Ramblings. Musings. Required coursework.

Month: May 2017

Participatory Storytelling

Platform and Purpose

Participatory Storytelling in a Digital Age

Our history and collective past is rich with examples of storytelling and story-sharing. We, as humans, love to share our stories, to hear and be heard, and will take advantage of any technology to do so. This is as true today as it was centuries ago. Study the history of narrative and you will see it expand with technological advancement from oral tradition, to written word, to digital technologies (Cosco, 2011). Given our history of narrative advancement, Chris Sullivan’s query, “Technology might have made communication easier, but is it killing the art of storytelling?” makes one wonder if, much as our grandparents walked to school in the snow uphill both ways, storytellers, such as Homer (anachronism aside for the sake of argument), perceived the advent of the printing press as the death of their oral traditions (Cosco, 2011).

Rather than perceiving social media as an end, modern writers attempting to reconcile the available technologies within a rich tradition of storytelling leave the impression that “fiction is again expanding its means to process and illustrate the so-called state of the times” (Conchie, 2014). Much as Dickens wrote serialized stories for publication in 19th century papers to anticipatory audiences, authors taking advantage of social media create stories shared in serialized tweets or posts, often to avid followings. As noted by Taylor and Williams (2014), however, a different style has developed where “compression is the key, and modification of the narrative is often required.” For anyone who has read Dickens, short and sweet may actually be a saving grace of storytelling via social media. As an added bonus, the immediacy of these platforms makes “it easy to believe [a story is] really happening in the moment” as “the ordinary suspension of disbelief evaporates” in real time (Conchie, 2014). Further, where oral tradition required the face to face presence of audience and storyteller and written words required the purchase or lend of a text, social media can be accessed by anyone on any Internet-connected device. As stated by Pratten (2011), the “value [of Twitter as a platform] is in the social spread of the story and the building of audiences.” Given this, it seems that social media, instead of killing the story, presents an alternative canvas for the diffusion, reconceptualization, and expansion of participation within modern storytelling (Cosco, 2011).

Twitter as Platform

When an author chooses to present their story in social media, platform becomes a key consideration. As stated by Burns (2010), “platforms become the weapons in one’s storytelling arsenal.” As such, an author must know the unique affordances, strengths and weaknesses, language, and means to interact with audience when selection a platform (Burns, 2010). When an author takes the time to understand the full nature of a platform, they are able to manipulate it in new and creative ways to successfully tell their story. As noted by Pratten (2011), the “key to success with storytelling in any media is to work with the strengths of the platform.”

In “Social Stories: How to use Storytelling on Twitter,” Gini Dietrich (2013) reviews four ways to use Twitter for storytelling “literally—to tell a story, creatively—to tell a story in a new way, consistently—as a way to reinforce your message, and personally—to let your audience get to know you.” Given that traditional stories involved the creation of narrative by a single author delivered in linear progression, it is Dietrich’s (2013) concept of “[telling] a story in a new way” that resonates most in discussions around the medium and Twitterature (yes, that’s a thing). Based on authorial accounts, the most compelling platform-based considerations within Twitter include: the 140-character length limit, the nature of audience interaction, and the ability for a story to unfold in non-linear progression and to incorporate storylines supplemental to the primary account.

The most obvious difference when dealing with Twitter over traditional storytelling is the 140-character limitation per tweet. While such a short length may have sent 19th century authors to an early grave (Dickens, I’m looking at you!), modern authors rise to, and embrace, the challenge. As stated by Meltzer, “My canvas as a novelist is usually 500 pages. Now, I’m supposed to tell a story on what’s pretty much a postage stamp. I do think as an exercise, it’s fascinating, because it really makes you think about what it takes to tell a story” (Martin and Melzer, 2014). Alexander McCall Smith, in a similar take, sees Twitter as a platform that allows “using [just] a few brushstrokes to create a whole world…[telling] a very big story in a few lines” (Taylor and Williams, 2014). The trick in such limited space, it seems, is to create tweets that move the story forward, intrigue the audience, provoke either thought or emotional response, and maintain the element of surprise (Pratten, 2011; Crum, 2015).

Once an audience engages with a story, the unique affordances of Twitter allow for increased interaction with both plot and characters. While the audience can, at the most basic level, retweet, follow, or invite others to share in the story, the real strength of the medium lies in the ability for audience members to actively participate. As stated by Caitlin Burns, “Twitter invites direct response by the audience in a way that other media do not. Twitter breaks the fourth wall by inviting the audience to reply, simply by using the platform” (Johnson, 2011). Beyond their ability to comment, and within the constructs of a crowd-sourced, participatory novel, audience members may also drive the narrative and plot twists as they work in conjunction to create the story (Johnson, 2011).

