Thursday, October 20, 2022

Your digital identity is only sorta kinda you

Since just before Covid hit I've been working as an advisor to a startup called koodos. Perhaps the simplest way to describe it is this: They're building both an app (that's what you, the user, interacts with) and a protocol (that's what developers interact with) that enable crowdsourced sentiment around any piece of digital media.

So, working alongside koodos co-founder Jad Esber, I recently contributed to a fairly metaphysical piece on what this new approach to digital life signals. The full original post, entitled "From Shelf to Self: Identity Construction in the Digital World" was published on Substack and can be found here.

What follows here is an excerpted version.

Opening up your wallet


When the team was thinking about the ways to describe its flagship app, koodos — a media ‘wallet’, they often found ourselves using the analogy of things tacked up on bedroom walls. Or record collections. Or the books on one’s shelf. All of these represent a physical manifestation of who we are, what we are, and how we want those closest to us to perceive us.


Using this framing, of the shelf as a proxy for the self, it’s an interesting coincidence that the words self and shelf are only one letter apart. Because to self-chronicle is to self-construct. The journey of identity construction is intertwined with our active collecting and chronicling of things and ideas. It isn’t that fixed self that we have to actualize or memorialize, it’s the changing and evolving one.


But there's got to be more to life online than just a series of swipes, right?


Life online can move so quickly it often feels like a blur. Swipe left, swipe right, swipe up, swipe down. Dings and pings for update notifications. The rabbit holes that algorithms send us down, some of which end up being too good for our own good. And the next thing we know, three hours have passed. 


What if we could slow things down, so that each digital moment doesn’t merely ‘autoplay’ into the next one? A place where things that truly resonate with us can be captured and serve as extensions of ourselves. Where our online actions are more intentional, more contemplative, and more deliberately non-swipey.


The people already using koodos come to it during what the team is calling a “koodos moment” — that recognition of “I love this”, that this thing I have encountered online really meant something to me, has reminded me of someone, has really resonated with me. If we wanted to get big-brainy about it, collecting on koodos lifts that moment to the level of consciousness. Of going from just one more nanosecond of life online to something of significance for us.


But simply collecting digital things, and moments, isn’t enough.


To produce is to real-ize


In French, the word for producer is ‘réalisateur’ —  or the one who realizes. To produce is to realize. It’s the idea of making something ‘real’, of taking a jumble of ideas and turning them into something understandable and appealing. That’s what good producers do. They make things that don’t yet exist ‘real’. And this applies beyond the context of identity construction. If we think about the process of navigating ideas, we strengthen our understanding of the problem or get clarity on the idea by producing, by shipping, by putting something out there. The act of producing helps you realize the idea and take it from abstract to concrete.


On the internet today, consumption is generally considered the main way to establish one’s particular identity (i.e. we are what we consume), and production is usually ignored in the discourse around identity-forming. But what happens if we reframe things so that more of what we do is also seen as productive, and constitutive.


The more we realize, the more we become ourselves


The unity of one’s life consists in the coherence of the story one can tell about oneself. 

                                                                                Philosopher Simon Critchley


As life plays out, we’re constantly re-writing our one-page autobiography. And the story that we tell about ourselves might be different in different contexts, around different audiences or in different points in time.


Alice in Wonderland knows this phenomenon well, as illustrated in her interactions with that Caterpillar character.


“Who are you?” said the Caterpillar.  

Alice replied, rather shyly, “I — I hardly know, Sir, just at present — at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.” 

“What do you mean by that?” said the Caterpillar, sternly. “Explain yourself!” 

“I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, Sir,” said Alice, “because I am not myself, you see.”

 


So, like Alice, we’re constantly writing a rough draft of our autobiography. From a cultural theory perspective, we find ourselves in a  metamodern phase of both self and society, or what comes after the postmodernist view of a rejection of grand, all-encompassing narratives and performances of the self.


