Digital storytelling

I’m very happy to be done with grad school. The professional environment, even when still centered on academe, is a much better fit for me. But every once in a while, strange to say, I miss it.

Usually, this strange nostalgia is centered around some sort of interesting research question. Tonight, it happens to be digital storytelling. One of my coworkers sent me a link to Bill Gates’ Facebook profile. Here’s the thing: this is getting to be a genre. There’s Austenbook, which retells Pride and Prejudice, or the Passion of the Christ, which came out right before Easter. And on Twitter, there’s the fictional adventures of Othar (a character from the ever-excellent Girl Genius), or @publicdomain, which just finished tweeting the entire text of Moby Dick, or @manyvoices, a collaborative storytelling effort from middle school students nationwide, started by Maryland teacher @mrmayo (his classes have since moved on to other digital writing and storytelling efforts).

At this point, of course, my inner lit major is bemoaning the sad state of literature in our day and age. The rhetor, however, is fascinated. What is the barest form a story can take? These forms, apparently. Plot, after all, is little more than a set of people and events. Austenbook may not be the most interesting read in the world, but it’s still the story.

Or is it? Does it stand alone without the reader already knowing the context? I mean, in reality, anyone’s facebook profile is functionally a story. Mine certainly tells a distilled version of my life over the last few weeks–a bridal shower for a friend, a baby shower for another, Star Trek, transitioning into roommatelessness. My twitter feed, interestingly, tells a slightly different story–a trip to the dentist, a phone interview (I really have no idea why they’re so different, which, of course, only adds to my personal fascination).

Then, of course, there’s the simple fact that nobody ever actually reads either a facebook profile or twitter feed as a story. Your status update is just one among many, and while one person’s may be more intriguing than another person’s updates, Facebook and Twitter are less like hearing the story of one’s life and more like reading a single sentence off each page in a book.

So: why do people force stories into tools that really can’t support them?

Perhaps more frightening: how much context do people create for the status updates they receive on their feeds?

2 Comments on “Digital storytelling

  1. Maybe one’s Facebook or Twitter feed communicates a story in the same sense that wampum or quipu do: the story is encoded, but a certain set of background information is necessary to decode it. Your friends can decode unwritten details about what you discuss, after all. 🙂