How our digital society is changing storytelling

9 02 2010

I recently watched “digital_nation” a PBS special on the impact of digital technology on habits, behaviors, way of thinking and humanity. The more I watched, the more I realized: we’re not in Kansas anymore.

Via FRONTLINE's "digital_nation" special page

Much of my generation grew up right in the middle of the surge of the personal computer, Internet and digitization of our reality. And right now, everyone–not just news companies–is trying to understand what this means.

But an interesting aspect to look at is how the nature of storytelling is being molded by the digital age.

As technology further develops, more and more avenues for media are being created, allowing storytelling to be told in a dynamic and new way.

The art of storytelling has surpassed its oratory roots, and encompasses almost any outlet and tool that technology can provide.

There is no medium that has been untouched by humanity’s urge to tell and hear a story. In the same vein as Ray Kinsella played by Kevin Costner heard in the 1989 film, “Field of Dreams,” if you build it, they will come. If a new compelling way to communicate, connect and share information is created, people will utilize that medium.

But perhaps no other medium allows the flexibility and possibility for multimodal storytelling as the Internet so freely permits. One of the most visible effects of this recent phenomenon can be seen in the news industry.

News saturates every conceivable medium: print, radio, television and the Internet. Much of the news is driven by stories.

Whether it be about a community overcoming tragedy like the 1999 Columbine shooting or a country devastated by natural disaster like the recent deadly earthquakes that hit Haiti, it is not just the facts that people crave but it is always in the context of a person, community or society.

And remarkably, as technology shifts to a more open and accessible format, the storytelling is no longer solely in the hands of people with vast amounts of access and resources, but also in the hands of the person with a 50-dollar camera phone.

For example, there has been an increasing trend of citizen journalists, whether it be intentional or by happenstance.

Several top-headline breaking stories over the past years have been largely–and even solely–made possible by average-Joes with access to a video recorder and the Internet.

Breaking stories like the Virginia Tech shooting, the 2009 Iranian election riots and the recent earthquake-ravaged Haiti all have been covered in some large part due to social media and non-professionals.

Since the past several years, many top news companies have devoted sections of their site to open, social newsgathering. Much of these stories, along with many others, are wholly dependent on user-generated content from the general public.This shift in who controls information is due to today’s lowered cost in digital technology and services, which allows virtually anyone to be more or less their own news service.

Though these amateur works can often be lacking, or merely imitations of the real thing, the digital age of Amateur is legitimately changing much of the media industry, and society’s media consumption and behavior.

There is something to be said when almost every reputable and prestigious news organization in the U.S. have elements of the Amateur like YouTube and Twitter in their reporting and storytelling. TIME was right when they picked the most important person in 2006 to be, well, You.

This new mode has changed the relationship between sender and receiver.

It is the age of the mass, open-collaborators and self-creators not of the few, top-down, editors, directors and producers.

The ease to which anyone is now able to tell a story can ultimately lead to further collaboration, creativity and development of new ways and techniques for storytelling.

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2 03 2010
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This post was mentioned on Twitter by yongkylekim: new blog post: http://bit.ly/cDtTfX

9 02 2010
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