Tip of the Quill: A Journal
Hello world. (Again.)

It feels decidedly odd to be writing here again. Delightful, yes. Wonderful, sure. But also very strange.

It’s been almost exactly a year since I last posted something here, and it’s been three years since I stopped blogging more or less regularly. When I joined Microsoft, I couldn’t talk about what I was doing there at all, and when my daughter Zoe came along last year, I had more important things to do than blog.

Still, I missed it. I got little hits of pleasure from sharing cool stuff on Facebook and Twitter, but I missed having a place that was my own, where I could write longer essays and reflections, post updates on projects, stuff like that. I missed having my own little corner of the web that was kind of like a workshop with an open door – people could swing by, see what I’m working on, hang out to chat for a bit, that kind of thing.

A few months ago, my circumstances changed again. Microsoft and I parted ways in the spring of 2013, and I found myself back out in the bigger, open world. I still can’t talk much about what I was up to during my three years in Redmond, but bits of it are slowly trickling out. Some of my “future of entertainment” think tank work for J Allard and Ray Ozzie can be seen in SmartGlass; I was on the planning team for Xbox One; either my own handiwork or my teaching influence can be seen on the Ryse digital graphic novel (which launched at the San Diego Comic-Con this year and on which I’m credited as the transmedia designer), the Adera Windows 8 game and its e-book extension, the upcoming transmedia experience Quantum Break, the Halo: Forward Unto Dawn webisode series (for which I feel a teacher’s sense of pride, as it was created by former teammates from the think tank whom I’d happily and shamelessly geeked out with/on about transmedia aesthetics), and a bunch of stuff that still has yet to be truly made public. They were three amazing years, and I feel like I really did have a hand in shaping the future of entertainment – and how many folks are lucky enough to say that?

Still, I missed academia. Also, when Zoe was born, it was like a switch in the back of my head got thrown, and I woke up one day saying, “Oh, crap – I need a COMMUNITY!” And not just workmates or online buddies, but Friends Down the Street. We lived on an island, for Pete’s sake. So my wife Laura and I looked around and had some long heart-to-heart talks, and we finally decided that, although we had dear friends in Seattle, we would make a bigger move: from Seattle to Los Angeles. One of my oldest friends from high school and his wife had been living down there for the past several years and they were about to have their first kid, too – so we suddenly had a built-in co-parenting group. My mentor from MIT, Henry Jenkins, had moved to USC and brought a number of his entourage with him, so there was a thriving like-minded community of folks at USC. And I had a growing number of friends and industry contacts in Los Angeles, from all the work I’d been doing in the transmedia entertainment space in the past ~10 years. So we packed up the house and the family and headed south, landing in the artsy-but-grounded neighborhood of San Pedro.

Professionally, I’ve landed at the Annenberg Innovation Lab (AIL) at USC, where I’m now a Research Fellow and the Technical Director.

Annenberg Innovation Lab

It’s a funny title; part of my job is, yes, to make sure the servers stay running, but it’s more of a strategic position, much more in line with my think tank days at Microsoft. The beautiful thing about AIL is that it’s a Think and Do Tank, as my friend and collaborator Erin Reilly likes to say. We don’t only look at the far-flung future of communications and entertainment, but we’re also building stuff, which is thoroughly exciting. Much of my time at Microsoft was spent further away from the metal, so to speak, so the opportunity to roll up my sleeves and start prototyping stuff, to “move quickly and break things,” as we like to say in the lab, is thoroughly exciting.

And one of those prototypes is me.

me in Google Glass

I like to tell people that I learned more at Microsoft than I ever did at MIT – the difference was that I didn’t want to know half of it. I’m not saying it was completely horrible, but it’s not the only way to go. There are other paths, and one of the things I’m up to in the lab is trying to figure out what the ecosystem of the future entertainment industry looks like.

I believe that there is a place in the future of transmedia entertainment for big businesses (obviously), but there is also a sustainable future for independent creators. There is a sustainable future for people who want to teach in this space, for people who want to tinker in this space, for people who want to keep pushing things forward. The transmedia storyteller of 2023 is going to have a really interesting set of narrative tools in their toolbox. 3D printers, wearable devices, virtual reality and augmented reality and so on, those are the new tools of 2013 – and my new lab gives me the opportunity to explore those, to play with those, and, to some extent, to learn and play and create in public.

In short, I have my open-doored workshop back!

So now I’m putting my money where my mouth is. I’ve always known that I wanted to be a combination of storyteller, scholar, designer and consultant, specializing in transmedia experiences and the future of entertainment. I still have a long way to go, and I still have a ton of work to do, but it’s impossible for me to sufficiently convey how happy I am to be back in my open workshop. I’ve got a bunch of projects I hope to finish up and share in these next weeks, months, and maybe even years, some opportunities to finally test out some theories I’ve had that were too wacky even for Microsoft, and some that were too zany for even MIT. Setting up shop at USC has let me do that, has let me find a community of amazing like-minded mad artist-scientists, and it sure looks like we’re going to have an amazing time. “Move quickly and break things,” yes, but – more in line with my own personal philosophy, “get excited and make things!”

Get Excited and Make Things

I’m going to try and use myself as a prototype for what the future of transmedia storytelling (and scholarship) looks like. I’m going to try and figure out what it means to be a participant in the new entertainment ecosystem, and then be that. And I’m going to try and do it more or less in public, to learn in public and prototype in public and grow in public.

So, yes. Welcome to my workshop. Hello again, world. It’s great to see you!