Delineation of the self as part of our story


And as we chronicle our lives online, we are forced to distinguish between our role as reader and our role as protagonist. In the process we separate the self from the things that influence the self in the story we tell ourselves and the story we in turn tell the world about ourselves. The reluctance of most user-generated content platforms to come to terms with their status as not just a social network but also a personal resource is rooted in this tension. 


Therefore any effort to understand the nature and origins of the self is an interpretive effort largely done elsewhere, in parallel somewhat to our life online. Where koodos sees a big opportunity is applying a constructivist lens, in which the self is something always evolving, to our digital identities.

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Found Object: Godard essay from the 80s

I tend to think in what could be thought of as 'circuitous' ways. If there's a straight line way to come at something, I probably won't take it.  Not because I don't value efficiency, but because I can 'what about this, what about that' myself to death. And depending on your own style of thinking and store of patience, you might be happy to play along, or, alternately, it might drive you nuts. I know it has driven some nuts in the past. 

Welcome to my head.
Not always this bad, though it can be

What brought this to mind was recently coming across a paper I wrote many moons ago, during undergrad days actually. Like so many people the Covid close-in meant having the occasion to go through piles of things I hadn't looked at in ages. 

Which is when I found this, an essay called "The cubistic element in Jean-Luc Godard's "Breathless"(1960), written by me in a previous life, also known as the 1980s. 

                 

And this is where the non-linear stuff starts to comes in. Looking back at this paper, and the image of the protagonist Patricia character alongside a Picasso, both presented in profile, I was reminded that it forced a very young me to think in literally figurative ways. In this case how a cubist approach to composition in film. Angular and fragmented. Highly realistic in some ways. Stylized and distancing in others. Here, arguably, the most interesting path from point A to point B is showcased. And even though I was an art history major at the time, until that point I really hadn't thought very much about the philosophy of a particular artistic style residing in more than just one medium.

So why am I thinking/writing about this now? Because coming across this paper coincided with the recent passing of filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, who moved on to the big naturalistic set in the sky in mid September 2022. For those who don't know, a quick Godard primer: He was a leading proponent of the Nouvelle Vague, or  French New Wave, a 1960s artistic movement which was all about rule-breaking, norm-shattering, and a DiY approach to making movies. Godard and his filmic counterparts believed the way features were being made had become too set in the ways of studios and stars and structure. Who needs those, after all, when you can just explode all that came before.

My exposure to Godard came before the paper on "Breathless" though. A year or two earlier I remember having my even younger mind blown in another film class, where they had us watch Godard's "Weekend", from 1967. 

That long traffic jam tracking shot in particular stuck with me. WTF was that? Whatever it was, I had never seen anything like it on a big screen. And then, a couple of years later came the class where we watched "Breathless" aka "A Bout de Souffle", Effortlessly beautiful Jean Seberg. Suave Euro bad boy Jean Paul Belmondo. The streets of Paris in 1960. What could be cooler.

Actually, I have an answer: The imperfection of a roving handheld camera, the abruptness of jump cuts that at first seem like mistakes. There's that non-linear thing again. All these visual shards forcing our brains to fill in the spaces between, as is the case with so many cubist works.

Or as 4 decades ago me put it, in prose that was clunkier that it should have been:

                 

But why rely only on words written on an IBM Selectric typewriter when you can use other state of the art technology of the time --  a photocopier and a glue stick -- to augment your point about the connection between cubist works of art and Godard's "Breathless".

The passing of the decades has definitely led to a certain amount of cringe as I revisited this paper from decades ago. On top of noticing the more tactile experience of reading typewriter keystrokes on paper, and my little arts and crafts project on the back pages that preceded the bibliography, what struck me is how much better this paper would have been without the superfluous adjectives.


Maybe even using 'superfluous' above is itself superfluous. But I can let that one go. The bigger insight for me in revisiting this stuff has been realizing the lasting effects of being exposed to a suite of so many cool and radical ideas at such an impressionable age. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

My Britpop Boomerang (or how a Radiohead interview I did in 1996 came back to me as a Facebook recommendation 26 years later)

During a brief bout of sleeplessness last night I opened my phone and went into Facebook. Not the best antidote to temporary insomnia, I know I know. Nevertheless...swipe, swipe, swipe I did. 

