Neutral Perspective


In this text I want to contrast what I have observed in journalism with what I observe in areas of YouTube from the perspective of someone, who made interactive documentaries for quite some time.

I am looking at areas of YouTube in the context of documentary, building of the definition of i-docs by Judith Aston and Sandra Gaudenzi who say that:

“Any project that starts with an intention to document the ‘real’ and that uses digital interactive technology to realize this intention, can be considered an interactive documentary.”

I think that interactive documentary formats (like for example on YouTube) accelerate the trend to an increasingly multi-perspectival, what Gaudenzi calls “negotiation, that a society has with reality”.

Or in simple terms, I think that YouTube & Co have the potential to help us, in the long term, to become more nuanced – and as a consequence – more tolerant, more accepting, less judgmental – and more open to new ideas. This, I think, might increase our ability to collaborate and become more creative in finding solutions, for the problems, that torment us.

I think, that it is already recognizable, that connected individuals and societies develop an increased acceptance for complexity. And I suggest, that this has to do, with the interactive and conversational structure of these media formats and the increased multidirectional flow of information.

I have been working in the newsroom of an international TV-news-broadcaster for more than 20 years. My job was called ‘picture editor’ or ‘image producer’, I was responsible for still images and graphics mainly for television (and sometimes social media). I was just just a cog in the wheel of producing news and documentary pieces, that were then broadcasted into the wider world.

I was helping journalists, who were considered to be the authors, to produce news artifacts. In this little text, I want to focus on the concept of “objectivity” – in the news-room, at which I got an inside perspective for more than 20 years. I want to compare that to habitual methods, that I see developing within interactive documentary and YouTube.

I see similarities between Korsakow (that is the think I invented and used to structure my own interactive documentaries) and YouTube, that I consider to be more interesting, than the differences, that certainly also exist.

This is to say: I think, I see something in YouTube, that I so clearly sense, because of my experience in interactive documentary. I would say – my brain got wired through Korsakow. And similar to me, having my thinking shaped by Korsakow, I recognize people on YouTube, that have their thinking shaped by YouTube – in a quite a similar way.

“Objectivity” was a concept, that came up regularly in the news-room over all these years. And the concept of “objectivity” of course also came up, in the context of me making “interactive documentary”. According to Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison (2007), the pursuit of objectivity, is one of the three basic scientific virtues (along with truth-to-nature and trained judgment), objectivity is considered a measure of quality in science and it certainly is considered to be a measure of quality, among the journalists in the news-room I was working in. Journalists tried to achieve ‘objectivity’ by reporting the things ‘as they were’, or at least as they looked to them, through the eye of a camera’ and not so much ‘as they, the journalists, perceived them’. With this approach they claimed to archive an ‘objective perspective’.

I took a different approach in my interactive documentary making, a different approach to that of the journalists in the news-room, but a similar approach to what I now often find on YouTube. I described reality as the thing that I saw, by describing reality from my subjective perspective.

I would argue that an ‘objective perspective’ in the sense the journalists usually claimed, a perspective at the thing somehow without a position from which it is looked at, does not exist. Reality can not be looked at from the outside, which is what an objective perspective would theoretically need. You can only look at reality from within reality. You can not look at reality from the outside, because – where should that be?

An “objective perspective” can in my opinion only be a fabrication.

Within reality there are many viewpoints from which to look at a thing. And only if one knows, from which perspective something is looked at, it can be seen in context with other perspectives, that almost certainly will not describe the thing in focus, the same way.

A subjective perspective without an agenda, this is what I increasingly see developing on YouTube & Co. In the title of this text I called this a “neutral perspective” and I would like to discuss with you, if this is a helpful term.

With “neutral” I mean, that the goal is to avoid classification, for example into good or bad – to avoid moral judgement. Maybe a paticual author on YouTube (or in Korsakow) has an opinion – of what is good or bad – but then the author makes this opinion clear and then focusses primarily on the arguments of people with different opinions, not in a way, that makes the arguments of the author stronger, as I so often observe not only in journalism – but to gain understanding for these other arguments and their resulting opinions.

