First, out of scientific honesty, I should point out that I am just a fan of the band Frightened Rabbit so my approach to this video as an educational analysis is secondary to my merely enjoying their music. While that caveat needed to be mentioned, hopefully it does not deter from what I intend to suggest about the complexity of its presentation. Please, do watch it first before you listen to me ramble on about it.


My comments fall into a few general categories, which I outline a bit below:

Multimodality– this video is working on several levels in terms of interaction. Indeed, the narrative itself is the protagonist’s journey through his own life, with a myriad of situations being presented aesthetically, audibly (the music itself), symbolically (he moves effortlessly through something that resembles a subway tube, while possible scenarios of his life are displayed out of reach), visually (images/animations), and chronologically (many of the choices are given time elements to indicate alternate paths). The viewer navigates through these various layers of meaning (audio/visual/symbolic/chronological) towards some form of acceptance, a contentedness of resignation to these choices, to merely focus on distilling his life into the singularity of a brush stroke. Is this representative of the self-efficacy of a learner? His ability to transmit the myriad of input into an artistic representation?

Digital Artifacts– I view all of the events unfolding before the man as his massive Lifestream. Events are marked and presented in various mediums, reflection occurs, yet all the while the man is moving, moving, moving. He is reminded of his choices through these artifacts, becomes aware of the choices he didn’t make, the directions he didn’t go, all the while beign shuffled along. I liken this to digital culture as all our digital interactions within this culture are footprints that can be (to some degree) revisited and relearned. I suppose this is the ultimate goal of the Lifestream. Both a record of learning and a construct of further learning opportunities. This video illustrates that these learning opportunities do not happen in static environments. Both the learner and the artifact are in flux.

Lifelong Learning– I really enjoy the various decision points the man encounters when traveling through his path, decision points that would have led to some alternate future. These are marked chronologically, with a variety of alternatives presented. Different futures await. The man cannot choose these alternatives, though, as he is moving forward himself. He is merely reflecting on the choices that existed at that stage of development. I liken online self-regulated learning to this. There are an infinite number of decision points at every stage of learning, beginning with the decision to merely participate. A self-aware learner views these decision points as markers, a Lifestream artifact on some level. They mark stages of learning and exist in perpetuity to revisit and reflect. However, we as learners are no longer of that time.

I am  reminded of Pablo Neruda’s poem “Tonight I can write the saddest lines” where he, in the midst of mourning the loss of a lover, exclaims:

The same night whitening the same trees.
We, of that time, are no longer the same.

As learners, and especially within a digital culture, we can revisit decisions, reflect on them, and learn from them. However, we must recognize that we are no longer the same as we were when we made that decision. This marker exists in digital permanence, an errant tweet that was retweeted, a sloppy blog post from years ago, bad poetry (mine). We can revisit these, cringe at their clumsiness, and learn anew from them. A digital artifact, an errant tweet as I mentioned, is like a keepsake from a love lost. A postcard, an heirloom, a song. All are steeped in learning and reflection and all represent a marker in the various stages of learner development. The video ends with him putting paint to canvas, an attempt at sensemaking.

I would be amiss if I did not include what I believe to be the precedent to this video, one of the earlier artistic multimodal expressions of goofiness (and perhaps a precursor to social media-lonely in her real life, she is summoned into a comic book? Virtual world!).


By Michael Gallagher

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

12 thoughts on “Frightened Rabbit, Multimodality, and the Complexity of Choice”
  1. also a fan of Frightened Rabbit, so I appreciate this choice of video to analyse. It’s a great one – I will add it to our list of nominated videos. Your description of digital fragments as keepsakes is lovely – I wonder though whether a keepsake implies more deliberate collection/preservation than an errant tweet that returns possibly unbidden. Reminds me of a cartoon I have posted up in my office of a businessman at his desk talking to a client, with a hippie ghost self hovering above – the caption is ‘don’t be alarmed, Ms Sullivan, it’s just a former self that comes back to haunt me now and then’ – will try to put a digital version in my lifestream.

    1. Good point, Jen. A keepsake would imply some sort of conscious deliberation, sort of slotting a memory into a taxonomy. I think keepsake/heirloom metaphor works well for the Lifestream, however. A conscious construct of one’s past to be revisited often. Keepsakes having either negative or positive connotations, emotions often swirled (smile, yet wistful), actions as life/learning markers in time.

      Perhaps an errant tweet would be more akin to bad poetry I wrote in secondary school (and submitted!)?

  2. Hi Michael,

    Your analogy of the keepsake is really interesting. You seem to create an image of intimacy and personalisation (very poetically), which I quite like, and would kind of agree with, however there seems to be a public dimension to the lifestream, emphasised in the course descriptions.

    I wondered whether it might be worth mentioning something I came across whilst delving into the 2009 Digital Cultures pages. One of the course participants (maybe Jen herself!?) proposed the idea of the cabinet of curiosity, I believe in relation to the lifestream.

    The cabinet of curiosity seems to relate the notion of the private collection with public display, as collections of artefacts represented the ‘world’ in miniature. I was reminded of this idea on a recent visit to the Ashmolean in Oxford, which I subsequently found out has its origins in the very same gentleman’s cabinet of curiosity.

    Is museum a useful analogy for the lifestream? Are theses ‘throwaway’ tweets really worth keeping? Not so sure…

    1. Oooh, excellent stuff, Jeremy. Terribly kind of you to share that. I like the cabinet of curiosities metaphor in regards to the Lifestream as a means of representing the world in miniature/ a highly idiosyncratic place and a revelation in terms of the creator’s schematic view of the world.

