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We all love stories – and the narrative form is changing rapidly

November 1st, 2012 by Tim Greenhalgh

Image of Aleks Krotoski - Digital Human series - BBC Radio 4

We all love stories, from the toddler joy of listening to our parents reading to us to an unexpected conversation in a pub.

We’ve learned to enjoy stories through mediums other than live speech – the book, magazine, film, TV show.

But maybe this is changing and we are moving back to a new form of oral transmission. At least that’s the argument put forward this week by Aleks Krotoski.

She is running an excellent series on BBC Radio 4 – Digital Human – which is well worth a catch-up if you haven’t followed it yet.

Aleks Krotoski is one of the leading thinkers in the new generation of young broadcasters who focus on the cultural changes being driven by global networks and new technologies. This is her second Digital Human series.

This week, Aleks investigated the way that we tell stories in the digital age. Aleks talked to information specialists – author AS Byatt, Alison Norrington (one of the world’s leading proponents of transmedia stories), and Tom Pettitt (author of The Gutenberg Parenthesis) among others, to try to understand what a ‘story’ is for, before querying how modern online storytelling bears a striking resemblance to oral traditions of mediaeval times.

Many of the stories we tell, according to Aleks, currently do not make the most of what the digital world has to offer.

But there are examples of a new narrative form. The Slender Man, created by Victor Serge is a myth born and spread on the internet, and has gone global, far beyond the Anglophone countries. It is definitely worth checking out.

During the programme, AS Byatt said that stories are the essence of life and of time. They surround us and help us make sense of the world.

Tom Pettitt, who teaches English Literature at the University of Southern Denmark said that the current digital culture is in some ways reversing the Gutenberg revolution, returning the story to ‘the campfire’, picking up the oral tradition from where we left it in around 1600, with the introduction of movable type.

He believes that post-modern digital stories will resemble pre-modern stories.

Author Frank Rose echoed Professor Pettitt’s thoughts saying that the story is now freed from the constrictions of the book; it can be as long as you want; it can change and it can be split into two or more stories. It is also more than just text – you can use audio, video and images, for example, to narrate the tale. And it is interactive.

The power of narrative, or story-telling, should not be under-estimated. New forms of story-telling will only reinforce the focus on online content as a highly effective way to engage with others, whether new friends, colleagues, clients and customers.

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