To be clear, I am not talking about all authors on YouTube, but a particular kind of authors that are active in this kind of genre that I see developing on YouTube and in the realm of podcasts (Like for example Rezo, Lex Friedman, Sam Harris, Struthless and if you know more, please let me know down there in the comments!.

This in a way is not a new method: scientific methods usually work that way.

This is why I think this is important

I start with two very simple assumptions:

  1. The process of making a documentary artefact (like for example a documentary film, a news piece, a podcast, a YouTube-clip), influences the documentary artifact, that is made, in this process (Ok, this is obviously obvious, please don’t scream – point 3 gets interesting.)
  2. Documentary artifacts, have the potential, to influence the thinking, of the recipients of these artifacts, in a particular way. (Also kind of banal: you get influenced, I get influenced, we all get influenced by stuff we see/hear).
  3. The process of making must therefore have an influence, on the thinking of the recipients.

So this – as simple as it sounds – seems to me often overlooked. The “how” – how we communicate – if confrontative or seeking to understand, shapes the shared world, too – not just the facts. This is why I consider it to be so very important also on how we get to our understanding of the world.

To be (maybe overly) clear here, I consider myself to be a constructivist. This means that I consider the world to be at least to a significant extent to be the result of the communication, that takes place between people, what they agree on and what then becomes the shared reality.

“Netral perspective” is a friendly way to negotiate the world

So what is the trick? How is this “neutral perspective” achieved for example YouTube or Korsakow?

I consider the main ingredient to be what Cyberneticians like Heinz von Foester calls “observing the observer” and “Second order Cybernetics”.

And that, I would like to describe in the following way: “If one wants to get understanding of a thing (or topic, or question), it makes little sense to get a description of that thing without understanding the perspective, from which that thing was described.”

I assume here, that we all agree, that there are always (and I rarely use superlatives!) multiple perspectives, from which an object could be described accurately, differently and maybe even contradictory.

So how did folks on YouTube get there? Of course, I don’t know how much these authors consulted cybernetics literature, but what I do know – that I didn’t. I applied cybernetics thinking without knowing pretty much anything about Cybernetics (until recently, now I know a bit, a tiny bit).

Looking at my first interactive documentary projects, that develop that ‘neutral perspective’ (and not all my projects do), I noticed a number of similarities in the process of making, similarities I see on YouTube as well. For example, all these projects were to the highest degree self-motivated, that means that I did not have an audience in mind, when I did them, I was the primary audience, and I wanted to look at those topics in the most unbiased way, to get relevant answers, for the questions, that I wanted to get answers for.

Recently I revisited the first three of my interactive documentary pieces, in an auto-ethnographic undertaking, on which I have embarked within my studies:

In retrospect these were the questions that I tried to answer through my projects:

How am I limited in my thinking because of my upbringing?
[small world], 1997 (project only still works on PC)

Am I in danger of becoming addicted to alcohol?
[korsakow syndrome], 2000 (offline)

How can I identify a good partner in life?
[LoveStoryProject], 2003

Journalists in contrast – at least the ones I observed, constantly seem to consider the audience. This is expressed well in a sentence that I feel I have heard a million times, often, when I suggested an – what we called – info-graphic: “This is too complicated, the viewer does not get that”.

It might feel counter-intuitive to many, to think that YouTubers are not obsessed with their audience. They think about it, too, but it seems different. The YouTubers I look at regularly talk about their audience within the pieces they produce. But they talk of their audience as a source of knowledge and a typical sentence might sound like this: “I am not sure if I described this and that correctly, if you know more, please let me know, down there in the comments.”

In contrast, it is very rare, that journalists speak open about their lack of knowledge. It is widely considered to be unprofessional and a sign, that they did not do their research.

I think, that the difference in considering the audience makes all the difference, when it comes to ‘objective’ or ‘neutral’ perspective.

