Tue, Sep 30, 2014 - Page 9 News List

New media, technologies will write the future of storytelling

Technology and media developments like ‘smart’ devices and social networks will form a new chapter in the history of the tale by giving stories new dimensions

By Beth Cardier and H. T. Goranson

Next month, a group of storytelling pioneers will gather in New York City for a future of storytelling summit. Their focus will be on new media and the way it enables some surprising opportunities for interactivity. Yet a story is more than the mode of its telling, so the future is likely to be even more remarkable than these experts predict.

Beneath the medium of story are the gears that drive it. A new form of analysis is emerging that promises to reveal more of that engine, so we can better understand why some tales grip us. If it succeeds, it would fuel new creative forms, more powerful stories and make us less vulnerable to manipulation by governments and companies.

The focus on new media is understandable, because it enables novel relationships. Consider a scenario proposed by Latitude Research, a firm that envisions new intersections of content and technology: Many unconnected people are reading the same book simultaneously, all aiming to reach a particular scene — say, a dance ball — by a certain date. On that day, the readers dress up and attend the ball they are reading about somewhere in their city.

This sort of potential is becoming big business. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg believes immersion in virtual spaces will advance the way we build social narratives. The social networking company recently acquired startup virtual reality firm Oculus for US$2 billion.

However, the excitement surrounding these innovations can miss some important aspects of what we love about stories. New media alone simply changes the mode of the same old tales, whereas the focus on interactivity overlooks a successful tale’s central feature: We often ask storytellers to thrill us in ways that we cannot manage ourselves.

This is where a new method of analysis could help, by modeling a narrative as a river of transforming situations and searching for the forces that propel them forward. Tracking these forces is difficult, because they are usually invisible and spread among many factors. Thanks to new media and technologies, however, some are now becoming more conspicuous.

Consider an example from the action blockbuster genre. The 2007 Transformers movie had a “fractional” structure that deliberately left gaps in the story, to make it more tantalizing. Computer-generated imagery in that film extended the notion visually, changing the way battle scenes unfolded.

In such imagery, a “camera” is an invented perspective, which means the director can point it anywhere. Despite this, the camera in Transformers “saw” and “understood” very little of the fight scenes. It faced the wrong directions, came too close and jumped from view to view, as if its operator did not know what would happen next. Suddenly, a fiction invented for eight-year-old toy consumers became engaging for adults.

TECHNOLOGY TALES

This style of visual confusion has since been extended further, to the level of plot. At the beginning of zombie blockbuster World War Z, a family suddenly flees in panic, but neither they nor the audience know from what. The camera and the protagonists are both anchorless, and the effect is arresting.

Coming technologies will make it possible to see the architecture behind the thrill, along with the way the audience appropriates it afterward. The result could be a greater awareness of why certain tales influence us. Stories already help us decide with whom to fall in love, which politicians to support, where to live, and which goods and services to buy. A deeper understanding of the narratives we consume could improve our quality of life, as it did in the case of food safety.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top