The Analog-Digital Divide: Social Media Storytelling

Alexander’s The New Digital Storytelling centers around creating a compelling narrative in a digital storytelling setting, or telling stories with digital technologies. Alexander’s discussion of digital storytelling goes hand-in-hand with Sam Han’s discussion of how users interact within Web 2.0. 

In Chapter 5, Alexander discusses social media storytelling in terms of audio and video. He begins with a discussion of podcasts as an example of audio, and then segues into web video. He argues that podcasts are deeply historical and even nostalgic because they harken back to ancient oral tradition- the audience’s experience of listening to a story told without any other media involved is very similar to ancient storytelling methods. Podcasts tell stories in a range of ways, best arranged on a continuum ranging from oral storytelling to the classic radio theater model.  On the one end is the lone narrator, simply speaking for a length of time, until the audio file ends. On the other is a complex production with multiple voices, effects, and music. Across this podcasting range stretch a variety of possibilities and combinations, including diverse senses of professional and amateur, budget, and expected audience (78). Still, each approach to storytelling is anchored on the use of the human voice, which Alexander argues powers the steady appeal of this type of storytelling.

Like thousands of other This American Life fans in late 2014, I was obsessed with the Serial podcast for nearly all of the reasons listed in the preceding paragraph. I must admit that while Sarah Koenig’s voice is not my favorite, Serial was captivating in part due to her presentation style- it is a complex production with multiple voices, effects, and music. She interacts with listeners as if she is talking directly to them sometimes, and other times, her presentation was a very polished Faulkner-like approach to stream of consciousness narrative. She enhances her credibility by  speaking with authority about what she knows, and highlighting uncertainties where they exist. Each episode also ended with a cliffhanger. I have a hate-hate relationship with cliffhangers and I seek out spoilers as often as I can, but I must admit that the cliffhanging approach to this podcast was captivating. Podcasts have a harder time maintaining a cult following  if their episodes are only loosely linked with fluid themes and motifs. Thus far, season 2 of Serial hasn’t held my attention nearly as much as season 1, and I’m not sure exactly why this is. Koenig doesn’t come off nearly as forceful as she did in season 1, and during the first few episodes (I’m not caught up), the narrative changes between Koenig , Bowe Bergdahl, and the other guy featured quite a bit at the beginning don’t seem so cohesive. After reading this chapter, I plan on giving season 2 another go, but listening to it this time with a much more critical ear.

The second part of the chapter switches gears over to video. Alexander says “If podcasting connects deeply with audiences, establishing a rich relationship through the medium of timeshifted sound, Web video has reached one of the largest audiences in human history.” Video has a significant amount of emotional appeal- you can see someone’s face on screen and track how they change moods.Within podcasts, we must rely on changes in inflections in the speaker’s voice and their speech cadence. I’ve had a really hard time coming up with a personal connection with this kind of storytelling. The videos on YouTube are of the how-to variety, or watching clips of videos that are part of a larger narrative. I’m very intrigued by VoiceThread, a combination of audio and video media.  Users upload images, text, or video clips, which other users can them comment on with text, audio, or video. It sounds. It sounds cool, but also stressful because the translation of the narrative can pretty much go in any direction, and I like to have some level of control over the narrative.

 

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