The general structure and shape of the 2019 version of an open Digital Alchemy and Networked Narratives Course based at Kean University

Note: This course shares a few similarities of the versions from 2017 and 2018, but as usual, as an alchemy practice, it will be quite different this time around. If you joined us previous versions, please return! See also the follow-up version where we looked deep into the NetMirror in 2020 and 2021.

Digital Alchemy & Networked Narratives (#netnarr): Alchemy for a Post-Truth World

January-May 2019 • ENG at Kean University • Open/Connected Beyond

Take the oldest and most familiar form of communication, apply principles of medieval scientists, and explore it actively in the modern digital spaces — that frames what we call Digital Alchemy & Networked Narratives, noted online via the symbol #netnarr.

Storytelling and Narrative are long established ways of sharing the human experience. Yet their potential grows larger when we can create, connect, share, collaborate with almost anyone, anywhere, through networks.

Like original alchemists exploring the potential of combining the four elements of the earth, as Digital Alchemists we strive to understand and put to use the basic digital elements of words, images, sounds, motion, in pursuit of unleashing their power for spreading ideas, motivating action, and generating empathy and understanding in the world as done via networked narratives.

The overarching this year for the course is “Digital Alchemy in the Post Truth Era. Last year we did explore issues of digital identity and data tracking, but so much has happened in a year. It feels… well worse, maybe even like the lights have gone out. Who can we trust? Social companies that collect our data and sell to advertisers? Manufactures of our devices that have hidden spy features? Are we influenced by bots? Are all media sources suspect?

A recent publication from the Intelligencer suggests most of the internet is fake, that we are in a “Post Inversion”:

How much of the internet is fake? Studies generally suggest that, year after year, less than 60 percent of web traffic is human; some years, according to some researchers, a healthy majority of it is bot. For a period of time in 2013, the Times reported this year, a full half of YouTube traffic was “bots masquerading as people,” a portion so high that employees feared an inflection point after which YouTube’s systems for detecting fraudulent traffic would begin to regard bot traffic as real and human traffic as fake. They called this hypothetical event “the Inversion.”

We will not only learn about the internet that is no longer a shiny dream, but also work towards developing out critical and digital skills to become practicing alchemists that shine more light on the dark corners of the digital space. We will explore, create, express, and develop a collaborative field guide to the Ways of Digital Alchemy.

To explore this theme, we will enter it through the genres of digital art, gaming, and electronic literature, all as represented in digital, networked spaces.

This experience will happen in the network of our own class but also connected to other groups in other parts of the world, and as well the the lone digital alchemists operating in the corners of the open web.

Each week will start with a blog post announcement of all activities and assignments for the week. Kean students will be meeting Tuesdays 4:30PM – 7:15PM ET (check your local time). Some weeks there may be live video sessions or twitter chats from the class, but all activities will be detailed in the weekly announcement. In class, we will engage in discussions, networked activities, meet a weekly new “Digital Alchemy Tool” and ince into our three genres, we will have a hands on “Make” session with digital media.

Participation in the course activities will be via the writing and sharing from individual participant blogs (which are networked into the site, as well as via maybe the questionable social media space of twitter and an layer of annotation of the web via There will also be live streamed Studio visits to practitioners of digital art, designers of games, and creators of electronic literature.

Below are the main segments of the course spine. As we move through it, each will fill out with detail and links to announcements, activities, and maybe a few alchemical surprises.

pixaby image by PIRO4D shared into the public domain using Creative Commons CC0

Spine Step 1: Digital Alchemy for Dark Times

weeks of January 22 – Feb 15

To open we ask you to think about the ancient practice of Alchemy applied in the present with digital tools. What would it mean to you to have that title? And there are many things to get set up for this explanation- accounts, blogs, tools. You will start building your own digital alchemy laboratory. And we will begin looking at, and thinking more deeply about networks we engage in, by our own choice, and what they might be engaging us in, not of our choice.