I would say that ‘neutral perspective’ can only be archived, if the perspective of the author is just one possible perspective, out of many perspectives, that are possibly there in the wider world or in the audience. The author of such a piece therefor needs to locate his or her perspective, make clear from where he or she is coming from to give room to other perspectives.

The ‘objective perspective’ that journalists usually claim in their attempt to make things explicable is decreasing complexity. They usually want to tell the story in simple terms. But to decrease complexity you need to leave out information, that is considered to be dispensable, but who is it to know, what information is truly dispensable? Maybe information is cut off that would have turned out to be important later?

I make an arguement that ‘neutral perspective’ allows a higher level of complexity, it leaves more information intact, but it asks for people and societies have to develop an increased tolerance and resilience for contradicting information.

And I think this is what is increasingly happening?

Do you think that too? – Please let me know down there in the comments!

This text is based on a talk I gave at NECS, conference in Bucharest on June 24th, 2022. The talk was part of the panel “Interactive Epistemologies. New Knowledge Economies in the Context of Interactive Documentaries and Web-Docs”.

Also on the panel were Florian Krautkrämer and Tobias Conradi, two of my three collaborators of, a research project on interactive documentary that is based at HSLU.

The European Network for Cinema and Media Studies (NECS) is a platform for exchange between scholars, archivists and programmers.

Die Zukunft des Denkens

Womöglich wird bald und vielleicht sogar schon jetzt den Kindern vor allen Dingen eine Fähigkeiten vermittelt, um sie aufs Leben vorzubereiten. Es ist eine Tugend und sie kann trainiert werden: Unvoreingenommenheit. Eltern/Schulen/Medien werden den Kindern beibringen so unvoreingenommen wie möglich zu sein. Denn diese Fähigkeit könnte die wichtigste Voraussetzung sein, erfolgreich zu sein – was auch immer Erfolg in der Zukunft ausmachen sollte. Denn Unvoreingenommenheit scheint mir die wichtigste Voraussetzung, um von der Vielzahl der Signale profitieren zu können, die auch aufgrund technischer Entwicklungen aus immer mehr Richtungen und immer lauter empfangen werden können.

Mit Voreingenommenheit hingegen ist es meiner Meinung nach schwierig, vom Wissen anderer zu profitieren, die ausserhalb der Grenzen der Voreingenommenheit stehen – technische Entwicklungen hin oder her. Die zum großen Teil widersprüchlichen Signale, die, wie zu erwarten ist, immer mehr, aus den verschiedensten Richtungen auf uns einwirken, über Smartphone, Computer, Zeitung, Radio, Fernsehen, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok – und was da noch alles ist und sein wird – all das scheint für voreingenommene Menschen immer mehr zum Problem zu werden, eine Kakophonie, unverständlicher Lärm.

Wenn man mit wenigen Augen auf etwas sehr großes und komplexes schaut, scheint mir, als dass man nicht viel mehr wahrnehmen kann als das Detail, das man zufälliger Weise vor der Nase hat. Man bräuchte viele verschiedene Blickwinkel, um große komplexe Dinge zu verstehen. Wenn sich das Ding dann noch bewegt, so wie man sagt, dass sich die Welt immer schneller verändert, wenn also das Ding, das es zu erfassen gilt ein ein “moving target” ist, kann es demnach nur erfasst werden, wenn man aus vielen Blickwinkeln gleichzeitig zu betrachten gelernt hat. Unvoreingenommenheit scheint mir die Voraussetzung zu sein, Blickwinkel zuzulassen, die dem eigenen Sehen vielleicht sogar widersprechen

Die Probleme mit denen die Menschheit in der Zukunft konfrontiert sein wird, werden vermutlich sowohl grösser als auch komplexer sein als heute und sie müssen dann noch viel mehr von den verschiedensten Seiten aus begutachtet und verstanden werden um sie reparieren zu können. Die Unvoreingenommenen würden so immer mehr an Bedeutung gewinnen, denn sie wären dazu in der Lage. Die Voreingenommenheit scheint mir schon jetzt auf dem absteigenden Ast, wie sich, meiner Meinung nach, auch an vielen Stellen beobachten lässt. Die seit Jahren offenbar immer mehr zunehmenden Diskussionen um Diversität aller Art ist meiner Ansicht nach ein Ausdruck von genau dieser Entwicklung, Ausgrenzung und Voreingenommenheit wird nach meiner Beobachtung immer weniger goutiert. Der tiefer liegende Grund ist dabei meiner Meinung nach weniger das Streben nach Gerechtigkeit, sondern das Bewusstsein um den Wert der vielen verschiedenen der Blickwinkel.