Hmmm, nothing much of interest here. 

Then *this* story pops up, from a source I don't even follow. Meaning it came to me through the recommendation algorithm. Okay, it's from Far Out Magazine and it's about Britpop, a genre I was very partial to in the 1990s. I get why it was pushed. 

Then I look at the pull quote - "It's always good to make fun of Oasis" - and I thought to myself "that sounds awfully familiar." So I click and dig into the article. It's all about a Gallagher brother, Noel in this case, slamming Radiohead. If you weren't particularly interested in music in the mid 1990s or maybe you weren't even born yet, you need to know that the Gallagher brothers of Oasis were endless sources of caustic quips about other musicians. Always salty, always amusing. 

See exhibit A below, from the Far Out article, for an example of the kind of thing I'm referring to.

The back and forth battled behind Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke and the Oasis guys seems to have spanned decades. Who knew that in 2015 Noel Gallagher was still dumping on Radiohead in the press, but apparently he was. Anyway, then we get to the part of the article that talks about an event that occurred in early 1996. 

And this is where things start to get very self-referential, and why the "It's always good to make fun of Oasis" line jumped out at me. 

It's because the event referenced below, in what we'll call Exhibit B, happened during a recording for a radio show I hosted at CBC in the mid 1990s. And now it's coming back to me as a recommendation in my Facebook feed in September 2022? Now we know how long it takes for the cycle to complete itself. Though why this appeared on the radar of the UK's Far Out at this point in time remains a mystery to me.

And here's the Oasis-piss-taking-by-the-Radiohead-guy, assisted acoustically by 2 members of The Posies. (Note: That's 1996 me saying "Yeah" at 1:10). 


So how did this strange little bit of messing around in a CBC studio in Vancouver in the mid 1990s end up as a story in an online UK publication in 2022, and then pushed to me on Facebook?

It would have all started with somebody, back in 1996, recording the radio show, onto cassette, and then dubbing copies for friends. I remember doing so much of that kind of thing myself I even had a dedicated dubbing cassette deck. This era coincided with the rise of the commercial consumer internet, where people organized themselves into interest groups, using BBSs (online bulletin boards), Usenet, and sites like Geocities. The cassette distribution would have gone from known person to known person to a not personally known individual as recipient. And then from that person to people s/he knew and also potentially other online pals. Yes, kids, this was the world before the viral videos of YouTube and TikTok.

Once we hit the end of the 1990s, we got into the file-sharing world of Napster and later the likes of Kazaa, Limewire, and several other peer-to-peer music sites where MP3s were uploaded and downloaded, and copyright enforcement became too big to take on.

From the same session in which the Oasis Wonderwall bit appeared, the following full song was also recorded. And in between the mid 1990s and the early 2000s Radiohead became one of the biggest bands in the world and the internet as a mainstream technology for global connection had taken hold.

Thus we get the full song featuring Thom Yorke of Radiohead with Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of The Posies making the rounds first through cassette sharing and trading, then on file-sharing sites, and finally onto YouTube, as confirmed in the comments section.





And because there are few mysteries unsolved on the internet, 11 years ago someone who came across the YouTube video had the provenance information for the recording, even though at that time about 20 years had elapsed between the recording and its posting on YouTube.



And there's little old me, chiming in on the comment stream. If you make it to the end of the YouTube video above you'll hear 1996 me in some kind of Nostradamus mode, predicting the likelihood of a bootleg of the recording showing up one day.

It sure is nice to be right once in a while.




Thursday, November 4, 2021

The Internet as Economic Force - What does that even mean?

The internet in 2021: Unstoppable economic force or the root cause of most/all evil?

Answer: Yes.

To both. 

Because, not unlike your relationship status on Facebook back in the day 'it's complicated'.