In line with audience interaction is the notion that Twitter encourages non-linear progression of a story and allows for supplemental storytelling through the manipulation of characters outside of the primary narrative. As noted by Johnson (2011), Twitter creates an ideal environment for audience members to continue the development of characters “outside the direct plot” of the story. Through the creation of character accounts of backstories, audiences participate in “a kind of live theater…ongoing over [a period of time] with interactions among multiple characters, but still within a contained story” (Johnson, 2011). While these character narratives are not explicitly part of the driving story, Pratten (2011) furthers Johnson’s (2011) argument by stating that the supplemental feeds that work with characters should “add value to the core narrative yet at the same time be optionally consumed.” In other words, these supplemental stories and character developments add value to the primary narrative but are not required for enjoyment, understanding, or completion of the story. (For instance, I love the Star Wars movies, but have no interest whatsoever in the expanded universe. Period.)

Maintaining Original Format

According to Martin and Melzer (2014), a story must embrace the medium in which it is created. To some this means limiting oneself to the culture, affordances, and structure of the platform (Twitter’s 140-character limit and use of hashtags, as example), while, to others, this means keeping and presenting the story in its original environment. Both Burns (2010) and Johnson (2011) believe that compiling a story outside of its original medium misses the point of selecting a specific storytelling medium. That said, Johnson (2011) does acknowledge that the timing of interactions and multiple feeds in Twitter can present a barrier to audience participation in an ongoing story and suggests the possibility of an external website to “catch people up and bring them into the current part of the story.” While discussion clearly exists around the use of external sites for ease of audience access and decisions to turn tweeted stories into print editions, the literature seems to indicate a preference for keeping and presenting a story within its original medium. As Burns (2010) rather succinctly states, “If you need a separate site with a different format to present what is intended for one medium, what is being missed?”

 

The Supplemental “Re” Concept

Writing is one of the most intensely personal things we do. Regardless of what drives us to write, we are sharing a part of ourselves (whether our thoughts, fears, creativity, pain, or love) with the reader. When we give voices to our words or put them on paper, we provide a glimpse into to our inner selves and create something new…something permanent. We cannot reclaim the love letter dropped in the mail before we lost our nerve, rescind the angry email we pounded out before we took the time to cool off, or take back the thing we said that the wrong person overheard.

Knowing this, whether I am penning a letter to a friend, typing a referenced and cited paper for class, or jotting down a creative story for fun, I have a plan. I think through what I want to say, making notes so I won’t forget the concepts I need to develop. I write the words, let them sit, and revisit them often, adding where necessary and callously cutting that which no longer fits. I spend the weeks before papers are due planning them in my head. As I write this post, I have my notes from the articles I read on the bottom right of my screen, a section where I jotted down random thoughts about the intersections between story and articles above, and the left of my screen is covered by the document I am working in now which is an amalgamation of plan, outline, and fragmented thoughts yet to find a home.

You can imagine my frustration, then, about a story told by a group of individuals with different experiences informing their voices and different agendas guiding their narrative. While I enjoyed seeing the progression of Re’s story and participating in the creative process that brought it to life, it drove me crazy when a thought was left dangling in the story, a character suddenly appeared with no explanation or backstory, and there was no conclusion (satisfying or otherwise) to the story in sight. When I think of the stories I love, it is the author’s ability to create a complete world with transportative power that draws me in. Something about an author creating a world, fully formed, apart from our own, entrances me and beckons my escape.

It is this concept of completeness and the affordances of Twitter discussed above, that most informed my creative approach to the story. Much as we created in Re a character whose story is fragmented due to the 140-character limit, we created a character who clearly struggles with the fragmentation of her own life story. She vacillates, throughout the story, between struggling to remember and struggling to forget her past. She is, in many ways, on a voyage of pain and discovery where knowledge comes to her in small varied bursts. Knowing this, I wanted to create a concept that respected the original intent and platform of the story (by staying within the 140-character limit), maintained the fragmented perception of her world, and fulfilled my need to have a more complete backstory. Although I considered several mechanisms, the one that made the most sense was to conceptualize the book owned by Re as a journal where she records the fragmented dreams, memories, and scraps she uses to piece together her story. While I posted the original content to Twitter in an account I created for Re (@fragmentRe), the journal is presented below using Storify for cohesion and ease of access. If you prefer the original medium and platform, the account is public. Please know this does not represent what I would see as the entire journal; rather it represents a sampling of backstory that would be fun to further develop or throw into the Twitterverse to see what happens. NOTE: If the images, which I love, aren’t showing up, please be sure to check it in Twitter…

