Depending on the context in which it is invoked, the term "digital storytelling" (DST) can refer to a disparate range of practices, theories, and issues -- from performance works staged in Second Life to questions about the implications of undocumented immigrants sharing their stories via cell phones. On the one hand, this breadth of potential meanings is indicative of the vitality and variety of the artistic and scholarly practices typically associated with DST. On the other, some critics worry that this variety in fact threatens to strip the notion of DST of all useful meaning; after all, definitions are important, and agreed-upon meanings are the cornerstones of any scholarly field. That is, if DST is many things at once, is a definition even possible? More provocatively, is one even necessary?
In this forum, we reclaim DST's richness of meaning via the work of a diverse group of scholars. We propose moving the spotlight away from a narrow focus on the technical aspect to the places where the spotlight is due -- context and meaning. In so doing, we hope to expose to scholars and educational institutions a multitude of new and productive ways of thinking about the relationship between storytelling and digital technology. Below are three brief prompts written by a set of scholars exploring the topic in separate but interrelated ways. Following these prompts is a series of general questions intended to stimulate discussion and spark debate.
Digital Storytelling as Community Empowerment (Ana Boa-Ventura, University of Texas - Austin)
We have communicated cultural heritage for centuries by telling stories and singing songs. Today we continue to propagate collective memory through radio, television, newspapers and the web. In the past decade, some have contended that global media disseminate a vision that has little identity with the community they reach that these media are amorphous and / or US-driven. Some also worry that citizen journalism (CJ), while favoring local news cheaply produced by nonprofessionals, is a threat to investigative journalism and the preservation of community.
Some see the proliferation of small, cheap, web-ready cameras as a menace to the preservation of community (however broadly this term may be construed), though many see its democratizing power. This access for all comes with a commercial, as well as cultural and political, burden that is increased by a plethora of third party and video sharing services from YouTube to Vimeo and UStream.
Access for all also entails better, more accurate search / index systems, and better standards for vast video repositories. Digital stories are mostly resource-demanding video data. High performance computing (HPC) could be used in ways well beyond mere capacity, fully exploiting the spectrum of date types covered by DH tools from text and image to geodata. Moreover, HPC need not stop at the processing and indexation levels but can offer truly plastic storytelling environments where experimentation and expression are fostered through architectures of collaboration.
My three guest speakers are all key voices for DST as a community empowering, grassroots movement. Joe Lambert is the co-founder and Director of the Center for Digital Storytelling in Berkeley, arguably the organization that most has done for the worldwide dissemination and accreditation of a DST methodology. Marianna Kz from the Museum of the Person in S. Paulo, Brazil, coordinates the 1 million life stories project. Biagio Arobba, recently awarded a TeraGrid Pathways Fellowship, created the social enterprise LiveAndTell for the preservation of endangered indigenous languages through stories made of audio and photos.
Digital Storytelling: Re-Defining the Role of the Academic Library (Sherry Tuffin, Wayne State University)
Stories have always been the raison detre of libraries. The stories housed at academic libraries cover such tales as how cells divide and multiply, how cultures evolve, how wars were fought and won, and many, many more. Over the ages stories were written on cave walls, papyrus, sheepskin, and then paper. Digital storytelling is the modern expression of the ancient art of storytelling, (Rule, Center for Digital Storytelling) Today stories have gone digital and are saved in e-textbooks, e-journals, flash drives, CDs and on servers. The academic library needs to acknowledge this tectonic shift and redefine its role within the academic community.
In their book, Fostering Community Through Digital Storytelling: A Guide for Academic Libraries, Anne M. Fields and Karen R. Diaz discuss how an academic library is uniquely positioned to use digital storytelling, not only for teaching and learning purposes, but also for internal organizational development, for marketing and external development, as well as outreach to the campus community and beyond. Despite the workload faced presently by academic librarians they may soon be asked to include: digital story instruction, maintaining a digital story repository, monitoring a computer software and hardware center, create inter-department story collaborations, market university assets through digital stories, become authorizes on Internet copyright policies, and facilitate campus oral histories.
Yes, all of this means change, but if we embrace the changes as exciting, rather than frightening, this is very good news for academic libraries. As Fields and Diaz so accurately state, libraries are moving from the metaphor heart of the university to a new metaphor of crossroads of the community. I have invited the authors of Fostering Community Through Digital Storytelling, Anne M. Fields and Karen R. Diaz, to view and offer comments in this forum.
Digital Storytelling: Purpose, Practice, and Potential (Jeff Watson, USC School of Cinematic Arts)
Invoking a fear of the new and the young is a familiar response to the arrival of technological revolutions. Television, radio, the cinema, the serialized novel, and countless other shifts in how and where and why stories are told were all greeted by the least imaginative of their contemporaries with doomsday scenarios and nostalgia for ages gone by. In our time, critics like Times of London columnist Ben Macintyre dismiss the storytelling potential of the Internet as "anorexic" and anathema to the "six-course feast that is nourishing narrative."
Researchers involved in initiatives like Project New Media Literacies argue that placing narrational practices such as blogging, status updates, interactive databases, text messages, fan fiction, vidding, and other digitally-mediated communications in opposition to older cinematic, televisual, and novelistic storytelling modes is a dangerous and short-sighted position. In so doing, critics abandon any potential these new practices might have to augment and enhance -- rather than undermine or destroy -- existing cultural forms. Indeed, as recent work by a variety of artists, scholars, and designers can attest, the multiplicity of forms and the interconnectivity of authors and audiences brought about by digital and network technology constitute a deep, rich, and largely untapped well of storytelling opportunities. Participants are invited to consider the following examples and questions (and feel free to pitch in your own in the forum):
- The Whale Hunt. Can this kind of database art be considered storytelling? Jonathan Harris thinks so. If you don't, what do you think we should call something like The Whale Hunt?
- Year Zero. How do hybrid cross-platform storytelling and gameplay practices that take place in both virtual and real-world environments (e.g. Alternate Reality Games) complicate our understanding of Digital Storytelling? Is it even possible to draw a clear boundary between the real and the virtual, the digital and the analog, when such binaries are in fact deeply and fundamentally intertwined?
- Densha Otoko. How do collectively-created stories with indeterminate originary texts and authors complicate our notion of storytelling? How does our experience of reading a story change when we can participate in its creation?
Discussion: Instead of getting lost in polarizing debates about whether digital technology in general -- and social networks, video games, and electronic art in specific -- are "good" or "bad" for storytelling, we would rather move the discussion toward toward an exploration of purpose, practice, and potential. Questions participants might want to address in this regard include:
Defining Storytelling: What does it mean?
- What is digital storytelling and how is it different than non-digital storytelling? Does the attempt to corral a wide range of practices and technologies under the umbrella of "Digital Storytelling" automatically put these modes into an oppositional (rather than augmentational) relationship with "non-digital" forms of storytelling? Is it just the technology or format, or is there something inherently different about digital storytelling?
- What can digital technology offer the storyteller that other technologies cannot? How can scholars and practitioners leverage the affordances of the digital to raise awareness, expand consciousness, stir the heart, and do the other wonderful things that we can all agree stories are capable of doing? What are the unique considerations about digital storytelling?
- What is a story? Is a story something you listen to, read, or watch? Can it be all three at once? Is it something with a beginning, middle, and end, or can it have many of each? Is it singular or can it be taking place in different situations or localities at once?
Storytelling Today: How is Storytelling Changing?
- Can mobile and ubiquitous computing change the game when it comes to who gets to tell stories and who doesn't? How does it change storytelling itself?
- How does digital storytelling relate, if at all, to digital literacy? How is the debate in the US on digital literacy and the digital native differing from the same debate in Europe or Asia and to what extent are those differences a result of different histories in media production?
- What is the impact of citizen journalism particularly local news produced/reported by the non-professional - having in the profession of journalism? Is the popular sponsoring of investigative journalism a viable answer?
- What about comics and graphic novels? What kinds of stories are best expressed through this format?
- What are your favourite examples of interesting storytelling?
Storytelling Tomorrow: Archiving and Organizing Stories for the Future
- How can librarians best archive and present digital stories and storytelling technologies? How are librarians both gatekeepers of stories, as well as storytellers? How does an archive also produce a story itself? What does it mean for a librarian to be a storyteller?
- As the number and type of databases continue to expand, how can librarians (and users!) develop and maintain best practices for search terms, archival formats and tagging? Or is the very concept of best practices outdated?
- What about other models of archiving and documentation, like museums, nonprofits, radio stations, collectives, and individuals? How are these groups grappling with the huge amounts of digital material, in order to archive, preserve, showcase and study the stories?