And it's been on a mind a lot lately, and when I say lately, I mean the past year, as my task was to work on a project that estimated the value of the internet to the US economy. Daunting, yes, but this was my fourth time on the gig, so I knew what I was getting myself into. Even so, these projects always come with new brain-bending challenges, as these miscellaneous notes of mine suggest.

So...what is the value of the internet to the US economy? First, the TL;DR answer: 12% of GDP, or $2.45 trillion. The 162-page version of the answer can be accessed here, along with breakdowns of employment by US congressional district. Yes, this project goes hard.




And what's the big picture here? For starters, you're better off looking for a tech job in Seattle or Boston than, say, Montana or North Dakota. That's not too big of a surprise. But what is interesting is that the internet economy now accounts for 12% of GDP. That's up from the 2% estimated in the 2008 report, 4% in 2012, and 6% in the 2016 analysis. And when compared to the economy as a whole, the growth rate of the internet economy is 7 times that of the overall economy.

So how did we get here?

The digitization, automation, and networking of previously analog, standalone processes kind of changes everything. Simply put, the internet is getting woven into the fabric of more industries and activities, more and more. 

And then there's the iceberg issue. Which is that the part of the internet you see and know is just the tip of the iceberg. There are of course all those underlying protocols and technologies that you don't have to know about or think about, but without them, no Netflix, no comparing airfares on your iPad.

Part of the rapid rate of growth is technological capabilities, part of this is consumer expectation, part of this is the availability of capital for startups. When companies like Dropbox or Slack or Square start to take hold, they really start to take hold. And exponential growth is where venture capital dollars want to be. Yes, they 'lose' 9 times out of 10, but when they get the win it more than erases than the losses of the other 9.

It started with 'shared' music files in the late 90s (and I fully realize that sharing is a euphemism for pirated which became a euphemism for distribution and then became a euphemism for promotion and eventually found its way to the all-you-can-eat streaming of Spotify and SoundCloud and YouTube et al). As the tech ecosystem has evolved some are 'free', thanks to ads, some are free thanks to business models like freemium, some offer an uninterrupted, ad-free experience in exchange for a monthly subscription, and some are both.

Market evolution = more choices, more tiers of services, and new business models, many of which we don't even think about. I mean, how often do you think about how the people on the other end, wherever that is, are getting paid for all the stuff you do online without paying with out of pocket dollars. Probably not that much. 

As your elders told you, there's no free lunch. The truth of the matter is if you're not paying with dollars then you're paying with data. Or, you're free riding, to use another term from the dictionary of economics. Except on the internet free riding has been turned into a new kind of business model. Best example: Those up to 40 minute Zooms you're not paying anything for? It's the people who pay for the premium features that are making those possible.

When considering the runaway growth of the internet economy it's also worth thinking about all the things we do online now without even thinking about them. They're just there. As if they've always been there. Dating by swipe, banking by phone, language learning by app, ride ordering by Uber and Lyft, pushing a few virtual buttons and then magically receiving groceries, furniture, cat food, and clothes. Earlier this year crypto became the world's 5th most circulated currency. The internet is increasingly everywhere. Heck it's even in vending machines.



The full report can be accessed here.




Sunday, May 9, 2021

Going back to the internet of the 90s to think about the internet of the future

It's home to permissionless publishing, constant connectivity, and peer to peer networks. 

On the internet don't need a 'them' to green light whatever it is we may want to do online. Plus we get to click on the things we want to read or watch, and ignore those things we don't want to know about. 

Well, most of the time, anyway.

At this point I think it's safe to say that we've all been on the internet long enough to know that such openness and on-demand everything can yield less than optimal outcomes. Whether it's the bad actors that manufacture disinformation or the ones responsible for ad fraud, bots, or a litany of other undesirable things, the internet exists in the contradiction that the greatest treasure trove of information ever amassed can also have a sewage pipe attached to it. That's the flip side of the ubiquitous connectivity and networks. It seems self-evident that we're infinitely better off with the internet than without it, but we're also at a point in its evolution (about 25 years in to the consumer internet phase of things) that decisions being made now, and companies being built now, will determine where this crazy experiment in global connectedness goes.

