(K)new

An opportunity came my way a few short weeks ago where in a brief couple of hours I got to meet fourteen research teams currently engaged in a wide disciplinary range of scientific academic research at University College Dublin. The event was part of the preparations for Dublin City of Science 2012, specifically the imagine science film strand where researchers from UCD and filmmakers from IDAT were brought together to join forces, pool intellectual and creative resources, essentially spark off each others ideas with the goal of generating some potential cultural impact see (http://www.ucd.ie/imaginesciencefilms/) for a broader synopsis.

As a busy busy busy digital writer (& not a cup-a-soup in sight) who is currently involved with the innovation academy and smartlab, who makes, researches and explores digital narratives, electronic literature and networked writing in the context of UCD’s department of English, Drama and Film, and indeed has a long history of technological creativity etc including creative media, transmedia and creative writing/thinking workshops, even film, console & pc game production for heavens sake, I was invited along as a facilitator to essentially act as an alternative creative catalyst and assist in facilitating the event.

My facilitation concerned itself with the flow of ideas, the exchange of concepts, also challenging participants into quickly reconceptualising contexts and frameworks, prompting, prodding and poking all in the name and direction of innovation and innovative thinking. Due to the deliberately intense and frantic design of the afternoon, there was freshness and urgency in everyone’s interactions, it was a mixer based on a sort of speed dating format. Here I’ll refrain from technical speculations as to its effectiveness as a method to subdue phonological loops, subvocal rehearsals or visuospatial sketchpads, etc, suffice to say that as a human to human (expert) interaction mode, it displayed genuine potential to cut to the chase and deliver quickly on potential collaboration, particularly when executed in such a professional manner by all concerned.

My first interesting challenge was ‘the innovation board’ where I was asked to provide some prompts on a large white board which would act as a six minute respite mid circuit. Thus in perhaps fifteen minutes of a quick, compressed solo brainstorm and brainsail, I packed the board with snippets of near automatic writing on the subject of media narrative innovation, much in the spirit of the E. M. Forster quote I’d scribbled on the top of that board to begin with: “How do I know what I think until I see what I have to say.” When pretty much all of the board was filled, I myself saw that I’d written the word “new” in large letters at the centre of what was emerging to resemble a buckshot Buzan like mind-map, a blinky Gladwell like flash prompted me to add a bracketed power of K (for knowledge) to ‘new’ resulting in “(K)new”. I wondered what it was I was trying to say by adding what is essentially a chemical, (Kelvin & Potassium) Mathematical, (representing one thousand) even electrical symbol (cathode & power line descriptions) while obviously and deliberately stressing the fact that new knowledge can only be built upon already understood principles and structures. (Cue the epistemological revolt at the the back)

The surrounding graphical acronyms I explored were QTC triangles, Story structures, common narrative elements, scientific methods, industrial /commercial approaches to digital projects and other brief (& I hope intellectually punchy) visual and textual prompts.

Alex Boyd from UCD research, the organiser, was an absolute joy to work alongside and as soon as She, Barry and I had dispensed with brief introductions, I ensconced myself in my innovative thinking corner, like my white board it was another opportunity for participants to take stock, respond to progress and prompts, re-frame the potential of the event midstream, a progress check within a proper people meet. As soon as it began, the buzz and energy were evident.

This was of course the highlight for me personally, meeting so many interesting and passionate scientists, fluently conversant in all aspects and minutiae of their specialized research, my task was to find a way to test, change or alter, in under two or three questions, the viscosity of their individual information flow, while ensuring that our overall relaxed atmosphere, conducive to openness and real exchange, didn’t actually lull them into crystallising decisions or feedback too early in their cycle. The sheer professionalism of these scientists was and remains inspirational, it was a privilege to spend that short time with them and it personally convinces me of the valuable, diverse and striking research activity that is on-going at UCD.

I have always been attracted to edges of science and technology, and genuinely perceive the humanities / scientific distinction as essentially political, work in social sciences can cross pollinate with methodologies and approaches from pure and abstract scientific endeavor and in many instances vice versa. Those previous cultural imperatives of isolated segmentation and specialisation were necessary in times of slow development and incremental progress, the leaps and jumps our society has become accustomed to can only be facilitated by more roundly educated specialism’s, those t-shaped people that Ideo’s Kelly writes about, the quantum physicists fascinated by Joyce, the boundary crossers, who while attracting the wrath of myopic boundary makers fail (in Robert Frost’s sense) in making good neighbours. These are and were dustbowl depression ideas that somehow survive within the rapid pace of modern technological change, persistent as a result of the nourishing preservation of fear (of failure).

The potential to impart scientific research using new and emerging digital narrative technologies, all these things, coupled with an innate sense of trust in our own fundamental goodness and capacity for progress, suggest to me, that initiatives like imagine science are but the first step on a long journey that will yield untold rewards for those prepared to undertake it. But then you (k)new that already.. (-: