Portrait | Tyler Sammy
Tyler Sammy is generally very excitable. His eyes light up as he speaks animatedly about all things tech, “I was doing some easy late night reading late night about communication stacks,”, and uses the word ‘Awesome’ very liberally. But his investment in the industry goes beyond the expected, Tyler’s passion for technology from a young age has shown him the potential of the internet as a tool for a increasing accessibility, education and connecting communities.
Currently, Tyler works as the Executive Technology Director of Thought Cafe, an animation studio that delivers critical and educational content primarily in the form of Youtube videos. Before this he completed a Bachelor’s of Design while pushing the envelope in the competitive joint York University/Sheridan College program. Though first two years of the degree he worked primarily with graphic design in more traditional media by the last half of he discovered more cutting edge mediums like projection mapping and interactive visuals. “In my final review where you get reviewed by a bunch of current professionals, two of them were like ‘This stuff isn’t design! This is like art!” and I was like, ‘But where’s the line, man? I get that this isn’t a magazine layout spread but this is design and it provides a different experience.’” His final project acted as a gateway to a lot of what he does today. “Through that project I got into projection mapping which is a great way to design the world and do real time augmented reality. I think that is the power of being an artist or being a designer is you get the influence the way people look at the world. And going back to Thought Cafe that is one of the best things about what we do.”
"I think that is the power of being an artist or being a designer is you get the influence the way people look at the world."
As a non-profit organization, Thought Cafe works with various partners both independent and institutional to, “carefully craft their message and display it in way that will be informative and entertaining and engaging for people and really help spur them to think a little bit deeper about the world around them.” Primarily working in video and animation, some of their biggest partnerships have include PBS, TVO and Crash Course (an educational Youtube series with 4 million subscribers). But they have also worked to produce documentary and full feature long-format work, like a film show at Hot Docs in 2015 about the American prison system, and their current project, Sapients: The Search for Wisdom, taking an anthropological look at the way we learn as a society. “Cell phones and the internet are awesome and our ability to access information and connect with people are amazing. But we often forget to look back at how other people dealt with stuff and we forget to look far forward to think of how our actions are going to impact our society and really our environment.” This perspective is something that Tyler is constantly made aware of, so rather than taking a polarizing stance he would rather look at the Internet more holistically as a tool or a medium, rather than the universal answer to our societal problems. “I think that things are moving quicker, for sure, and we do need to slow down a little bit. But i think there is also an advantage to moving fast, you can get a lot of things done, you can explore a lot of ideas. I think that—like all things in life—balance is where the best place to be in. Being able to do both, and experience both. So see what it’s like to watch a supercut of all the craziest cats in the world, that might be really entertaining. And then take a minute and watch some thoughtful documentary on nature.” Though this is a line he often straddles when producing with Thought Cafe—trying to find that sweet spot of content that is long enough to be engaging but short and dynamic enough to keep people’s eye—he also recognizes that it’s never going to be perfect: “Rule number one on the internet you’re never really going to win.”
“Rule number one on the internet you’re never really going to win.”
This spice of life mentality has been a reoccurring theme throughout Tyler’s life. Looking back he sees parallels between his current involvement in all different types of digital media to the experiences of his youth. Growing up in new suburbs of Markham exposed him to many different cultures, and a supportive high school encouraged him to get involved in everything from band and improv to joining almost every sports team. So utilizing digital media and internet communities to connect with others who share his perspectives has been a driving force in life from an early age. “Internet communities have been around before the internet, I was on some Bulletin Board BBS sites that I would just dial in to somebodies server and people would leave files and I would take them, and I would upload my files and we would share things in our own Intranet, our own little community.” This community building is paralleled today as Tyler is extending his own communities with the help of Internet communities on Youtube. Being of a mixed background of Trini, South American, East Indian and Canadian he was frustrated during his time at York University because he felt that he didn’t quite fit in any ethnic student group, so he, along with a fellow student Phillippe Koo, they started their own: The Mixed Students Association. Fast forward and he now helps Phillipe now run The 100% Mixed Show which is Youtube community highlighting the stories of people with mixed backgrounds. “It’s so amazing to realize that there’s this other community that has gone through this same identity crisis and be able to connect and share some laughs and share some stories. It’s amazing how the internet can connect and unify differences among people. At the end we’re all different and we’re all the same.” A sentiment we can all agree with.
"It’s amazing how the Internet can connect and unify differences among people. At the end we’re all different and we’re all the same."
Tyler Sammy is one of three panelists in our upcoming discussion, Making Space. Exploring the ways in which we can use the internet to better society. Come check it out Sunday, May 22nd at Markham House in Toronto. RSVP here