Road Trips, Instagram and a Random Encounter with Jack Kerouac

I’ve always been a gypsy at heart, but last week an Instagram photo revealed that Jack Kerouac was my first boyfriend’s uncle. Huh? Let me explain.

Cross country road trips, camping, travel and moving house have all been a big part of my life. By the time I was 8 we had lived in 4 countries on 3 continents. When I was 11, I saved up my pocket money and bought a tent, which I pitched in the garden. And now, finally, after years of longing, I’m on the verge of buying a VW Westfalia campervan. It’s my dream come true!

Toy Westie with street in the background

On the Road

By way of encouragement, friends and family have recently been giving me little tokens to keep my vision alive until I can drive away in my very own Westie. Earlier this month, my brother bought me an awesome ‘On the Road‘ leather keyring and luggage tag. I love the nostalgic classic orange penguin cover, it’s so iconic of a more innocent time, when travel and communication was purely mechanical and analogue, before the Internet catapulted us into a complex digital paradigm.

Last week I decided to go camping to escape the September crazies*, so I headed for the woods. An Instagram photo seemed the simplest way to inform my online peeps that I was out of town.

Keyring that looks like a penguin novel "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac

The Plot Thickens…

Screen capture of Facebook exchange about Jack Kerouac's nephew

Within a few hours, my status update was seen by an old highschool pal in Chelmsford, England and she had news for me! Mima and I both went to the British School of Brussels in the 70’s, a fantastic school that was popular with British and American ex-pats working abroad in Europe.

Well, as you can see from the conversation that unfolded (right), it turns out that Jack Kerouac was my first boyfriend’s uncle. Who knew? I guess George and I were preoccupied with other things, but somehow the subject of the Beat poets and Uncles just never came up.

There are so many things to love about this exchange! Of course, there’s the obvious thrill of a personal connection to an immortal cultural icon. And the thematic relevance of the novel’s quest for freedom to my own unfolding journey of discovery is delightfully poignant. But perhaps most intriguing is the random juxtaposition between the old and new, a contemporary digital echo of the novel’s core theme expressed via Instagram and Facebook: a clash of opposing forces. Route 66 meets the Information Highway. The Beat Generation shakes hands with Digital Natives. Layers of storytelling traveling across time and space on real and virtual freeways. Trippy, man!

The Unbearable Randomness of Being

What are the odds against this strange factoid ever reaching me, 35 years after the fact? It seems so deeply random, predicated on a whimsical gift, photographed and seen across the world by a particular person at a specific moment in time. I might never have discovered this minor plot point, if it weren’t for the always-on exchanges facilitated by Instagram and Facebook. It boggles the mind.

Six Degrees of Digital Separation

This curious little story got a few digital media storytelling pals and I thinking…how can we use photos, and specifically Instagram, to share stories and engage people in real time? We brainstormed a few fun ideas that you’ll be hearing more about soon…

Has digital sharing revealed new facts or opened up storylines for you?


* The September Crazies follow the August Lazies – suddenly everyone is back at work after the summer and it can be a little overwhelming.

 

Thankyou, Neil Armstrong RIP. You brought media storytelling to life.

I’m so sad to hear the news of Neil Armstrong’s passing. I vividly remember the moment when those words were spoken, clear as a bell. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” 20 July 1969, a moment that was broadcast around the world to an estimated 600 million people.

Media storytelling comes to life…

photo of Neil Armstrong about to set foot on the moonThe moon landing was a most remarkable moment for a six year old to watch live. I can remember my utter disbelieve that I was watching this happening. Right now. Up there. On the moon! Wowee! The tension in the control room, the beeps, the fuzzy pictures, their weightless movements all formed a vivid impression. This moment truly brought storytelling to life for me!

A moment that changed the world

I doubt anyone would disagree that the world changed at that moment in 1969. Not only did it bring us directly in contact with a new frontier beyond our planet, but it changed our relationship to broadcast media and storytelling and perhaps most importantly of all, it radically shifted our perspective of our place in the universe. By being able to look at earth from space, we literally saw ourselves and our achingly beautiful fragile blue home for the first time, ever.

Was this the first social media moment?

I think it’s taking a while for us to come to terms with the self-awareness, mediated by technology, that this moment gave our species. In fact, I think the impact is still only now rippling down into our DNA and changing the way we think about and do things. The Earth Day movement grew directly out of this time, and continues to evolve and inform our lives on every level. And it showed us the potential of using digital media to connect – and reflect – the planet in real time. It’s interesting to think of social media being born in this moment, isn’t it?

logo of the consulting company Media RisingThis image of Earth Rise wasn’t taken by Armstrong, but he was on the back-up crew for Apollo 8, one year earlier in 1968, when these archetypal shots were taken. These shots of the earth from the moon belong to all of us, both literally and figuratively: NASA has given these photos to the world by making them public domain ie copyright free. Thanks NASA! In fact, the photo above of the earth from the moon is the inspiration behind my new logo for Media Rising. What do you think?

Journey in Peace, Neil Armstrong. We will never forget you.

Portrait of Astronaut Neil Armstrong, commander of Apollo 11 mission