Storythings 10

In 2011, Matt Locke started Storythings. It began as a vehicle for him to take on consultancy work, but soon expanded: in 2014 Hugh Garry joined as a Director, and in 2017 I did. We like to say we help good people tell important stories in fascinating ways, and we have. Over the last 10 years, Storythings has worked on strategy and production on a variety of communications projects: digital versions of static PDF reports, graphic comics, animated videos, online magazines that publish original long-form journalism from across the globe, first-person documentary films, podcasts, animated posters and everything in between. 

Starting it all off for Storythings in 2011 was a project called Pepys Road, created for the release of the book ‘Capital’ by John Lanchester, which featured a fictional road called Pepys Road (though it turns out Pepys Road does actually exist in South London!). We worked with the amazingly talented James Bridle and Dean Vipond to create an email-based Choose Your Own Adventure story that took you through some of the alternative realities touched on in the book, which is set in London just after a financial crash (sound familiar?). Unfortunately, the official website for the project is no longer live, but Dean Vipond explains the project here, Dazed Magazine interviewed James Bridle about it here, and Frank Rose interviewed Matt about it here, if you’d like to go back in history. 

Fast forward 10 years and it’s 2021, the time when Pepys Road’s fictional stories were actually set. A conversation with Matt just as I was returning from maternity leave at the beginning of 2021 was the seed of the idea for our 10th anniversary project: why not commemorate our work on Pepys Road, where John Lanchester wrote multiple alternative scenarios for what the reader might find happens to them in the UK in a few years’ time, by commissioning authors from around the world to write original fiction about what the world might be like 10 years from now, around 2031? That would take us from 2011 to 2021 to 2031, Storythings-style. 

We’ve done some very wide-ranging work in the last 10 years (to name a few: How We Get To Next for the Gates Foundation, Identities of the World for Experian, Nevertheless and Standing on the Shoulders for Pearson, Rethink Quarterly for ADP, How To Build An App for Google & Tom Scott, Top 10 Frontier Technologies for Climate Action for IMC, Brink and the Foreign & Commonwealth Development Office, Minds and Machines for Nesta). And we felt that our 10th anniversary was a unique chance to showcase how our thinking has diversified and grown in the last 10 years. 

We haven’t just commissioned original short fiction though – we’ve decided to take them further and commissioned talented people from across industries to comment on them in specific formats, which is our special thing (see: Formats Unpacked). You’ll see the responses below each original story, taking the original stories even further – we thought it was fascinating how people with expertise in the domains the stories covered could expound on the themes in those ways. The kinds of stories and writers we have commissioned for this project (a note: all our writers and artists are paid) are truly representative of the kind of work we like to do, and a celebration of who we are. 

So it was with a lot of pleasure (and for me personally a TON of excitement!) that we launched Storythings 10 in November 2021, a series of short works of fiction set in 2031. The stories, and the writers, represent a truly diverse set of countries and topics: the writers come from South Korea, India, Jordan, USA, UK, Spain, Australia and Bolivia, and the subjects they touch on include digital identity, health, politics, climate, culture, education, technology, media and careers. 

The stories will make you think about questions like: What will our healthcare system be like in a post-pandemic world? What will it *really* be like to wear augmented reality glasses all the time? What will it be like when humans damage the Earth beyond repair? How beautiful can a robot’s thoughts be – are they always boring because robots are not human? 

The future, as William Gibson says, is already here. It’s just unevenly distributed, and in these writers’ works maybe you can see these different yet similar futures for humanity. 

Here is the roster of writers we worked with on this project, whose talent and creativity know no bounds. If you’re looking for writers, we highly recommend them:

Original fiction

Night Farm by Maria Anderson (USA)

Maria Anderson’s fiction has appeared in McSweeney’s Quarterly, Sewanee Review, and Best American Short Stories 2018. She has been awarded residencies from Jentel, Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, and Joshua Tree National Park. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram. She grew up on a cattle ranch in southwestern Montana.

Your Cup Runneth Over by Lavanya Lakshminarayan (India)

Lavanya Lakshminarayan is the BSFA and Locus Award-nominated author of ‘Analog/ Virtual: And Other Simulations Of Your Future’. She’s also been shortlisted for the Times of India AutHer Award for Best Author Debut. In her other life as a game designer, she’s worked on Zynga Inc.’s FarmVille, FarmVille 2 and Mafia Wars. Her forthcoming publications include a short story in the Gollancz Book of South Asian Science Fiction (Volume 2), and a novelette in the anthology, Third Eye. Follow her on Instagram: @lavanya.ln and Twitter: @lavanya_ln

Undullah Street by Ellen van Neerven (Australia)

Ellen van Neerven (they/them) is an award-winning author, editor and educator of First Nations Australian and Dutch heritage. They belong to the Yugambeh Nation and live in Meanjin (Brisbane) on the unceded land of the Turrbal and Yugera peoples. Ellen writes fiction, poetry and non-fiction. Their books include Throat (2020), Heat and Light (2014) and Comfort Food (2016). They edited Flock: First Nations Stories Then and Now (2021).

Madrid, 2031 by Maria Bonete Escoto (Spain)

María Bonete Escoto (Elche, 1993) is a Spanish writer based in Madrid. She participated in the climate fiction anthology ‘Estío. Once relatos de ficción climática’ (Episkaia, 2018), has published the short climate gothic novel ‘No hay tierra donde enterrarme’ (Episkaia, 2019) and has a short story in the anthology ‘El Gran Libro de Satán’ (Blackie Books, 2021). She writes non-fiction about the relationship between videogames and culture as well, and you can read her work in Heterotopias Zine, Revista Manual and Nivel Oculto. She is on Twitter as @flowersdontlast.

The Confession by Krys Lee (South Korea)

Krys Lee is the author of the story collection Drifting House and the novel How I Became a North Korean, and the translator of I Hear Your Voice and the story collection Diary of a Murderer by Young-ha Kim. She has won the Rome Prize in Literature and the Story Prize Spotlight Award, the Honor Title in Adult Fiction Literature from the Asian/Pacific American Libraries Association, and was a finalist for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize and the BBC International Story Prize. She currently teaches creative writing at Yonsei University, Underwood International College in Seoul, South Korea.

Three in One by Hisham Bustani (Jordan), translated by Nariman Youssef

Hisham Bustani is an award-winning Jordanian author of five collections of short fiction and poetry. His work has been translated into many languages, with English-language translations appearing in journals including The Kenyon Review, Black Warrior Review, The Georgia Review, The Poetry Review, Modern Poetry in Translation, World Literature Today, and The Los Angeles Review of Books Quarterly. His fiction has been featured in The Best Asian Short Stories among other anthologies. His book The Perception of Meaning (Syracuse University Press, 2015) won the University of Arkansas Arabic Translation Award. Hisham was the 2017 recipient of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Fellowship for Artists and Writers, and his second book in English translation, The Monotonous Chaos of Existence, is forthcoming in 2022 from Mason Jar Press. He occasionally tweets @H_Bustani.

Nariman Youssef (@nariology) is a Cairo-born, London-based semi-freelance translator with an MA in Translation Studies from the University of Edinburgh. She works between Arabic and English and part-time manages a translation team at the British Library. Literary translations include Inaam Kachachi’s The American Granddaughter, Donia Kamal’s Cigarette No. 7, contributions in Words Without Borders, The Common, Banipal magazine, and poetry anthologies Beirut39 and The Hundred Years’ War.

Robot Poet by Edmundo Paz-Soldan (Bolivia/ USA), translated by Roy Youdale

Edmundo Paz-Soldán (Bolivia, 1967) teaches Latin American literature at Cornell University (Ithaca, New York). He has published twelve novels, among them Norte (2011), and Allá afuera hay monstruos (2021), and five short-story books, among them and Las visiones (2016); His novels have been translated to twelve languages. He has won the international Juan Rulfo award for the short story and the National Book Award (Bolivia). He is working on a book of short stories on the impact of technological change today. He is on Twitter and Instagram as @edpazsoldan. 

Roy Youdale completed a PhD in literary translation in 2017 at Bristol University and a book based on his thesis, Using computers in the translation of literary style: challenges and opportunities, was published by Routledge in 2019. As a case study for both the thesis and the book Roy undertook a complete translation into English of the Uruguayan writer Mario Benedetti’s novel, Gracias por el Fuego (1965). His co-translation with Nick Caistor of another short story by Edmundo Paz Soldán, ‘The dictator and the greetings cards’, will shortly be published in the Los Angeles Review.

Glass Cage by Gita Ralleigh (UK)

Gita Ralleigh is a writer and NHS doctor born to Indian immigrant parents in London. She won the Wasafiri new writer’s prize in 2013 and has been published by Bellevue Literary Review, The Emma Press and Magma Poetry. She teaches creative writing to science undergraduates and has an MA in Creative Writing as well as an MSc on the intersection of literature with medicine. Her debut poetry collection A Terrible Thing is published by Bad Betty Press. You can find her on Twitter as @storyvilled.

Responses

As we were thinking about how to extend the impact of these stories, we also worked with academics, professionals and entrepreneurs in fields that the stories were about, to get them to comment on the stories in different ways. 

