Stories of change look at the act of story telling using digital and interactive media with the question ‘can digital (help to) save the world?’, along the way I wonder if we’re doing better than we were 10 years ago and actually challenging the notion that digital has a positive effect on our ability to interact and engage with others.
2015 is a monumental year for Bristol as it wears the eco-crown of Green Capital City. The environmental consciousness which seems to float through the vegan cafes or community allotments has finally won a physical certification of being so very green. To kick off the Green Capital I joined a talk at the Watershed where two influential speakers in the digital world to help us arrive at a conclusion: Bill Thompson, technology journalist (working on BBC’s Click) and Head of Partnership Development at the BBC Archive and Mandy Rose, Associate Professor and Director of the Digital Cultures Research Centre at UWE here in Bristol.
Stories: the voices in your head
With a talk that was titled The Magic in your Head it won’t surprise you that Bill’s approach had moments of philosophical brilliance (“words are just words until a person reads then which makes those words come alive”), which profoundly awoke the voice of the Art & History of Art graduate within me, a voice which has been logged off since taking a full time job 3 years ago. Bill focussed on the impact of the story as a measure of how digital has taken over, a story is what keeps us alive, said Bill, but the notion of storytelling around a campfire (the “cathedral model of storytelling”) is a stark and archaic contrast to the digital outlets which storytellers use to communicate now. The best way to bring my words to life, is to imagine a single voice telling a story and then to replace this with a number of overlapping, intermittent and interruptive voices called Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter, SMS (now a bit old school admittedly), Email and telephone all just trying to edge into your membrane, flashing, ringing, notifying, alerting ALL at the same time. Stories now have to compete for attention.
Dispersion of a story
There we have it, a technical takeover, a multitude of channels distorting and dispersing the stories we have and the way it’s told. From cave paintings, stories have evolved to written language, poetry to novels, books to film and interactive media – the stories we tell are altered by the channel which we use, for instance, an architect using CAD designs a building using algorithms therefore their pencil drawing is distorted by a computer. The power of the documentary is a genre of television and film which dedicates itself to tell the story of the past which incorporate the latest channel to tell it. Sandy explained how documentary encourages the conversation which we need to have. Interactive documentaries online encourages “openness, expression of ideas, activism and dialogue” with websites like Water Life which present an archive of information which you can digest really easily.
Old vs new
The all too familiar mindset that we are ‘better now than we were 10 years ago’ seemed apparent in both of these talks and feels like a mantra which is tied deep into the technical industry. Technology is future-thinking, broadening digital and physical technology will save time and gain money, power and success to those who invest in it. If we look outside of the technology bubble then we see nostalgia is constantly upon us with generations commenting that times aren’t as sweet as they used to be (see @sammyxjones article on Generation Breakdown). The core cycle of fashion trends is built on recycling ideas from the past. Shabby Chic is a brand which bases itself upon country bumpkin, old and rustic – vintage is cool, in fashion, furniture, photography and design. Urban Outfitters are the biggest sellers of vinyl records, we are in 2015 and we still love vinyls. I am influenced time and time again by the Masters I see in the National Gallery using history, my story, herstory to inject a new combination of ideas into the world. Creative industries are infatuated with history, while technology pounces onto the next hottest thing. The result is a strange kind of duality where the online platform acts as an archive, a host to our love of nostalgia.
Social media meltdown
The creation of the digital footprint is a mechanical extension of our physical identity, storytelling is no longer a selection of disposable camera pictures after a holiday but a mutual nod that your friend had seen the photo album, liked it and a passing comment from you to summarise your highlight means that the stories are quick and punchy. Everything is quick and punchy. How can we possibly read a story from beginning to end when we have 5 windows open and 10 tabs in each window? When your phone is flashing incessantly because not only did you miss the call, but you also have a Voicemail which means YOU HAVE TO RESPOND.
Digital and interactive media has completely taken over the world but the scale of it’s takeover is causing an unwanted bi-product, the ability to move at lightning speed by the powers of our smartphones, to cancel or make plans at a tap of a screen, booking, tagging, checking in, organising ourselves into compartments created by social media which we can justify our life by likes and thumbs up – really? Is this what it’s boiled down to? The answer is yes and it’s causing meltdowns and social media divorces. Our consciousness is under siege by interruptions and tab switching, so how does documentary making and written content online battle put up a fight? When I put this to the panel, Bill simply said, “make the content exciting” – a simple term which umbrellas a whole array of practices in user experience and marketing. “It’s something I’m increasingly aware of too” nodded Mandy, so we are facing many battles here in 2015, and it’s not just a battle of climate change and the notion of story telling – it’s the battle of living in actual reality (not at lightning speed), sitting and reading a book with pages, having a night so good that no-one had time to upload pictures onto Facebook – essentially an existence left unapproved by social media. Stories which are not only communicated to but engaged with and responded to, these acts alone will potentially help save the world.
We tell stories to stay alive, so what happens if no-one’s even listening anymore?
Karen App – psychology profiling based on user interaction, creepy or clever?
Oculus Rift – mentioned by Mandy, participatory technology which uses virtual reality.
Black Mirror – Charlie Brooker brings a fictional super-futuristic (but not so far from now) series of dramas based on a modern dystopia where technology often prevails
Age of Stupid – is a documentary focussing on the archive of climate change, it was crowd funded which is another way in which technology has developed the method in which our stories are dispersed.