So what can we do about it now? Sometimes looking back can provide a valuable lens as we look forward, as was the case at a recent event that brought together some pioneers of the internet with an academic who has been studying online communities since they began to emerge in the 1990s.

The pioneers sharing their perspectives were David Bohnett, founder of Geocities and Caterina Fake, co-founder of Flickr. As a quick refresher, Geocities hosted tens of millions of websites at its peak in the late 90s. Some say it was a precursor to social media, with web software that let anyone create and publish a website. And it's easy to forget what a big deal that was at the time. But it really was. 

You didn't need to know how to code, you didn't have to pay extra for domain names or hosting. It was all taken care of by Geocities. As noted in a Wall Street Journal article in 2007 on Geocities: “Back then, entries were known as home pages, not profiles. But the basic, expressive elements of today’s Facebook and competitor MySpace…were all right there.” So what happened to Geocities? Well, it was purchased for $3.5 billion by Yahoo in 1999. And shut down a neat and tidy 10 years later. Its founder David Bohnett started his own venture capital firm, investing in other startups, and now runs a foundation focused on improving society through social activism.

A few years after Yahoo's acquisition of Geocities, along came Flickr. It launched in 2004 and was one of the first, if not *the* first online photo-sharing sites. You had pictures that you wanted to post online and tag? Flickr was the place to do that. Basic features were offered for free, and you could pay extra for a premium account with added bells and whistles. After a year of explosive growth Flickr was also acquired by Yahoo, though at about $25 million it fetched nowhere near the price of Geocities. 

As Caterina Fake's co-founder Stewart Butterfield put it: "Flickr missed some of the uptick in the market, as others sold for more when the market took off: Myspace sold to News Corp. for $580 million in July 2005 and later YouTube, which Google acquired in October 2006 for $1.65 billion in stock. We definitely made the wrong decision in retrospect. We would’ve made 10 times [what we did]. But it’s not like I regret it." Fret not, however. Things turned out fine for Butterfield. More than just fine. After a series of entrepreneurial ventures he created Slack, which got acquired by Salesforce for $27 billion in December 2020. Things turned out well for Caterina Fake too. She did another startup after Flickr, and it got acquired by eBay. She became an investor herself, taking bets on Uber, Etsy, and Kickstarter, among others. Today she is a partner in an early stage investing firm called Yes VC.

And with that, let's go to the event, with David Bohnett, founder of Geocities, Caterina Fake, co-founder of Flickr, author and academic Nancy Baym, and moderator Jad Esber, co-founder of the startup Koodos* for a discussion of such questions as:

  • How can what we've learned from the social internet's past help us create a better shared digital future?
  • If each new social platform is as a new type of 'society,' how have these assumptions shifted over the years?
  • And, of course, what might be coming next...



PS And you can see the full transcript from the event here.

*Disclosure:  I'm an advisor to Koodos. And may I say it's been a fascinating ride.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

8 Takeaways from 8 Episodes of the Now & Next Podcast

It’s been a year in which coming up with creative solutions to pressing problems has taken on a whole new meaning for the screen-based industries.  And Season 3 of Now & Next, the podcast that I host, has made it a priority to explore the range of ways in which people in film, TV, games, and digital content creation have been keeping things up and running during the long haul that is Covid-19. 

Not surprisingly, we found a number of common threads emerging over the course of the 8 episodes of this season:
  • A new community-minded focus taking precedence for everyone from entrepreneurs to industry associations
  • An awareness of the ongoing challenges of implementing diversity and inclusion initiatives that go beyond ‘ticks in boxes’
  • A deeper understanding of the new demands on digital creatives working from home and for actors and crews working on set during Covid-19

As a handy guide to Season 3, here are 8 takeaways from its 8 episodes. You can click the episode number/title below to go straight to that podcast audio file, or click here to subscribe to the series on Apple Podcasts. And here we go...