Ich bin überzeugt, dass Gesellschaften, die in der Lage sind, eine möglichst große Zahl an Perspektiven zuzulassen, besser sehen, besser erkennen und besser verstehen können. Und das wiederum scheint mir die beste Voraussetzung zu sein, klug auf Veränderung reagieren zu können. Wenn es stimmt, dass sich die Welt immer schneller verändert, werden es sich die Gesellschaften immer weniger leisten können, wählerisch zu sein und nur die Perspektiven gelten zu lassen, die Voreingenommenheit zulässt.

Ich vermute, unsere Kinder werden klüger sein als wir, weil sie besser verstehen, sich mit dem Wissen aus tausenden von Blickwinkeln aufzuladen. Und sie werden sich vermutlich bewusst sein, dass jeder/jede einzelne alleine immer nur einen winzigen Blickwinkel auf die Realität wahrnehmen kann.

Diese Kinder werden, so vermute ich, unvoreingenommen sein, klug und bescheiden. Genies eben.

Signal & Noise & Lineares Erzählen

Leute denken oft, dass Dinge dann Sinn machen, wenn sie sich linear ausdrücken lassen. Etwas überzeugt, wenn es in Worten gesagt werden kann, in Form eines Textes, am besten in einem Buch oder auch in einem (linearen) Film. Und so überprüft man Dinge (Gedanken, Beobachtungen) nicht nur in der Akademie auf ihre Sinnhaftigkeit indem man sie daraufhin überprüft, ob sie sich in linear-kausaler Logik ausdrücken lassen. Es ist ein Standardverfahren, Sinn von Unsinn, “signal” von “noise” zu unterscheiden. Lässt sich etwas linear-kausal erklären? Wenn ja, muss es stimmen.

Die Methode, Dinge linear kausal zu ordnen, ist wunderbar und hat massgeblich dazu beigetragen dahin zu kommen, wo wir als Menschheit jetzt sind. Linear-kausales Denken hat uns in die Lage versetzt, nicht nur die Technologien zu entwickeln, die heute weitestgehend unser Leben weltweit prägen, sondern auch die Gesellschaften und Kulturen in denen wir leben. Linear-kausales Denken prägt so gut wie jeden Aspekt des Lebens, wie Städte aussehen ebenso wie Gemeinschaften strukturiert sind, wie Kraftwerke oder Fortbewegungsmittel konstruiert sind.

Und doch es ist vermutlich nicht die einzige Methode Sinnhaftigkeit zu erkennen und auszudrücken. Eine andere Methode (und ich bin versucht zu sagen die andere Methode) ist nichtlineares, multikausales Denken wie es sich z.B. in Korsakow ausdrückt. Jedes Ding (jeder Gedanke, jede Beobachtung) hat viele Bezüge gleichzeitig. Alle Dinge beeinflussen sich gegenseitig, üben Kräfte aufeinander aus. Dabei ist alles immerzu in Bewegung und jedes Ding hat Auswirkungen auf alle anderen Dinge. Das scheint mir das Grundprinzip zu sein, das auf allen Eben und überall im Universum gilt. Innerhalb eines Atoms ebenso, wie innerhalb von Galaxien. Unsere Gesellschaften verhalten sich so, unsere Beziehungen untereinander, alles was wir tun hat Auswirkungen in alle Richtungen (the flap of a butterfly) und alles was wir tun ist dabei gleichzeitig Ergebnis von Kräften, die aus allen Richtungen auf uns einwirken.

