Apples to apples

Compared to some of the other storytelling media we’ve looked at so far, we haven’t been able to spend nearly as much time discussing Twitter and some of the more experimental storytelling that has taken place on that platform. To supplement this, I ended up Googling “twitter narrative” and reading a few of the articles that popped up, which were primarily interviews with artists like the one we read with Teju Cole. It took a little while to wade through the results looking for pages that were relevant, but I eventually stumbled across an old 2010 interview with Peggy Nelson, a “new media artist who has spent the last several years doing digital and virtual storytelling”. I’d recommend checking it out if you have the time, even if you don’t get around to viewing her work.

Peggy Nelson has worked with Twitter as well as with digital locative media, animation, and even PowerPoint. She describes herself as a new media artist “with a focus on episodic, decentralized storytelling”.  Although we didn’t explicitly use the word “episodic” in our discussion of Teju Cole’s Twitter fiction, we touched on this idea when we discussed the way each sentence Cole tweeted was isolated and exposed to a much greater extent than a sentence in a traditional short story would have been. Each tweet that makes up a larger narrative like this can be seen as a micro-episode of a story. This is especially true for those experiencing a Twitter narrative in real time.

About halfway through, the interviewer asked about Peggy’s work with new and nontraditional storytelling media.

“When I joined Twitter, I realized that the people who use it are checking it pretty consistently throughout the day. So I want to make an art project specifically for this medium that these people are checking anyway. I wasn’t thinking, “Okay, no one is reading The Atlantic anymore, so I’m going to substitute with something like this.” I was thinking, “Okay, people are using this a lot. It’s creeping up to be a bigger part of their day and more of what they’re thinking about.” So I want to put art in there as well […]”

 By the time I was halfway through reading this paragraph, little blog post sirens were going off in my head. In just a few sentences, she was able to put into words something that I had been struggling with for most of the semester. The point she makes here is that “traditional” storytelling in, say, a newspaper or a poetry anthology is not mutually exclusive from “nontraditional” storytelling like Twitter fiction or mobile locative media.  These new methods of telling stories are ways to bring narrative and art into activities we already spend our time doing, not necessarily to replace other media. If you’re going to spend five minutes on the toilet scrolling through your timeline anyway, why not experience narrative through a new lens?

So while I believe that our critiques of newer storytelling media (like 7Scenes or The Martian: Bring Him Home) are absolutely legitimate, I’m not sure how valuable it is to compare them to their traditional media counterparts. Instead, it might be more useful to compare mobile apps to other mobile apps and the way each of those experiences navigates the affordances and constraints of a mobile device.

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2 thoughts on “Apples to apples

  1. Hey Anna,

    I really liked your blog post!

    It was particularly insightful about comparing different media. I agree that in class discussions we seemed to imply that the forms of new media were replacing the old forms of media. While in reality, like you said, they are not mutually exclusive. Finally understanding that these new modes of storytelling (like locative media, twitter fiction, and e-books) are used to try reach the population in ways that are already conveniently a part of their lifestyles is a realization that makes me further appreciate these forms of media. Now, I can be more cognizant of their advantages and affordances knowing that they were designed to fit seamlessly into our lives.

    In a way, the less we notice the mechanics of the media itself, the better the design is. As we were talking about in HDCC105 regarding The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman, the most effective designs are the ones that blend in with our daily life to seem like they just fit. Norman states, “In fact, the best computer programs are the ones in which the computer itself “disappears,” in which you work directly on the problem without having to be aware of the computer”.
    This principle is probably best modeled by the technology of written text. We just automatically read signs and fliers and don’t pay attention to the actual act of reading, we just use it as a means to do other things. I believe that the same principle applies here. The better a narrative media fits with our daily lives, the more it disappears, the more effective it is at conveying the important information, the story itself. When reading a story becomes as natural as scrolling through a Twitter feed, the author has successfully utilized the affordances of modern media.
    I also agree with you Anna, when you suggested that it would be useful to compare similar media to each other in effort to more effectively equate their affordances and constraints within their respective type of media. This will start a conversation that will facilitate the development of the affordances of each media type and possibly find ways to navigate around the constraints.

    Like

  2. Pingback: Twitter narratives: failures and successes in crafting meaning | HDCC 208: Digital Storytelling

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