 

Citations

Burns, C. (2010, May 10). Twitter fiction. Moxie Dot. [Web log]. Retrieved from https://www.moxiedot.com/2010/05/twitter-fiction/

Burton, S.J. (2016, October 22). Fragmented sky. [Image]. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/shanjeniah/30478293545

Conchie, A. (2014, March 21). Twitter Fiction Festival: How technology is changing the face of fiction. Melville House. [Web log]. Retrieved from https://www.mhpbooks.com/twitter-fiction-festival-how-technology-is-changing-the-face-of-fiction/

Cosco, A. (2011, April 6). “I challenge you to tell a great story on Twitter”—Is it possible? AdWeek. [Web log]. Retrieved from http://www.adweek.com/digital/i-challenge-you-to-tell-a-great-story-on-twitter-is-it-possible/?red=st

Crum, M. (2015, May 7). Twitter fiction reveals the power of very, very short stories. Huffington Post. [Web log]. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/07/twitter-fiction_n_7205686.html

Dietrich, G. (2013, June 18). Social stories: How to use storytelling on Twitter. Social Media Today. [Web log]. Retrieved from http://www.socialmediatoday.com/content/social-stories-how-use-storytelling-twitter

Johnson, L.J.W. (2011, March 8). Twitter storytelling. Silverstring Media. [Web log]. Retrieved from http://silverstringmedia.com/memory-insufficient-old/2011/03/08/twitter-storytelling

Martin, R. & Meltzer, B. (2014, March 16). Authors tighten up their stories for Twitter Fiction Festival. National Public Radio. [Interview]. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2014/03/16/290615041/authors-tighten-up-their-stories-for-twitter-fiction-festival

Pratten, R. (2011, March 10). Using Twitter for storytelling.  Transmedia Storyteller. [Web log]. Retrieved from http://www.tstoryteller.com/using-twitter-for-storytelling

Shea, S. (n.d.). The collective boutique. The Collective. [Web log]. Retrieved from http://www.collectiveboutique.net/index.html

Taylor, A. & Williams, M. (2014, September 20). Alexander McCall Smith on the art of Twitter fiction. ABC Radio Nation. [Web log]. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/booksandarts/beta-nav/alexander-mccall-smith-on-the-art-of-twitter-fiction/5777056

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Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: Remixing and Mashing

Context and Definition

When one considers the interconnectedness of the modern era, the concept of “open” cannot be ignored in creative and intellectual endeavors. We live in a world of vast cultural and knowledge exchange that occurs daily across granular and global levels of interaction. It is unfortunate, then, that copyright laws and concepts of intellectual property do not reflect this interconnectedness. While leaders in the open movement encourage creators to consider the 5 R’s of Open (retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute) when licensing creative works, the copyright industry continues to treat these works as property (Jacobs, 2012; Green, 2016). As noted by TEDGlobal Director Kirby Ferguson, although the intent of patent laws is to “promote the progress of useful arts,” they often have the opposite effect by “stifling the root of creativity” (Jacobs, 2012). Beyond the strict regulations put in place by copyright and patent laws, when an individual borrows the ideas of others and meets significant financial success, they may experience loss aversion and a change of perspective (Jacobs, 2012). Consider Steve Jobs who, in the 1980s openly admitted to stealing everything, yet, in a patent dispute with Android, threatened the equivalent of nuclear war (Jacobs, 2012). Pot? Meet Kettle.

Before we continue, it bears merit to take a few moments to define the concepts of “remix” and “mashup.” According to Jessell (2013), remixing is defined as “the act of rearranging, combining, editorializing, and adding to [an original work] to create something entirely new” with the “added benefit of drawing on emotions and associations to enrich a message or point of view.” To remix, then, is to participate in “cultural evolution” wherein a creator practices “meaningful appropriation” by drawing on the patterns, processes, concepts, or characterizations of another to add to the collective body of culture or knowledge through creation and innovation (Murray, 2015). Along similar lines, mashups “[reframe] the original narrative [or content to]…produce a fresh perspective on both the source material and the context in which it first existed” (Murray, 2015). Mashups, then, take advantage of readily available tools on the Internet to “[integrate] complementary elements from two or more sources” and diffuse the product to expanded audiences (Rouse, 2016).

So, what are innovators and creators to do in this world of mashed and mixed messages, creative abundance, and overzealous lawsuits? In “Embrace the Remix,” Ferguson posits that to “remix” is to “copy, transform, and combine;” compellingly, he also defines these three elements as those most basic to creativity (Jacobs, 2012). Embrace that line of logic and the argument makes itself – “everything is a remix” (Jacobs, 2012).

