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Speculative Microfiction Stories: The Specs

We have worked our way through our topical discussions that should inform your final summary task. Here we get creative and will be crafting microfiction stories that can paint a picture about what the experience looks like in a near future Post Pandemic University.

Speculative fiction implies the kind of stories we saw in the Screening Surveillance short films (Blaxites and A Model Employee) that are set in a time that could almost be now where surveillance technologies act on characters in a dystopian fashion. You can find more examples in our Net Mirror Library from 2020.

For what we mean by microfiction, think back to our first studio visit with Laura Gibbs — and here you will be writing them as text but limited to 500 words or less. For some excellent examples as models, see the collection of Telling Stories: On Culturally Responsive Artificial Intelligence.

This will be published in another of our course sites where previous NetNarr students have published their work, the Arganee Journal (look for a demo in class, it is actually another WordPress like site for publishing articles).

The specifications for your stories include:

  • The 500 word limit. You will want to compose somewhere else, and editor, Google docs, etc, or just paper. It’s a challenge to write short. If you look at the Telling Stories: On Culturally Responsive Artificial Intelligence stories, you see the main character is often introduced and put into a setting in the first sentences.
  • The Setting. This story takes place in a fictional but plausible Post Pandemic University (PPU). It can be a physical location, digital, or both.
  • One Image to Represent the Story. You will need to find an open licensed image (or use your own) that can work as a metaphor or representation of your story.
  • The character. A story needs a character, heroic or not. Imagine who it might be at a PPU? Student? Teacher? Staff? Employee? What is their role? What is their goal at PPU? What are their strengths? Weaknesses?
  • The Arc. Stories have a shape. Refer to the idea of Pixar’s Story Spine (but you all are writers so you likely know this). Your story launches with the character in their everyday world. In Blaxites, Jai was relaxing at home on her phone. In A Model Employee, Neeta walks to her job at the restaurant. But then something happens, that changes everything, and in this case, it is something triggered or influenced by technology, surveillance, tracking of data. Jai’s prescriptions were cut off because the medical system was surveilling her social media habits. Neeta was coerced into wearing a tracking device to keep her job. Because of this, something else happens, then something else, and at the end of the story, the character’s world is forever changed.
  • The Surveillance Technology. Here is the key part. You need to identify some aspect of the operations of PPU where your character’s life is affected by being surveilled. It is not limited to monitoring devices or hidden cameras, think about all the possible transactions at PPU where your characters actions, information, data might be surveilled or affected by artificial intelligence. Maybe it is using the learning management system, accessing library resources, tracking by learning analytics, campus mental health providers, athletics, predictive technologies for admissions, retention, amount of time until graduation, even alumni giving, campus purchases and bookstore transactions. Because it is an obvious topic and in the news, we want you to think of something other than exam proctoring (but it might include tutoring?).

We will have in class activities the next two sessions to “workshop” you through the process. In our next class, we will brainstorm possible ideas for surveillance technologies. We will also make use of a highly relevant and interactive tool Co-designing with Speculative Data Stories especially it’s Story Creation Tool.

Anyone who works or studies in a university is likely to encounter a huge range of technologies in the course of their daily activities. These are technologies that help us communicate, collaborate and create, as well as store data, keep track of activities, assess performance, remind us of due dates, check for plagiarism, and more. Many of these technologies offer the capacity for increased surveillance, and some are already being used to monitor and/or quantify some of our activities. The very ubiquitousness of these technologies means that we don’t always have time to think about how they might be affecting and even changing our practices and identities as learners, teachers, managers and/or technological facilitators. The aim of this Speculative Data Stories Creator is to give you a space to step back and think about technology in the present, and what this might mean for Higher Education in the future. We want you to be able to not only think about what is happening, but to allow yourself to imagine possible future scenarios, which might involve existing or speculative technologies. Rather than limiting yourself to describing something that has actually happened, or that is already in place, we want you to be able to use the medium of fiction to explore aspects of an interaction with technology, or concerns it raised in you, by speculating about what could happen.

(Emphasis added as this is relevant to our class!) http://datastories.de.ed.ac.uk/datastories/newstory/

This can help you identifying a possible surveillance technology to base your story on and to imagine all the ways and means that it might affect you.

Let your imagination roam in thinking about what a Post Pandemic University experience can look like. And it can be both an idealized positive experience or a dystopian dark one. You aim is to create a compelling short story that can situate what this near future might be like. And it can have an ambiguous ending left for the reader to determine (there is no “happily living after”).

Are you ready to tell a story?


Featured Image: Conversion. Safety razor plant. Library of Congress Public domain image.

Estelle Wilson, one of a New England razor factory’s many women workers, checks completed V-blocks with blueprint specification. Because of their previous training, reading blueprints is no novelty to women employed in this plant which is now producing tool posts under subcontract.
Prof Alan

By Prof Alan

An early 90s builder of the web and blogging, Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling, photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He has been a part of NetNarr since 2017.

One reply on “Speculative Microfiction Stories: The Specs”

[…] with the power of a story, and so much can be laid bare with speculative fiction. Our collection of PPU tiny tales will be speculative-fiction-as-literature. Your micro- fictions will explore possibilities in a society which may not yet have been enacted, […]

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