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We Lit a Pile of Books on Fire

How do you create a video that conveys the enormity of Outernet? An enormous library of the best digital content from all over the world - the notion is actually quite hard to grasp. It is also difficult to grasp the enormity of the problem. Saying that 35.5% of humanity cannot access the Internet, which is essentially a wealth of information - is such a cold statistic. Add on to that the fact that you need to make the video stand out amongst a daily bombardment of media. Hmmm...

So, we decided to light a pile of books on fire in what we hope will be the last book burning, well, ever.

We filmed the scene in an abandoned warehouse in Detroit. The guys at Motion Parade produced the final video for us, which we will be releasing next week. To see a preview, scroll to the end of this post.

A view of the set. We selected an area without a ceiling for ventilation.

The book burning would symbolize the lack of information access that most of humanity currently experiences. Outernet will reverse this trend and bring those outside the realm of connectivity into contact with anything they want.

Another view of the factory location.
The books will then burn in reverse, showing how Outernet will create this wealth of information out of nothing.
Getting the set in order.
Moving books and film equipment into the space was treacherous.

From here, it had to be moved two more times.
First, we spoke to the Detroit Fire Department and had them come over and inspect the site. They were aware of our work and were monitoring the phone lines in case a call came through. Several did.

Once we had all of the equipment and props in place, we had to arrange it in a pile and display the different material as representative of what can be broadcast and ultimately consumed over Outernet. In that pile we had: books (in multiple languages), magazines, newspapers, posters of art, maps, blueprints, cassette tapes, VHS tapes, DVD's, records, a TV, a record player, textbooks, film, sheet music, a laptop, several cell phones, weather forecasts, health manuals, and more. We spent several weeks collecting an extremely diverse set of materials to burn, which doesn't even cover all of the types of digital files that Outnernet could be used to disseminate.
We selected a variety of mediums to add to the pile, representing everything one could receive on Outernet. The Director adjusts the pile for the camera.
In addition to several cameras and the material we planned to burn, we hauled in a generator, several lighting fixtures, fire gear, and Outernet hardware.

However, before we could shoot the pile and its subsequent burning, we filmed the prototypes of Outernet hardware, which will replace the need to have these piles of books and other physical information, which is cumbersome to distribute globally compared to bits of data.
Prototypes of Outernet mobile receivers and a broadband receiver.
Outernet will soon fill Earth's empty halls with endless information.

We used several different cameras to film the various shots we wanted to include in the film. Motion Parade says about the equipment, "We used a RED Epic which shoots 300fps as well as more than 4K at 24fps. We also used a Phantom Miro which shoots up to 1500fps...

The reason these were necessary is that we knew in planning that we wanted a vibe-y sweeping feel to the piece, and with fire, it needs to be slow mo to accomplish that...also, with the reversing of the flames, ash, lighter, gasoline... we knew that we had to capture these in super slow mo to literally turn seconds into minutes of footage and utilize all of the incredible detail."
A member of Motion Parade readies a camera.

Once we had filmed the Outernet hardware, we focused on burning different sections of the pile to focus on specific types of content being assembled out of nothing. Outernet will broadcast the necessary data from space to construct files of any type anywhere in the world.
Burning of blueprints, sheet music, and a vinyl record player, among other items.
Once we had filmed several sections of the pile - extinguishing each section as we went - it was time to douse the entire pile in gasoline and light it up. Motion Parade positioned several cameras and took the Phantom High Frame Rate camera to the second floor to film the lighting event from above.
Motion Parade lights the book that ignites the pile.
Then, after hours of preparation, it was time to light the thing. Outernet's Thane Richard was standing a little too close to the pile when it lit and got a little singed.

We all stood mesmerized as the pile burned. For all of us, it was an emotional moment. Everyone at Outernet and Motion Parade is extremely passionate about access to knowledge and destroying this small pile of creativity, even though its purpose was to tug at the hearts of viewers and spread a larger library to every corner of the world, it still stung.
The pile burns with veracity.
The results of this shoot were beautiful in their intensity. Motion Parade has done an outstanding job creating what is itself a piece of art. We cannot wait to share it with you. Until it's ready, enjoy this small clip.

A Statement About Ferguson, Missouri

I have spent my life listening to people lament the repetitive dreariness of the mainstream news cycle - murder, terrorism, economic woe, natural disaster - but the last two weeks have been particularly troubling. First, there was the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, which led to large scale protests and rioting, resulting in a overwhelming police response largely seen as excessive. Then there was the execution of journalist James Foley by the Islamic State (IS) in Syria. Both of these events happened against the backdrop of the ongoing fighting in Gaza between Hamas and Israel and the separatist movement in Ukraine.

"What is the cause of all of this?" One might ask. Is it in our human nature, or is there something else at work? While it is a foolhardy exercise to try and reduce these tragedies to a single cause, there is something that they all share. They are all rooted in two groups of people that do not trust one another and, on a very fundamental level, do not understand one another.

This brings us to the heart of empathy. If I could truly understand your worldview - the reasons you feel the way you do about a particular issue or set of issues - then there is much less of a chance that I will resort to violence. I can put myself in your shoes.

How do we bridge this gap of understanding? One way, is through fighting ignorance.

This is one of the principle aims of Outernet. With a library that spans language, geography, culture, and history, everyone everywhere can finally read anything they want. We all crave information. If there is an unknown, we want to make it known. Nothing can take the place of experiencing diversity in the world, but if I am a white person who knows nothing about black history, I am probably much less likely to seek out that experience than if I do. Understanding breeds empathy.

We have been thinking about these events at Outernet, particularly the riots in Ferguson since they are so close to some of us, and we created this website as a way to talk about why this happens in the United States. Let us know what you think in the comments.