You can read all the stories here

We hope they give you as much food for thought as they have given us during the process of presenting this work to you. If you’d like to work with us on stories or series like this, or bring to life other amazing stories that no doubt happen regularly in your organisations, get in touch

Here’s to the next 10 years! If you’d like to stay in the loop about our work and get weekly recommendations for things to look at that pique our interest, please sign up to our newsletter here, and if you’d like to us unpack formats of different kinds every week with our community, sign up to our Formats Unpacked newsletter here. We’d also love to hear your thoughts about the stories and the response formats – do get in touch with us on Twitter, LinkedIn or we’re always available via email

See you around!

.@JasonSilva on cognitive ecstasy, shots of awe & more @cannes_lions yesterday

I’m not at Cannes this year but yesterday techno-philosopher Jason Silva took to the stage there with PHD to speak about the exponential leaps and opportunities in biotech, genomics, nanotech and robotics that we should expect in the years to come. The Atlantic has called Jason the “Timothy Leary of the viral video age”. He hosts Brain Games on National Geographic Channel, which set a record as the highest-rated series launch in the channel’s history (an average of 1.5 million viewers for the first two episodes).

You can see the whole talk here, but this is a shorter interview with Jason and PHD Worldwide CEO Mike Cooper behind the scenes at Cannes.

A lot of us were able to watch the livestream as it was one of the seminars that made it through the public vote, and here are things I noted down – phrases, sentences – that were amusing and interesting in equal doses:

– cognitive ecstasy (snippets of what that means on Jason’s Shots of Awe YouTube channel)

– shots of philosophical espresso (likewise)

– ‘Robots will inherit the earth. Yes they will, and they will be our children’ (!!!)

– McLuhan’s quote on PC’s being the new LSD back in the day (and he was friends with Timothy Leary, no wonder! This Boing Boing piece documents their friendship)

how ants have used the internet’s TCP algorithm for ages

– Stuart Kauffman on the ‘adjacent possible‘ and Steven Johnson’s work building on that

I’ll admit Jason was a bit overwhelming; he has this crazy energy that shines through like a lighthouse illuminating the dark sea on a cloudy night, and a lot of it is Ray Kurzweil/Inception territory.

He closed his speech by saying ‘we have a responsibility to awe’.

Can’t argue with that for a philosophy of life.

[centup]

You guys! Buy @hackcircus Issue 2!

bot

I’ve contributed to Issue 2 of Hack Circus with a story about my bot alter-ego on Twitter, created kindly by Henry Cooke. Henry’s explanation of the tech behind it in the article is what makes it way more interesting, if you ask me. He spoke about bots and suchlike at the Hack Circus event in Sheffield yesterday, can’t wait to see his presentation online.

Issue 2 is themed around reality and features things like:

  • How to tell for sure whether you’re a brain in a jar
  • What scientists know about ghosts
  • Interview with The Long Now Foundation
  • Peeking inside a radar operators’ manual
  • Why we find meaning in bots
  • Real devices from fictional worlds
  • Kate Genevieve’s magic and sensory perception research
  • Why some people think the Universe is a hologram

Buy Hack Circus Issue 2 here!

.@robotandfrank: Two thumbs up from me

Avid readers of this blog (all three of you) might recall that back in February I mentioned I was looking forward to watching Robot & Frank.

I finally managed to watch it today at the BFI London Film Festival, and cannot recommend it enough. It’s intelligent, funny, poignant and futuristic all at the same time. I wondered whether it would start dragging at any point but the narrative and editing held beautifully, the cast was amazing and the acting compelling. It’s also the first time I’ve seen a robot in an indie movie, and it was a great first for me in that respect.

Robots & Avatars (thanks @gboddington for the invite)

Last week I went to the press preview of Robots & Avatars, a selection of installations and projects examining how digital technologies can influence how human bodies might work a decade or so from now. It was put together by Body>Data>Space, an organisation that creates connections between performance, architecture, virtual worlds and new media and involved a range of collaborators and funders from across the globe, including MADE (Mobility for Digital Arts in Europe), RACIF (Robots and Avatars Collaborative and Intergenerational Futures), FACT (Foundation for Arts & Creative Technologies), the Knowledge Transfer Network and NESTA.

The commissions and exhibits were rather fascinating; my favourites were the following:

Visions of our communal dreams by Michael Takeo Magruder, Drew Baker, Erik Fleming and David Steele: Inside a beautiful golden painting frame is a digital screen that shows a virtual world that links to the physical, examining our relationships to our avatars in this digital age. Sort of like Second Life in a painting.

