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Schizo-virtual storytelling 

In an age of internet-induced information overload, stories are still everything.

In this schizo-virtual world we live in, it's miraculous anyone can sit and think long enough about one thing to write a thesis or book about it. Good thing writers have the internet to crib from, though my guess is it takes longer to research infilling---soil quality---agrifood---the 10 best burgers in America---Elvis Presley's influence on modern fast food---oh shit, deadline---than it does to hit the library and read every text on infilling, and only infilling.

Which is the richer experience? To each their own. Books still get written, sometimes even read, and excerpted in magazines, which for the most part will be skimmed online then tweeted for others to skim. Social media is how many of us learn about our world. No wonder leading liberal thinker George Lakoff advises progressives to cut back on facts and learn the language of values, which conservatives have mastered.

None of us know more than a percent of a percent of anything anyway, no matter how we learn it (or how many websites we hit). We tend to reject or forget facts we find inconvenient---climate change data, for example. The choose-your-own adventure nature of social media storytelling is a challenge for environmentalists, who have the facts on their side and few other resources. Like other media educators, their response to new media and hyper-abundant accessible information has been to join the avalanche, pumping out blogs and tweets and Facebook petitions, sometimes to great effect. Whether we read and learn more about the environment as a result remains to be determined.

But a few innovative greens have re-imagined education through online media. One of my favourite examples is Silver Donald Cameron, who did very well for himself as a writer for several decades before realizing print was for chumps. "It was the shrinkage of large general-interest print publications that paid enough to make a living" that drove him out. "The [media] owners are consolidated and the audience is fragmented, making it impossible to recycle material."A writer used to be able to sell multiple versions of the same concept to several publications, but the internet and its perpetual archive, coupled with publishers demanding perpetual rights, have made that untenable.

Cameron, who started covering environmental issues in the 1960s, decided to go direct to his audience, creating, which features hour-long discussions with the world's leading environmental thinkers. The format embraces the technology while bucking its inherent bias for brevity. "I call it the anti-soundbyte," he says. "We don't do much production and it's not visually oriented; people watch while cooking or painting and they can glance up from time to time for context."

The model has worked. Cameron just signed a deal that will make the videos available in 15,000 libraries around the world, and this Friday he will become one of the first TEDxNovaScotia speakers. (For event details, see page 26.) The TED concept mirrors that of Cameron's video website: gather the leading thinkers and invite them to dazzle audiences with punchy, entertaining talks that will become available online for the world to see. The main difference is that TED talks are, like most messages in the schizo-virtual age, short: 18 minutes. Seventeen speakers (including professional entertainers Jenn Grant, Ben Caplan and Shakespeare by the Sea) will take stages at NSCC Waterfront and Acadia University, addressing the loose theme of designing your life within your community. With that theme it's no surprise that the Dartmouth event also features Sean Gallagher (owner of Local Source) and Camelia Freiberg (co-founder of the Pollination Project).

For Cameron, the event is a chance to educate and do the essential work of promoting his website and himself as a speaker. I share his story here because it contains valuable lessons for the environmental movement: embrace the new, especially when it reinforces the traditions that sustain us. "Farley Mowat calls himself not a writer but a saga man," he says, "a Norse storyteller. Whatever the medium these are the same stories of love, hope, lust and luxury."

Whether the stories hit us in hyperlinks, jump-cut video or around the fireplace, they are, as novelist Leslie Marmon Silko wrote, "all we have to fight off illness and death."

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