Whatever gets you through the #YEGlongnight

English professor's innovative project aims to map social media stories from Edmonton's longest night of the year.

By Geoff McMaster on December 20, 2013

Heather Zwicker talks about the Edmonton Pipelines Project, which she describes as a digital "interactive platform for urban storytelling."

(Edmonton) Ever wonder how others in Edmonton survive the longest night of the year, followed by a painfully short day, in one of the most northern cities in the world?

Starting at sunset this evening, you’ll have a chance to find out, simply by following #YEGlongnight on Twitter. Edmontonians are invited to share their stories, rituals, observations and photos between 4:16 p.m. Friday and 4:16 p.m. Saturday—a stretch that will include 16 hours and 32 minutes of darkness, and a mere seven and a half hours of daylight.

“It’s a bit of a social media experiment, and a celebration of the diversity of what it means to be Edmonton citizens,” says English professor Heather Zwicker, who is helping to pull all of these narrative threads into the Edmonton Pipelines Project, a digital “interactive platform for urban storytelling.”

“We believe there is a real elegance and importance in the seemingly small events of everyday life, and an important part of citizenship is to understand what the lives of our fellow citizens look like,” says Zwicker. “We’re interested in stories that haven’t been heard, either because they’re not deemed to be important or because they’re not being lived by people who typically have a voice.”

Edmonton Pipelines is run by five professors and a group of students aiming to construct a collection of digital maps and “literary provocations” that offer a deeper, more layered understanding of Edmonton than a purely linear, written account of its history can provide. Collected data might be centred on a single location, for example, to shed light on its various faces and transformations.

“Most of the pipelines are a creative cartography and storytelling venture organized around place,” says Zwicker. “#YEGlongnight is all organized around time—a single day—and what it would mean to have a snapshot of the whole city in all of its diversity.”

#YEGlongnight is in a sense the sequel to #YEGlongday, a popular social media event last June drawing some 9,000 posts on Facebook and 1.2 million Twitter feeds.

“We had really great uptake, far bigger than we imagined,” says Zwicker. “That was the day of the big floods in Alberta, and there were lots of tweets from people going down to Calgary from Edmonton to help out. What we saw was very moving.

“We also got people to capture what they saw of the city as they were experiencing it. People posted their pictures of their commute to work in the morning, so you could see the river valley, the buses, the bike rides—all the ways people were going to work.”

Zwicker says the team is still searching for ways to organize all this data to expose fresh takes on a city that is inordinately “understoried” for its size. One approach, for instance, might involve creating a thematic map that groups stories according to their emotional tone.

So consider this your invitation to log on and share whatever gets you through the night.

“If it impels people to do something more interesting than they normally would— maybe lighten the night of some other citizen—so much the better.”