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Pedro L. Rodriguez Headshot

Finding Self: Digital Storytelling

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This week I returned from a much needed vacation. I visited the rural southwest of France in a town of 300 inhabitants (Préchac), then sauntered over to the pulsating island of Ibiza for Mediterranean sun mixed with dance beats before landing in nouveau Berlin, where any Brooklyn hipster worth their salt would find themselves nearing nirvana. My journey was documented on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, with the occasional email to family, friends and the office. Each location teased me with sights, scents and sounds that enveloped me in each culture but I was overwhelmed by the need to share my wanderlust and therefore the very feeling of being an outsider while longing to belong.

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I've made many friends throughout my travels over the years and had the pleasure of spending time with a handful of them during this trip. As millennials, we shared the desire for connectivity both within our traveling circle and with those we left behind physically (at home) or virtually (on social media).

It's official: the diary has been replaced by the image, as Pinterest, YouTube and any number of platforms can attest to. However, as a 1.5 generation immigrant from the Dominican Republic, I find that I'm in a constant state of cultural limbo from that which is indigenous to me (Caribbean) to that which I've assimilated to (North American). I'm similarly intrigued by how my generation chooses to express itself both on- and off-line. My own struggles pertain to feeling a sense of being removed from my birthplace and while I identify with it, I am riddled with a ferris wheel of experiences that mark my overall human footprint and who I am as I type these words.

In speaking with my colleague Francesco Paciocco about my travels, we discussed the very idea of immersion and voyeurism that we experience when visiting a familiar or new destination. His family comes from the Chieti area in Abruzzo. Unlike me, he's first-generation Italian-American, but he speaks Italian at home and visits his family in Italy often. His journeying has brought him to study his roots resulting in a documentary, Birthplace. In millennial fashion he's flocked to Kickstarter where there are currently 941 film and video projects awaiting crowdfunding. Francesco launched his post-production campaign with a modest goal that must be reached by Aug. 23, 2012 or the film doesn't receive funding (one of the rules of the platform). Visit his campaign page to see how the documentary's visuals question, respect and ultimately accept the concept of belonging.

Recently I came across the film project from the partner of a former Vassar College acquaintance of mine, Tom Bridegroom, which fully impressed on me the desire for visual storytelling that my generation oozes. There's an underpinning need to share our experiences, good and bad, thanks in part to the popularity of social media. While sales of physical books are declining (2.5 percent decline in U.S. last year), eBooks are thriving and visual storytelling and storytellers, specifically in film are turning to alternative sources of funding like IndieGoGo for their opportunity.

As consumers rally around storytellers and their narratives thanks to these types of platforms, it will be interesting to see what continued effect this will have on media producers and brands. We've already seen the lukewarm waves of brands co-opting user-generated content but as consumers select the narratives rather than supporting brand-selected narratives, the question becomes how much is any given brand willing to indulge their consumer?

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