A Tale of Tape on the Webcams: NetNarr 2019 Week 1 - Mia Zamora and Alan Levine are starting the third year of the Networked Narratives open course, based at Kean University but open to all. We are impressed that you were brave enough to click a link here.
Move In Days (our course as a network): #NetNarr Week 2 - What does it mean to settle into a class that is not limited to the people in the room? This week we continue the “move in” process with our digital alchemy tools and networked course. And we continue to ask questions about the need to worry about a forecast climate of internet darkness.
Ad Clicking Dystopia for $800, Alec? Internet in Jeopardy: #netnarr Week 3 - We hope in this week to help you see that the darkness of the internet is not a game. This week we look deeper into the darkness and especially the means by which we are tracked.
Welcome to Fakeville: #netnarr Week 4 - Fake vs Real. Truth vs Lie. We make them out to be much more binary then they are, especially on the internet of 2019. And simple checklists once used for determining credibility of online sources are rather inadequate.
Rewind: #netnarr Week 5 - Last week our class at Kean University was canceled due to winter weather. While we do have most everything spelled out for Week 4, in class this week we are going to rewind to focus on the Four Moves activity.

Pixabay image by igorovsyannykov shared into the public domain with Creative Commons CC0

Spine Step 2: More than Consume: Create, Craft & Express via Digital Art & Net Art

(Feb 26-Mar 29)

Introduction to examples / background of Digital and Networked/New Media Art. What does digital aid, enable in art and artists? How does it reflect / represent the digitalness in our own lives? What does self representation in the digital age mean in times of increasing networked surveillance?

In this segment we will learn and applying graphic creation skills and understand to meme messages, remixed visual media, and animated GIFs as short form video. Rather than the typical ways these media types are spread in social media to garner laughter or worse, to mock, we will explore how we can use them to express the ways our digital lives are playing out.

Presentation of Selfies in Everyday Internet Life: #netnarr Week 6 - The selfie. Do we need to define it? If you like these things, it was the Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year in 2013.
A Little Meme Light: #NetNarr Week 7 - In the first six weeks of #netnarr we’ve talked about a lot of dark topics regarding the state of the internet. Darkness remains. And not that we are suggesting it can change anything, but we turn now to something that most past participants have enjoyed: the meme.
From Memes to Net Art: #NetNarr Week 8 - Last week we looked at memes – their use and the potential they present for digital alchemy. But can we consider them a kind of art? This week we will look more deeply at the notion of digital art.  And we will consider the way open digital networks might add something extra to the production of digital art.
#NetNarr Week 9: The Art and Message of The GIF - Conceived as means to send video-like content over extremely limited bandwidth of the late 1908s internet, the Animated GIF (Graphics Interchange Format) has evolved from tiny pixelated cartoonish media to evocative art at the same time becoming a primary way to extend the virality in social media of memes to ones that move.

“Magic Sun” pixabay photo by dimitrisvetsikas1969 shared shared into the public domain using Creative Commons CC0

Spine Step 3: Bots, Narrative & Lighting the Darkness: An Alchemist’s Journey

(April 2 – April 30)

Researching, writing, and publishing our portions of the “Field Guide to Digital Wellness in a Post Truth Internet World”.

#NetNarr Week 10: Breathing Life into Digital Alchemists & Digital Wellbeing - Our focus for the last segment of #netnarr is on researching and writing a portion of what will become the Digital Alchemist Field Guide – our contribution of light in the darkness of the 2019 internet.
#NetNarr Week 11: Meet / Be The Bots - Meet Sophia, designed by Hanson Robotics as one of “empathetic, living, intelligent machines that enrich our lives.”
NetNarr Week 12: Doorways for Field Guides - This week is an in-class working session completely devoted to work on the Field Guide project. Students will be finalizing the scope of their project, giving and receiving feedback, researching sources, and engaging with their digital alchemist mentors. Use the time for one on one consulting with your instructors.
NetNarr Week 13: Exhibition - As NetNarr moves towards the upcoming exhibition of the Field Guide project, this week we participate in a special event, an art exhibit by one of our own classmates.
NetNarr Week 14: Field Guide Finish Line - This week marks our last in class meeting for the 2019 version of Networked Narratives at Kean University, and students are speeding towards the finish line with their end of semester projects.

And here they are, the final published field guide entries.

#Netnarr Field Digital Alchemy Guide For Digital Wellness In A Post Truth Internet Era - Read the latest issue of the Arganee Journal to see the final projects published by the digital alchemists who were part of 2019 Networked Narratives.

Featured Image: Pixnio image by Andrew McMillan shared into the public domain using Creative Commons CC0.