Leute denken oft, dass Dinge Sinn machen, wenn sie sich linear ausdrücken lassen. Ich vermute es könnte eher umgekehrt sein:

Lineare Ausdrucksformen lassen Dinge sinnvoll erscheinen, die sich in diesen Formen ausdrücken lassen. Dinge die sich nicht linear ausdrücken lassen erscheinen hingegen sinnlos, sie scheinen “noise” zu sein.

Könnte es sein, dass es noise in dem Sinne gar nicht gibt, dass das, was uns wie noise vorkommt eigentlich signal ist und wir es nur nicht lesen können?

My Favorite Interactive Documentaries Are The Ones I Made Myself – In Search Of The Author

Anna Wiehl invited me to give a talk in the lectures series “Digital documentary practices – Topical paradigm shifts in negotiating ‚the Real‘” at the University of Bayreuth . I am honored and excited and created an almost brand-new talk looking at people thinking and breathing YouTube. How does the way YouTube changes the thinking of people ‚who take YouTube serious‘ compare to how Korsakow changed my thinking? There are many parallels.

Anna Wiehl wrote on Facebook that „Florian Thalhofer is always good for a surprise“. I take it as a compliment.

The lecture was Wed, Dec 8th, 2021, 16:00h, and took place on Zoom. I re-recorded the Talk the next day.

Link to the lecture series:

Audience of Collaborative Thinkers

People often ask me what I want to say with what I say. They ask me things like „What is the message of your film?“ and then they ask me „And who is the audience for your films, for your texts, for what you put out into the world?“. I used to say: „I don’t think of an audience.“ I said that for many years, at many instances, on many stages and then I learned that this is not quite true.

I do have an audience and I know my audience very well. The audience is one person, and that person is me. „So if it is only for you, why do you need to put it out into the world?“ might be the next good question and I have two answers.

The first reason is that when I put it out into the world, I put it out of my head and in front of me. Then I can look at it and I can see it in context with all the other things that are out there already. Things that other people have put out there and things that I have put out there earlier.

The second reason is that when I put something out, sometimes other people come and look at it. Naturally other people look at the thing from a different viewpoint than me. Sometimes people look at the thing in a way that I would not have been able to see myself. When they are so kind and patient to point that out to me, I then can see something that I never saw and most likely would have never seen on my own. This can be enlightening or simply helpful to better understand what I thought and what I think of the thing that I can now see with their eyes.

Many people do it like me. They do it on Facebook or Instagram on YouTube. People put things out into the world and have other people look at it and learn from what these people see.

But just few people put things out into the world to learn from the thoughts of other minds.

Most people are still in the habit of making statements. It seems they want to convince other people to think the same as they do, to look at the thing from the same angle.

Most of the time it is not obvious what the motivation of someone that put something out was when that someone put it out. And from my own experience I can tell that for the longest time I did not know myself what my motivation was.

Mostly people still put out things into the world with the intention to deliver a message without even being aware that it is usually not them who came up with the message in the first place. Usually, it is a message someone else put into their head. So, without knowing these people broadcast the messages of somebody else.

This happens a lot. But as new generations grow up with these web-based tools that make it easy for anyone to put out things, more and more minds start putting out things into the world before they have gotten a message stuck into their head by someone else. These people more and more use the tools to look at things and think collaboratively. They use these new tools not as tools to broadcast opinions but as research tools, tool that help them learn about the world, tool that help them to collaboratively build and maintain vast collections of meaningful things. They use these new tools to collaboratively look and evaluate the things they collected. And while they are doing that, they learn to better use the tools and further develop the tools simultaneously.

This enables them to see patterns that humans have never seen before that no one has realized before and they do that by using not only one brain but many brains, the brains of all the people participating in looking at the same things and start to communicate what they see without starting with a message.

These people don’t need to dumb down reality into messages, they don’t need to tell simple stories, they are able to embrace and enjoy the beauty of complexity.

Next page