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Crossmedia meets the mountains

The Crossmedia Banff event is an opportunity for cross-pollination  between the most innovative companies and creators in motion, mobile, marketing, publishing and games. The strength of this event is the broad learning and sharing that is created between globally influential groups and individuals. And it’s my belief that the beauty of an event like this taking place in Banff is that the mountains themselves actually become one of those influencers.

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The Crossmedia audience immersed in local scenery and insightful presentations by industry leaders like Erik Martin of Reddit (right). Photos by Meghan Krauss.

I observed multiple presenters and audience members express their thoughts on the inspiration they were feeling in their surroundings here. And it got me thinking - could the mountainous setting really influence bigger-picture thinking about how we interact with our communities and technologies online? Can the natural environment be an influential player in the growing online conversation, bringing a sense of grounding, a natural human connection to some of these very big ideas?

The mountains are an integral and instrumental part of The Banff Centre experience and it is motivating to think that their voice might actually have a subtle influence on the direction we humans take with our new technologies, perhaps moving us closer towards more natural sustainable systems and behaviours.

During the course of Crossmedia, there were many references to the sense of awe felt being in the mountainous surroundings; how it puts the purpose of our work into perspective and reminds us of how small we are. But I thought Erik Martin, General Manager of Reddit expressed it best when he looked out the window and admitted:

“These mountains make me wonder if all this social media stuff is completely insignificant.”

He later went on to share, half-jokingly, that as an internet-based entertainment company Reddit’s main source of competition is “work, study and the outdoors.”

Again, I wondered, is this the direction we hope to go with our communications technologies? Moving away from time spent in the outdoors, in particular? Looking upwards at the mountains as we do each day at the Centre, who could argue that they don’t have an affect on us by putting things into perspective?

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Eric McLuhan: Media and other musings

Crossmedia Banff, a two-day conference at The Banff Centre this week, brought creators from all walks of media together to share and discuss their innovations and ideas. One of those creators was lecturer and author Eric McLuhan, son of renowned Canadian media theorist the late Marshall McLuhan. Eric and his own son Andrew—who also attended with a presentation on his grandfather’s working library—were drawn to Crossmedia Banff because of the other speakers involved, the elder McLuhan told me when I spoke with him behind the scenes at the event. “It’s very unusual for me to find myself surrounded by people on the cutting edge. Usually you have to ask kids to find out what’s going on—I guess there are a lot of kids here,” he said with a laugh. “Or at least, people who have that fresh awareness and lack of bias, lack of assumptions that the rest of us
carry through life.”


Eric McLuhan speaking at Crossmedia this week

Eric said of all the speakers at Crossmedia, he found Rhonda McEwen, assistant professor of new media at the University of Toronto, most interesting. McEwen presented her research on the success she’s had using iPads in her work with autistic children.

The iPad is one of many technologies and social innovations that was featured at Crossmedia; but the technology Eric couldn’t live without is the book. “The book and the alphabet give you a new way of imagining the world around you. They transform it. They are literally responsible for western civilization,” he said, adding his favourite book is Finnegans Wake by James Joyce. “(That book) retunes your senses and opens them up so that you can see, and hear, and imagine in far greater expanses than you could before that training. It’s artistic training. It’s work, but the payoff is large.” Eric believes the arts play an important role in our society, and he links this belief to a principle of media study passed on from his father.

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Eric McLuhan captivating the attention of the audience at Crossmedia

“Every situation is composed of two elements—an area of attention, and an area of inattention. The area of attention is the figure, and the area of inattention is the ground. Another word for ground is medium,” Eric told a captivated Crossmedia audience. An innovation won’t be successful without a medium to link it to society and the lives of people who could use it, he continued. “The (medium) is always invisible…and it takes special techniques and special training to render (it) visible. There’s one group of people in society that is charged with doing just that for the rest of us—and that’s the artists. The function of the arts is to help keep our attention alive and awake.”

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“What makes a book discoverable?”

The shift to slick online publishing platforms and the undeniable importance of social media have threatened to make the book publishing industry a premature casualty of the digital age. However, Craig Riggs’ talk at this year’s Book Publishers Association of Alberta conference at The Banff Centre was refreshing in both its honesty and optimism.

BPAA - Book publishing will continue to thrive in digital times.

