Sky Walking the Vertiginous Digital World

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“They’re f***ing scared shitless!”

Julian a seasoned network BBC producer recounts the apoplexy when programme makers receive online feedback from viewers or the latest technology younger viewers are using that leaves everyone else scratching their head trying to figure out why it’s a hit and what the hell’s going on.

The producers then might have a stab. The results can be strange, sometimes catastrophic. Traditionalists or baby boomers using snapchat can easily be like your grandpa dancing to Stormzy’s ‘Big For Your Boots.

Next digital stop, Messenger on Telegram. Snap chat a Russian pgrad student tells me is so yesterday.

It’s nothing new. At each generation cycle, baby boomers on traditionalists, millennials on generation X, the uber group announces with the gusto of Tony Curtis’ “I am Spatacus”, “I am the future”. You lot are spent!

At the @journalismfest #ijf17, mojo looks to usurp videojournalism, whilst cinema journalism is kicking back. Somewhere in all of this, tech gives way to the real problem. “It’s the philosophy stoopid”. Speaking recently in Russia about nouveau storytelling was a trip back to the archives: Vertov, Eisenstein and Tarkovsky

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In the workplace and this present shiny-tech environment the feeling seems more acute.

Media, it’s said, is a young person’s game and they’re considerably cheaper than matured labour, but sometimes even 35 seems passed it. A young television news producer tells me how a senior producer was thrilled to use mobile filming and YouTube for the first time a month ago. You know tons of stories too of people being laid off because of the sign of the times.

Giving a talk in Moscow,and whilst it’s a practice we’re not unfamiliar with, someone asked if I was one of the Sky Walkers.

Er, What?

The term originates from native Indians fearless of heights working those New York sky scrapers in the building bonanza of the 1930s. They used old tech e.g hammers etc to create the structure for those glistening new buildings.

Chuck Stinnett writes about the Mohawks first working as common labourers stating that:

At the time, most bridge workers were veterans of great sailing ships, comfortable with working aloft. But the Mohawks pestered the bridge foreman until they were given some training in riveting and put to work. They immediately proved themselves to be what a company executive called “natural born bridgemen.”

Soon these sky walkers were in high demand writes Stinnet, adding:

Many took up residence in Brooklyn, but they were famous for traveling thousands of miles for work — sometimes leaving one job at lunch to travel across the country for another one.

Media Sky Walkers, and I have met many more than I realise, bridge the old with the new. They might be outside Snap chats range, says my host, but they have other things that make them relevant. Any chat about “Fake News” for instance situates them in the world of Nietzsche and his relevance today.

Berners Lee is a classic Sky walker. He might have invented mark up language years ago but he’s most definitely not a spent force.

As we tilt further into the future, and knowledge and pre-digital skills of the past recede from memory, we’re going to need more sky walkers to make sense of where we’re from and where we’re going. That’s what prompted me, inspired by amongst others @journalismfest, to lead the launch for the first MA LAB in Digital and Interactive Storytelling in London.

See you at #ijf18 hopefully.

The BBC’s Director of Digital Development James Montgomery gives a nod to me Sky walking.

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If you’d like to contact me. You can get me here @viewmagazine or here David[at]viewmagazine.tv or leave a comment.

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