Episode 1: Practicing “Safe Sets” in the COVID-19 era 

Takeaway: In a time of crisis helping the industry helps everyone

On this episode we meet a young serial entrepreneur named Alex Kolodkin who, when Covid-19 led to a shutdown of movie and TV sets across Canada, started a new company to help equip the industry with up to date and accurate health and safety information that was vetted by a team of medical professionals and that also provided certification for TV & film professionals. 

Sounds pretty straightforward, right? But there’s a twist. He isn’t charging anything for the services offered by this latest venture, called Safe Sets International. Why is that you ask? Alex explains it this way:

“I felt useless sitting at home while Covid ravaged the industry. There were times where I was just twiddling my thumbs and thinking, I wish I could do something, and the only thing I can do is sit at home…[but] when I see that there’s a challenge, my instinct as an entrepreneur is: how can I help? That’s where Safe Sets came from. My way of helping is just to get education out there for everybody, and I think it’s the simplest thing I could have done.”

Episode 2: Making on-screen racial diversity easier to achieve

Takeaway: Achieving meaningful diversity & inclusion continues to be a challenge in TV & film

“I’ve been hearing about creating diversity and inclusion since the late ’70s. I’ve sat at more roundtable discussions about increased diversity and inclusion than most people have. And the needle is moving very slowly.” Those are the words of award-winning actor and founder and Executive Director of the ReelWorld Film Festival Tonya Williams.

Tonya joined us on the podcast to talk about both the achievements made and challenges faced over her 20 years with the festival whose focus is to support and showcase the work of Canada’s racially diverse filmmaking and production community. Most recently Tonya launched Access ReelWorld, the most complete database of Black, Indigenous, Asian, South Asian, Middle Eastern, and Latin American talent in the Canadian entertainment industry.

Episode 3: Virtual production moves closer to mainstream
  
Takeaway: Boundary-pushing technology doesn’t have to mean big budgets

What if, instead of bringing all the elements of a live action set together in one place – the actors, crews, props, and locations – filmmakers could build out the production digitally, one layer at a time? That’s the promise of virtual production, the approach to filmmaking we’re exploring in this episode with the Alberta-based production team of Andrew Scholotiuk and Dylan Pearce.

In recent years this style of production has moved from the exclusive domain of mega budget, major studio movies to the more modest budgets of indie and DIY filmmakers. This is because truly cinematic visual effects can now be rendered in real time using iPhones and video game engines like Unity and the Unreal Engine. As Dylan Pearce explains in this episode:

“If you have an iPhone or a camera that utilizes face capture technology, you can start to play with creating your own face capture and digital avatar. You can open up Unreal and use your phone, and then you can start to digitally move around a character’s face in real time. There’s also an app that utilizes your phone to fully mo-cap somebody. Now, this might not be Hollywood level grade, but it’s a wonderful foundation to learn the platform and to get familiar with it so that when you do have a production, you understand it and you can put your money in the right places for it. I think that’s the first step.”

Episode 4: Staying eco-conscious on set during Covid-19

Takeaway: Production can be green even during Covid-19

On this episode we meet Clara George, a pioneer in the greening of film and TV sets. Clara has spent close to three decades working as a producer in film and TV and during this time became increasingly aware of how little things could make a big difference when it came to reducing the environmental impact of production.

Today, being in charge of sustainability initiatives is Clara’s full-time job, and she’s been able to do everything from keeping eco-consciousness on set top of mind, even during Covid-19, to reducing her productions’ overall carbon footprint by shifting from fossil fuels to the clean grid of hydroelectric power. Clara’s current plan is to take these sustainability initiatives put into place on her productions in Vancouver and create a template for the whole industry.

Episode 5: How the game industry is staying relevant during Covid-19

Takeaway: Virtual schmoozing is real, especially in the game industry


Almost every industry says it’s a relationship industry, but the game industry is probably more reliant on in-person networking and trade shows than other media and entertainment sectors. Just ask anyone who has attended events like GDC in San Francisco, E3 in Los Angeles, or GamesCom in Cologne, Germany, and you’ll likely get an earful of stories about these epic gatherings of tens of thousands of people and round the clock socializing.