      Basically, it is a highly intimate taxonomy of the world as seen through the creator. How they associate things? Catalog things, determine worth and value, quite a learning artifact, reflection tool. My experience in the world of digital libraries/museums/etc. is that most collections of any unique value are essentially this cabinet of curiosity, a personalized tour of the creator’s mental constructs. They are intimate and highly complex structures (and a nightmare to reindex and associate with a larger classification found in databases). Either way, I think the museum/cabinet of curiosities certainly has a high degree of resonance when discussing Lifestreams. Not only are they highly personalized, but they imply mutlimodality in representation (this was sort of my thinking with heirlooms/keepsakes as it doesn’t matter the form of the object but rather the meaning we associate with it).

      However, I will timidly make the case that throwaway tweets are indeed worth keeping. I say this only to clumsily stress that failure (perceived or real) is a greater learning instrument than success. That these past “embarrassments” are the greatest markers of learning that we possess. I also feels it ascribes to the tenets of digital culture, that fast failure is promoted, that the relativity of information is ephemeral, and washing over our failures is a negation of our evolution as learners. I haven’t thought this all the way through, though, so please feel free to disagree!

  3. Jeremy – me too – I think that’s the best metaphor I’ve heard, and thanks for bringing it here. I’m very happy about the creation of the mini-me museum collection of curiosities.

    Michael, thank you for sharing Take on Me – I was planning to do so myself. I was thinking perhaps that the mechanics connect to the agents in The Matrix?

    I’ll tie up the story with the Sun Always Shines on TV video. Here, in a similar way to World Builder, the “virtual” character can’t stay any longer (and appears to be in some pain) – entering the real world for only a short period. In World Builder, the patient has only a few short moments of “freedom”? before she is returned to her hospital bed. Again, very much early thoughts on this, so feel free to add/amend as necessary.

    Finally – I totally agree with you regarding the importance of learning through failing (as I’ve been doing with my test feeds 🙂 ). It is something that we have to encourage our vet students to appreciate the value of, as they come to us as high achieving school students who then must learn how to cope with a programme that challenges them. They are not used to failure, and find it difficult to appreciate it as part of learning – and a positive part at that.

    I’m looking forward to my digital cultural evolution!

    1. Great points, Sharon, and many thanks for jumping in on this thread. Agreed that Jeremy’s mini-me museum collection of curiosities is best Lifestream metaphor I have come across.

      Great video to supplement this discussion, Sharon. Besides the lead singer of a-ha being slightly petrifying in non-cartoon form, your points are valid. In this instance, the physical world is the anomaly, a temporary hiatus, while the online self is trapped, imprisoned. Perhaps a bit of a role reversal from what we experience online?

      Embracing the concept of failure without succumbing to it is a tough one and it requires some thick skin. I think all learning requires a temporary degradation of your skills; that is the whole point one some level. We learn by being novices, by failure, trial and error, etc. I just wonder if we can capture that as a learning marker to know we did indeed learn from failure. I still cringe at some of the silly things I did in my youth (or even yesterday)!

  4. the cabinet of curiosities was a metaphor that appealed to me, too – I made it into a visual artefact last year:

    As you’ll see from the comments, the idea provoked some debate – Tony objected to the patronising implications:

    Which in turn sparked some more comments, and then… well, I’m not entirely sure this deserves to see the light of day again, but…


    1. Great resources to draw on there, Jen. Many thanks for adding that. It helps to contextualize the discussion a bit. I can understand Tony’s notion that there is a sense of patronizing there in the phrase cabinet of curiosities itself, but it is more the notion of curating one’s own eccentricities and meaningful variables into a construct of sort. A tangible mind map. That aspect of the metaphor appeals to me greatly as it drives not only at some sense of representation (and “truth”), but also speaks to the view/lenses/gaze we all carry with us, that subjective filter which we apply to all meaning.

      One person’s trash is another person’s treasure is another person’s Lifestream event. Build and tinker away!

  5. Nice one Michael – I’ve been playing around with the idea of “lenses” in my artefact. V early days yet, but in the mix anyway, and it’s always good to get confirmation through other’s connections.

    Following on from Tony’s Baudelaire comment, is the strange therefore beautiful? Because if so, I’m eccentrically beautiful once I figure out how to represent my curiosities in my lifestream!

    I love your artefact Jen!!!

    1. Absolutely, Sharon. The lenses we possess will essentially shape the artefact; it is the tool we use to chisel away at the mass. I think it is important to just be up front about what those lenses are and how they might affect your work, but they should be represented somehow (at least in my opinion!).

  6. Wish I’d read this thread earlier – I’d just come to the same conclusion in my lifestream summary this week – except I had discussed the idea of my lifestream as ‘notes on an identity’! I forgot how good you are at provoking my thoughts Michael!

    1. Same to you, Noreen. I always feel as though we are probing the same questions, the same thoughts, even if our conclusions aren’t always the same. Pursuing the identity issue is a big one and hopefully one that we can spend more time with as I think identity, that self-association someone has with something, is important in digital culture. How often do we as learners self-identify with something online? We do it with Edinburgh, but my associations outside of that aren’t with a name per se, just a position. Elearner, teacher, librarian. More titles than group associations. Great stuff, Noreen!

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