MeYouandUs by Alastair Elibeck and James Bailey: A camera next to a large screen records your movements as you walk by and plays them back with a slight delay, making you re-examine your movements and identity.

My Robot Companion by Anna Dumitriu, Alex May, Dr. Michael L.Walters and Professor Kerstin Dautenhahn: This reminded me of the robot companions I saw courtesy LIREC a couple of years ago. My Robot Companion is a robot whose face alone changes based on who is standing in front of it. The idea is to think about how we’d behave if we have robots as companions: what form would we want them to take? How would we interact with them?

It’s worth looking at all the projects on display – they do make you think about where technology can take us and if we’ll be equipped to consider both the practical and the larger philosophical questions that will face us at some point as a society.

The evening also featured a performance by digital artist Marco Donnaruma – a dance involving wearable technology that enabled him to produce sounds using his muscles. Yes, I did a double take when I saw that too. From his website:

During my performance muscle movements and blood flow produce subcutaneous mechanical oscillations, which are nothing but low frequency sound waves. Two microphone sensors capture the sonic matter created by my limbs and send it to a computer. This develops an understanding of my kinetic behaviour by *listening* to the friction of my flesh. Specific gesture, force levels and patterns are identified in real time by the computer; then, according to this information, it manipulates algorithmically the sound of my flesh and diffuses it through an octophonic system.

Robots and Avatars is a touring exhibition that is currently on show in London till 28th September at 12 Star Gallery, Europe House, 32 Smith Square – definitely worth a quick visit if you’re interested in technology and new media.

A big Thank You to Ghislaine Boddington, Creative Director at Body>Data>Space for the invitation.

The internet of things: coming ever closer

Last week I went to a talk at NESTA where Usman Haque and Matt Jones mentioned some interesting quotes in their presentations that I wanted to note down:

Personal data is the new oil of the Internet and the new currency of the digital world : Meglena Kuneva, European Commissioner for Consumer Protection (from this 2009 speech)

Lying about the future produces history: Umberto Eco

When you cut into the present, the future leaks out: William S. Burroughs

Be as smart as a puppy: IDEO via Matt Jones

Image from Usman Haque's recent presentation on IoT

Amidst all the talk of open data, Haque made an interesting point when he said that we’re not quite in the ‘internet of things’ yet, where machines are interconnected to each other. We’re still in the machine-to-machine phase (one-to-one) where data is in silos. Nike controls the Nike+ data, for example (see his presentation from earlier this year).  He mentioned the Natural Fuse project as an example of people controlling machines: the survival of plants in the project is dependent on the community.

Matt Jones showed us this funny video about Siri and mentioned the difference between smart devices and smart pliable devices.

As Usman Haque said, there is an increasingly blurred line between ‘digital’ and ‘physical’. Most digital things still need some physical input from humans anyway, so they aren’t truly digital in that sense of the word.

I was reminded of Matt Webb’s talk at the Royal Institution a while ago when someone at the NESTA talk (I forget who) mentioned that the real internet of things will be when we are able to buy easily operable devices at Argos that pull in useful digital data.

Today, the BERG folk released Little Printer and the BERG Cloud. As Russell Davies said, it took them 5 years to get from an initial prototype to this, so we shouldn’t underestimate the amount of effort involved. But the fact that there are projects like Little Printer and Twine happening at shorter intervals these days is a good sign. Maybe we will see them in Argos soon.

In the meantime, I’ve backed Twine and signed up for updates on the Little Printer. Take a look at the two here:

Hello Little Printer, available 2012 from BERG on Vimeo.

The Eyeborg documentary

Saw this a while ago on the Guardian blog. It’s amazing and spooky all at once. The makers of the video game Deus Ex commissioned a documentary on prosthetics and robotics. It features conversations with multiple folk who actually have an automated body part, as it were, Terminator-style. The best part? The eyeborg of course. Really makes me wonder about how amazing the future can be. We live in exciting times.

The rise of the robot writers

Narrative Science is a startup that creates editorial content automatically from data. They say that their app ‘generates news stories, industry reports, headlines and more — at scale and without human authoring or editing’. Last week, they attracted $6 million in seed funding.

I’m sure they will never really replace journalistic content, but I’d love to see how they progress. News organisations today are under a lot of pressure to go digital and find better monetisation models – could this be one of them?

As this article says:

I suppose some people might get queasy about the idea of robot writers, but I think it makes perfect sense. There’s lots of content-making that machines can and should do much faster than humans, and at least as effectively.

Meanwhile, the push to produce more copy for less has been underway for a long time, even for publishers that don’t get labeled “content farms“–Reuters moved some of its financial-reporting resources to India years ago, and you never hear a peep about that.