And then Covid hit in March, and the game industry was one of the first to go into ‘safe mode’. Developers, designers, and project managers grabbed their headphones and computers and quickly moved to working from home. Covid meant those legendary industry events were no longer possible. But then the Canadian game industry responded, with a virtual version of a large-scale networking event that came about as a collaboration between the provincial interactive media associations across the country.

On this episode we’ll hear about how a variety of game studios have been adapting, and how the virtual networking offered by the new Canada Games Online event helped keep the industry’s momentum going by bringing studios together with publishers, investors, and other strategic partners.


Takeaway: Movies can be social, even when we’re home alone

Sometimes it takes a pandemic to take an interesting idea and push it to the next level. That has certainly been the case for Hilary Henegar and Fiona Rayher, the two British Columbia-based entrepreneurs behind Hoovie. The project started as small, in person screenings of ‘conversation sparking’ movies, generally from the film festival circuit. But during Covid, Hoovie has been nudged into its next incarnation, as a technology platform.

On this episode you’ll hear about how Hilary and Fiona have orchestrated the shift from a business model based on backyard and living room screenings to virtual events that aim to cultivate community by bringing a social dimension to the viewing experience as well as providing a new way for filmmakers to reach audiences. 


Takeaway: A 20-something from small town Saskatchewan has a few things to teach Disney

Jacob Pratt describes himself as “just a res kid”, a reference to having grown up on the George Gordon First Nation reserve, about 100 km north of Regina. These days that ‘kid’ from Saskatchewan finds himself based in Los Angeles, having recently completed a Masters degree at the University of Southern California, and running Skoden Entertainment, an Indigenous story focused entertainment production company.  

His first client? The multinational media and entertainment conglomerate called Disney.

On this episode Jacob explains his journey from the Canadian prairies to the heart of the global entertainment industry, and how he convinced Disney that the best way to break decades of on-screen stereotypes of Indigenous peoples was to work with him and his company. As Jacob puts it: “How can we reverse or eliminate those stereotypes? The number one answer for me was: Use the same medium that created and reinforced those stereotypes to reverse them.”  


Takeaway: The shift to work from home mode may not be as simple as it seems

We’ve all heard the saying ‘be careful what you wish for’. Well this year it’s taken on a new meaning, as millions of people no longer have to wonder about how great working from home is, or perhaps isn’t. On this episode of the podcast we meet Marie Claire LeBlanc Flanagan and Jim Munroe, two long time game arts and industry professionals whose current project is conducting research and reporting on what the shift to working from home has been like for people in the game industry.

Marie and Jim are currently putting the finishing touches on the report, and its title, “Isolation Nation”, provides a hint at some of the findings. Not surprisingly, many are feeling anxious and alone and are having to learn new skills, such as being their own boss and finding ways to keep their morale up without the usual office socializing and team building events.

Marie describes the research project this way: “People are really isolated right now, and I say that’s more the case for people making games, especially small studios. Life is easier when people can solve problems together. So the goal of this project is to gather knowledge from people making games all over Canada, in small studios, in larger studios, or people working alone. And then gather that knowledge together into one resource so that people can share the things that they’re struggling with, and how they’re getting past them.”  

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

A double shot of podcasts for the Season 3 finale

Tis the season...for what, I'm not sure this year. But one thing we do know is that for the past 9 months some of our best companions have been podcasts. To bring Season 3 of Now & Next, the podcast I host, to a close, a double shot of episodes have just been dropped for your earbud fulfillment. In one we meet an indigenous actor, producer, and filmmaker who as a kid wondered why there was no one who looked like him in Home Alone. Today Jacob Pratt is based in LA, and his latest project is creating Indigenous themed content for Disney. The other episode picks up on this theme of home alone-ing and offers a preview of a forthcoming research report on how people in the game industry are adapting to working from home. Enjoy.