As a connected society that embraces access to our common historical and cultural past, some might argue that increased access has informed this modern concept of creativity. That argument, however, demonstrates a shallow understanding of creative expression in the past. Much as Shakespeare borrowed from his contemporaries, Michelangelo created a mash-up of biblical stories in the Sistene Chapel, and scientists, such as Galileo and Copernicus, built on the discoveries and theories of others, creators of the past borrowed from those who came before by “[building] on, [taking] inspiration from, [appropriating, and transforming]” their work (Jenkins, 2006; Murray, 2015). The past stands as a landscape where “collaboration [was] a boon to creativity” and “creativity came from without, not within…proving [dependence] on each other” (Murray, 2015; Ferguson via Jacobs, 2012).

Although the passage of time is generally marked by progress and positive change in the cultural landscape, in many ways the modern era and the “challenges of [defining] originality and freshness in a world where creativity takes root in what has come before” seem to be a devolution of sorts (Jacobs, 2012). We live in a world where access to information and the free exchange of knowledge thrives, yet members of intellectual and artistic groups cling to outdated notions of ownership and creativity. Given the arguments presented, it is clear that intellectualism and creativity are in a time of reconception and transition. One can only hope that, over time, society will embrace the idea that greatness comes from “being inspired by great things, and combining/transforming them into something entirely new” (Jessell, 2013). This ability to creatively express oneself and transform existing knowledge, ideas, and works seems fundamental to the concept of modern society and, as Lawrence Lessig, co-creator of Creative Commons, notes “no free society should restrict” the “right to [remix as] a critical expression of creative freedom” (Murray, 2015).

 

Remixing the Mix, Mashing Self

In the process of developing a broad definition of remix and mashup and then applying it to my personal experience, two quotes stood out: Kirby Ferguson’s idea that “art cannot be created or destroyed – only remixed” (Jacobs, 2012) and Cory Doctorow’s notion that those “not making art with the intention of having it copied [are] not really making art for the 21st century” (Murray, 2015).

While I wholeheartedly embrace these concepts from an artistic standpoint, for the purposes of my argument, I posit a remix of each: “knowledge cannot be created or destroyed – only remixed” and those “not creating knowledge with the intention of having it copied [are] not really making knowledge for the 21st century.” Bearing this in mind, then, I further refine my global definitions above as follows:

  • Remixing meaningfully appropriates, and properly attributes, the thoughts, concepts, and ideas of others through rearranging, combining, editorializing, and adding to in the process of creating and defining new knowledge for the collective body to freely access and openly use
  • Mashups reframe original and integrate complementary knowledge (thoughts, concepts, and ideas) to create a new perspective, freely accessible and open for use, on the body of knowledge and the context in which said knowledge occurs

As a student in the Interdisciplinary Studies PhD program, my research represents both a remix and mashup of my fields. While the Education Department is my official home at the University, my coursework focuses on education, historiography, archives, technology, and design. Each of these fields embraces different paradigms, methodologies, and theorems that come together to form their collective bodies of knowledge. As the researcher, it is my job to find the intersection and identify complementary practices (mashup) within each to create new knowledge (remix).

Knowing that this will be my life for the next four years (Who are we kidding? Likely more.), I wanted to examine how the content with which we interact in our courses complements our prior experience and existing knowledge (mashup) and encourages us to reconsider how we approach and develop new knowledge within our fields of study (remix). The video below represents a brief attempt to do so.

 

(Post-Note: The title is remixed from a quote accredited to Sir Isaac Newton and Bernard of Chartes, “We stand on the shoulders of giants” (Jessell, 2013)

Citations

Green, C. (2016, December 21). Presentation to UAA. [Presentation notes].

Jacobs, L. (2012, August 10). 14 brilliant quotes on remixing. TED Blog. [Web Log]. Retrieved from http://blog.ted.com/14-brilliant-quotes-on-remixing/

Jenkins, H. (2006, July 13). Learning by remixing. Media Shift. [Web log]. Retrieved from http://mediashift.org/2006/07/learning-by-remixing194/

Jessell, M. (2013, April 30). Remix culture: Rethinking what we call original content. Marketing Land. [Web log]. Retrieved from http://marketingland.com/remix-culture-rethinking-what-we-call-original-content-41791

Murray, B. (2015, March 22). Remixing culture and why the art of the mash-up matters. Tech Crunch. [Web log]. Retrieved from https://techcrunch.com/2015/03/22/from-artistic-to-technological-mash-up/

Rouse, M. (2016, January). Mash-up. What Is. Retrieved from http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/mash-up

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