide by the rules runs the risk of being banished. Being banned means no longer being part of the system. In this sense, it is a free decision to submit to the rules of the system or not. There are many other systems, systems that function according to different rules. Everyone is free to choose a system. But there is no system without rules.

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