Now & Next Podcast S3 E8 – Isolation Nation: Insights into #WFH

Have you ever said to yourself ‘if only I could work from home whenever I wanted’? And then followed up with a list of all the ways in which it would be better than the daily grind of an uncomfortable commute, overpriced coffee, and hours spent pushing paper and clicking keys at your desk, interspersed with hours in meetings and boxes of muffins? Now, for better or worse, most of us know what that’s like. Spoiler alert: it’s not as great as we thought it would be.

On this episode of  the Now & Next podcast we’re taking a closer look at an industry that was one of the first to go to full work from home mode: the game industry. In some ways it was a fairly straightforward transition, because the majority of developers, designers, producers, and testers were already working independently and on screens for much of the time. But has the transition really been that seamless?

The guests on this episode of the podcast are Marie Claire LeBlanc Flanagan and Jim Munroe. They’re long time game art industry professionals who have been tasked with finding out what the shift to working from home has actually been like for game industry personnel. They’re putting the finishing touches on a research report about the sector’s transition from studio-based work to home-based work called “Isolation Nation”.  Marie and Jim provide us with a sneak peek into some of their interview-based findings so far, such as the challenges of people having to be their own boss at home, the tendency to work too much, as opposed to working too little, and mechanisms for keeping morale up when the opportunities for the usual team building events are limited due to the Covid-19 restrictions.

Marie describes the research project this way: “People are really isolated right now, and I say that’s more the case for people making games, especially small studios. And we think life is easier when people can solve problems together and share knowledge. So the goal of this project is to gather knowledge from people making games all over Canada, in small studios, in larger studios, or people working alone. And then gather that knowledge together into one resource so that people can share the things that they’re struggling with, and how they’re getting past them.”

On this episode, learn more about:
  • How did the gaming industry respond to Covid in terms of getting people set up to work from home? (02:37)
  • How team health is affected by working from home (09:00)
  • Ways studios are trying to build camaraderie and trust with people that joined during the pandemic (11:25)
  • Studios dealing with mental health challenges (15:00)
  • The most surprising discoveries Marie Claire and Jim made from doing this research (18:35)
  • Getting creative work done while being stuck at home during a pandemic (22:30)



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Now & Next Podcast S3 E7 – Breaking On-Screen Stereotypes from the Inside Out 


As a child growing up in southern Saskatchewan Jacob Pratt found himself watching TV – as most kids do – and wondering why he saw no one who looked like him. Jacob grew up on the George Gordon First Nation reserve, about 100 km north of Regina, and remembers that the only images he saw of people from his culture on TV and in movies were stereotypes like people dancing around drums or as members of a tribe from the 1800s riding into town on horseback. 

“Why is there no one that looks like me in Home Alone?”, he thought to himself.


It took several years for Jacob to process, and ultimately answer that question for himself. He built his career in the entertainment industry one step at a time, first as a dancer, then as an actor, and more recently as a producer and director. It was along this journey that Jacob realized that the stereotypical images of Indigenous people he had seen his whole life were not just created by the industry, but reinforced by it. “And then I started thinking to myself, well, how can we reverse or eliminate those stereotypes? And the first answer that came to me was: use the same medium that created and reinforced those stereotypes to reverse them.”

On this episode of the Now and Next, Jacob Pratt talks about his journey from a town of a few thousand people on the prairies to the heart of the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, where he recently completed his Masters at USC, and launched his own company, Skoden Entertainment. Skoden is an Indigenous story-focused entertainment production company whose first client happens to be Disney. But this is not the story of an overnight success. Far from it. While still based in Canada, Jacob hosted, produced, and directed several shows on APTN. And it was while doing an internship at Disney, as part of his Masters program at USC, that he forged the relationships that would lead to his current work with the entertainment industry giant.

On this episode, learn more about:
  • How using the entertainment industry can be a great way to reverse stereotypes created and reinforced by the media (02:20)
  • The biggest challenges in bringing Indigenous stories created by Indigenous filmmakers to a wide audience (6:30)
  • The story of how of Jacob got the deal with Disney (09:00)
  • Skoden Entertainment’s plans to impact Indigenous communities more directly in the future (10:30)



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