BPAA – Book publishing will continue to thrive in digital times.

Riggs, who works with 49th Shelf, titled his presentation “Beyond Discovery: How Readers Find Books Now,” and spoke to a growing concern for small press publishers: How do you compete with major publishers and online outlets that have superior financial resources? And, more importantly, how does a small press ensure that its authors and titles get the exposure they deserve?

As the influence of brick and mortar bookstores steadily decreases, a natural move toward non-traditional and online sales has occurred. While this would appear to signify another step in the collapse of the physical world of book publishing, Riggs provided fascinating statistics that challenge this trend. Seventy-five percent of in-store purchases are still influenced during the shopping process: a stark figure when considering that only ten percent of book sales on Amazon were impulse buys.

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Inside the creative conference

When Heidi Erismann and her meeting partner thought about ways to bring a strong focus to a planned conference at The Banff Centre last year, they decided they wanted to find a way to physically demonstrate the idea of focused attention, to begin the conference with a signal that the team was leaving their day-to-day work behind for a few days to concentrate on the purpose of the meeting.

The senior executive assistant at the Calgarybased office for engineering firm EBA, Erismann has had eight years of experience in planning annual conferences, and occasionally takes on the role for EBA’s parent company, Tetra Tech, with Canadian conferences as well. For five of those years, she has been bringing the executive group to The Banff Centre.

For her, it’s become an enjoyable personal challenge to build conference sessions around innovative and creative ideas, and her work has set the experiences apart from a standard meeting setup. “Once we decide on a theme for our conference, the summit lead and I have a brainstorming session to come up with unique and interesting activities,” she says, “always keeping the theme in mind.” Continue Reading →

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Activate the smell machine!

mock disaster scene

Actors and special effects make the Disaster Forum’s mock helicopter crash seem real. Photo: Meghan Krauss

The crowd surged up the stairs toward the sound of an electronic siren and cries for help. In the parking lot, people were met by a shocking sight: bodies strewn, rescue crews on the move and plenty of blood and guts. Paramedics dragged shattered bodies amid engine sounds, helicopter parts and smoke. The air stank of burnt wire.

After a dramatic few moments, a clean-cut man in a golf shirt stepped into the middle of the chaos, raised his hands and called, “Cut!”

This spring, The Banff Centre hosted Disaster Forum 2013, an annual conference for people working in disaster mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. These are people from the public and private sectors who plan and train for every kind of disaster. Their tag line is “Plan to Communicate,” and that means knowing how to react when disaster strikes. One of their afternoon sessions was designed to elicit a real response by simulating, as realistically as possible, a helicopter crash.

The emergency workers were actors, the shattered bodies a mix of actors and dummies. Much of the crash scene was brought in from Calgary, and even the stench in the air came from a “smell machine”.

At the end of their performance, participants were treated to a sound you never hear at a real disaster scene: applause.

This three-minute audio clip from the crash site features the Calgary-based special effects team of Jennifer Bain and Stacy Wegner. They’ve been hired out for disaster simulations for several years, and Wegner has created special effects for a wide range of projects, including Calgary’s production of Evil Dead: The Musical. Jennifer even calls herself the Queen of Gore.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Produced by Sarah Feldbloom and Jennifer Kingsley. Mixed and mastered with Pouya Hamidi.


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Three Ravens: Summer menu taste drive


Alberta beef tenderloin in Three Ravens Restaurant. Photo: Don Lee.

Dungeness crab, buffalo mozzarella, seared steelhead trout, cinnamon infused black Thai rice, melon and celery salad, onion marmalade, sautéed heirloom spinach, wild mushrooms, Banff Centre grown Mizuna, garlic Brava sauce… My mouth waters reading the menu in our Three Ravens restaurant; visions of delicious dishes brought to life by the creative mix of ingredients, inventive pairings, and visual images our server crafts in my mind. A few of us got to taste some of the new summer menu items recently, and I can tell you each dish exceeds the expectations conjured up by words on a page.

We began with bread and butter, which I only mention to set the mood: this is not your ordinary butter. On the table our server places four different shaped, uniquely flavoured butters:  salted, mango-sambal, sundried tomato-basil, and orange-chive. I love the sundried tomato-basil and I can’t get enough. ‘Remember Monique, you still have a whole meal ahead,’ I try to remind myself.

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