Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Quotes and echoes

I'm slowly preparing my next blog post while enduring a flu-like illness (I refuse to speculate). This entails looking back through old writings and in doing that I ran across these two interesting juxtaposed quotes.

"Once upon a time, when people made more of their own things, they created more stories about their life experiences. They told these tales to each other regularly, gracefully, and productively. They did it to give each other insights, to entertain each other, and to engage each other in times of celebration, trial, mourning, or reverence. But primarily they did it to connect with each other. Sharing real-life stories was an essential element in forging friendships, alliances, families, and communities. It brought individuals a greater intimacy with each other and, simultaneously, a stronger sense of self.

Since that time, for all the wonderful progress made in communication technology, the world has grown alarmingly less personal. People have given over much of their individual power to the collective, and have let themselves be increasingly distracted from personal storytelling by flashier but ultimately less gratifying activities that compete for their attention. As a result, we citizens of today’s world have lost some of our core vitality—our feeling of having direct contact with the lives we lead, of relating meaningfully with others, and of being individuals in our own right, with our own clear identities."

—Jack Maguire, The Power of Personal Storytelling

Which is pretty much what I keep saying, only better put.

Narrative films were originally called photoplays and were at first thought of as a merely additive art form (photography plus theater) created by pointing a static camera at a stagelike set. Photoplays gave way to movies when filmmakers learned, for example, to create suspense by cutting between two separate actions (the child in the burning building and the firemen coming to the rescue); to create character and mood by visual means (the menacing villain backlit and seen from a low angle); to use a “montage” of discontinuous shots to establish a larger action (the impending massacre visible in a line of marching soldiers, an old man’s frightened face, a baby carriage tottering on the brink of a stone stairway)....

Now, one hundred years after the arrival of the motion picture camera, we have the arrival of the modern computer, capable of hooking up to a global internet, of processing text, images, sound, and moving pictures, and of controlling a laptop display or a hundred-foot screen. Can we imagine the future of electronic narrative any more easily than Gutenberg’s contemporaries could have imagined War and Peace or than the Parisian novelty seekers of 1895 [at the first moving picture] could have imagined High Noon?"

—Janet H. Murray, Hamlet on the Holodeck

It's funny that I found these two quotes together, because it's my hope that "the future of electronic narrative" involves both of them coming together.


I also had a few echo-like thoughts to convey about the last post (on the dangers of listening to stories).

First, it keeps bothering me how I put the 15 dangers under the self-sabotage category, because that's too simplistic. What I should have done is say that there are three dangers:

  • you get nothing
  • you get something but it leads to nothing
  • you break something

and there are three reasons for the dangers:

  • you are inexperienced or ignorant
  • you are self-sabotaging
  • you are careless or greedy

On reflection I should have said that any combination of the dangers can come about through any combination of the reasons. However, editing the whole post to reflect that would change it a lot (what is the etiquette, people: can you edit blog posts forever?) so I'll just mention it in this echo instead.

And then I had one more echoing thought about self-sabotage. In the same way that conflict in stories often operates at many levels (within the self, between people, between self and environment/society), self-sabotage can operate at many levels simultaneously. Within a group doing a story project, one person might be opening things up while another is closing things down; or one group might do great story projects but other groups in the same organization might squelch the results; and so on.

The flip side of self-sabotage at many levels is that people can do the opposite (self-empowerment? self-discovery? self-disclosure?) at many levels at the same time. So even if a project seems doomed because some people don't want to face the hard truths, it can still succeed in smaller, safer ways that still have a positive impact. From what I've seen, it is better to be aware of that issue and plan for it rather than to have it hit you on the head.

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