Storytelling Online and Georges-Pierre Seurat
Bryan Macintyre’s “The internet is killing storytelling” was published by The Times over a month ago, but I haven’t yet forgotten it. Macintyre believes that the byte-sized information we consume online is ruining our interest in narratives, which are vital to the human experience. He writes:
The internet, while it communicates so much information so very effectively, does not really “do” narrative. The blog is a soap box, not a story. Facebook is a place for tell-tales perhaps, but not for telling tales. The long-form narrative still does sit easily on the screen, although the e-reader is slowly edging into the mainstream. Very few stories of more than 1,000 words achieve viral status on the internet.
Though Macintyre’s piece is very interesting and presents some great points for discussion, I do not agree that the Internet is killing storytelling. I believe the Internet is actually enhancing storytelling in a new way, a way that transcends the storytelling done within a typical novel or short story.
Using Twitter and Facebook, social networkers are creating stories over time, stories that perhaps are not apparent in a section of 10 or so status updates or tweets but stories that show the evolution of an individual through photographs, links, and bits of text. The online story is comprised of more than text; it’s a mixed media collage.
In fact, interactive marketers know that the only way you can really get your point across on the Internet is to present a narrative and develop it over time. Unless you’re famous, you’re not going to be able to set up a Twitter account, follow a whole bunch of people, and try to convince them to trust you and buy your product/service all in one day.
You have to gain trust over the course of months by developing your narrative and unfolding your purpose and personality. I think this is very hard to do on the web, especially if you want to create an identity. Online, people know you by your story and your story only.
Also, blogs can become narratives, especially if they are personal blogs written in the first-person. Many are diary-like in their format but can include video, photographs, links, quotes, you name it.
If I learned one thing from my narrative form classes in grad school, it’s that a narrative does not have to move from beginning then middle to end. It also does not have to be continuous string of words. It can include footnotes, fragments, and fallout.
Have you ever heard of a style of painting called pointilism? Think “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” by Georges-Pierre Seurat. From close up, the observer sees only a series of painted dots. From far away, the complete picture becomes obvious.
Narratives developing on the Internet are kind of like those paintings – the bits of information, the tweets, and the barrage of digitized byte-sized content are the dots. Step away and see the bigger picture!
(Photo by karla kaulfuss)