July 17th, 2013
Neil Martin writes:
The ability to tell stories is fundamental to the human condition. We have been creating stories throughout human history, initially as an oral tradition (which is still strong in many cultures), and more recently through visual and written narratives.
The arrival of the web, particularly web 2.0 technologies, has seen an explosion in the area of digital storytelling. A range of new media tools, such as blogs, video streaming services and podcasts, have allowed anybody with an internet connection and access to a camera or smartphone to tell their story:
Dear Photograph, for example, explores the emotive power of old photographs and their relationship to memory and nostalgia. Utilising the Tumblr blogging platform, contributors take a photo of their hand holding up a photo of a place from their past that is important. This example published on September 11 2011 shows a chilling picture of the Twin Towers in New York a few moments after the terrorist attack ten years before. A simple comment conveys the shock
“Dear Photograph, I was astounded, but I hadn’t had time to consider what I was seeing”.
Comfort Enough is a short film created by a QUT student utilising still photography with the “Ken Burns effect” applied and audio narration. The narrator tells a personal story of family tragedy and outlines how she is responding to the loss.
Welcome to Pine Point explores memories of life in a now abandoned Canadian mining town through Flash-based interactive multimedia. First-hand recollections are given through video and photographs, sound and interactive text to create a truly immersive experience
Beyond Web 2.0
In the last couple of years, rich digital technologies have emerged that facilitate novel ways to tell stories.
Geolocation allows the location and objects to be identified spatially and facilitates interactions based on this information.
The Silent History is a work of fiction that includes the use of geolocation information to allow people to visit specified places described in the text and download field reports related to the story onto their mobile device. The idea here is that the book responds to the reader’s environment to add new layers of storytelling. This technique is in its infancy, but could be used in the future to tell localised stories that resonate with a range of readership demographics such as local communities, school children or tourists.
Storify is a digital curation tool that allows users to curate social media, video, and images to tell interesting stories. In this example, students of a Southern Methodist University in Texas go on a 9 day bus tour to explore key places in the Deep South that were important battlegrounds for the Civil Rights movement. The tour included meeting a former Civil Rights protestors to obtain their reflections on an important period of American history. The curated content drew on tour photos, Facebook, Twitter posts, Google maps and video archive to provide an enriching story.
HTML5 is a group of technologies that brings new levels of interactivity to the web. Hollow is an interactive documentary and community participatory project that focuses on the lives of residents in McDowell County, West Virginia. Through a series of interactive graphics, maps, and video testimonies, the website builds a picture of modern rural America and the problems it faces. The documentary creators have added some clever features such as unlockable content and sharable material via social media that add to the appeal. The project was funded through Kickstarter and was launched in May 2013.
Wearable technology for first person narrative
The arrival of wearable technology will undoubtedly offer new opportunities for unique narratives. Technologies such as Google glass, wearable wristbands and smart watches will potentially offer more contextualised narrative content. For example, a mountain climber could tell the story of a hazardous climb using wearable technology, which is small and functional in inhospitable places. The mountain climber may be wearing Google glass to offer first person perspective, and a wrist band that measures heart rate and surface body temperature, with microphones to record sound and narration. If done well, it could be a compelling story of a battle with nature.
A revolution in storytelling
Digital technology is revolutionising storytelling. New media and increasingly smart technologies can help anybody to create compelling narratives. All we need are great stories and plenty of imagination.
Image credit: Google-glass 2 by giuseppe.costantino used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence