From Stories to Digital Storytelling

by librarianincognita ~ August 10th, 2011. Filed under: Digital Storytelling.

Our lives are made out stories, stories of our ancestors, anecdotes of family and friends, the stories outside us that influence who we are; stories are present everywhere, from a book we read, a video we watch, the games with narratives and our own experiences that we share. When we tell stories, we are essentially creating and creation through stories is the bedrock of history as we know it.

However, this post is not about children’s storytelling, which is the way many would associate it with, but rather digital storytelling. I have been interested in digital storytelling for the past 3 years and it really stemmed from a literal understanding of what digital storytelling is, that is using “technology” to tell a story. I had converted some favourite children’s stories into a powerpoint which allowed me to “click” as I go along and gave the children larger visuals which were projected on a screen so they did not have to crowd around my tiny book. This worked really well for a group of children suffering from cerebral palsy because they needed the interactivity to sustain their attention. It got me thinking about how digital storytelling could work in traditional storytimes for children and how they too could partake in the creation of these stories. However, I had not had the time, until now, to do more research on it and I think this would be the best thing I got from this social media class – the chance to think about social media and storytelling.

It’s a little late for this but if I could rename my blog again and choose a focus for it, it would be “Telling Stories Through Social Media”.

I digress.

I picked up this article titled “Digital Storytelling in Practice” by Kelly Czarnecki (available online from the UBC library) and she explains in her introduction that storytelling has always utilised the latest technology, from cave paintings to oral tradition to the written form and then to film. In some ways, the intention to tell a story is the same but the difference is that the tools bring with them new and different dimensions. The video below is a nice little history on storytelling and illustrates how storytelling has evolved through the ages.

I struggle to find an adequate definition for digital storytelling – the one from Wikipedia defines digital storytelling as “the use of digital tools to allow ordinary people tell their own real-life stories”. To me, that is limiting because I think that digital storytelling can involve all kinds of stories, be it fables or folktales or even historical events. Longer films can also be digital stories as long as the presence of the storyteller is never lost. At its heart, digital storytelling is still storytelling and involves some kind of emotional investment on the part of the storyteller that he/she uses to draw the listener in. Real-life stories are just a more compelling form of digital storytelling because it enables an ordinary person to create something to share with the world. Sometimes visuals explanations are better than written ones. There are a few videos on the Center for Digital Storytelling site which I think shows the amazing power of digital stories. They define digital storytelling as “a short, first person video-narrative created by combining recorded voice, still and moving images, and music or other sounds” and that is perhaps a more inclusive definition than the one from Wikipedia. Do take some time to enjoy the videos.

The reason why I picked digital storytelling as the topic for creation is due to the fact that it expresses fully what creation in the social media context is. From an idea, a story, personal or otherwise, it is weaved together with the aid of visual resources and sound to become something that can be shared beyond time and space. Imagine how stories from oral traditions can be preserved through this or how grandparents can tell their own stories for the grandchildren to listen/watch when they are older. Granted that some technical skills are needed but with collaboration, someone with the skills and someone with the story could get together to create something.

There has been a number of digital storytelling projects done and many have been facilitated by libraries and this has been slowly catching on. Libraries are extremely important as facilitators for digital storytelling because they provide the knowledge (technical know-how) and environment that will allow people to share their stories. In that sense, libraries enable creation. I will write more about libraries and digital storytelling in a separate post because it deserves a whole post of its own.

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