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Sun, Apr. 23rd, 2006, 04:40 pm
Digital Stories, So What?

I’m always a little skeptical about what’s sometimes called “digital storytelling.” Most of the digital storytelling programs I’ve seen have the participants make mini-movies from their own experience, or paste together photos into a slide-show, and then tell a story in audio over it. (For example: The Center for Digital Storytelling.) Sometimes it’s building a web-site, sometimes it’s teaching them Flash, but it’s very much in the model of traditional authorship - a solitary, product-oriented, revisable activity.

What’s interesting to me is how much effort seems to go into controlling and “school-ifying” these practices. The same kids who need hand-holding through the Center’s programs are the same kids who are probably writing fan-fic about their favorite games, or participating in online communities, or role-playing in World of Warcraft, or making movies of them doing stupid stunts, or taking part in a hundred different other social, collaborative, improvisational forms of story-making. But because these forms aren’t recognized, the participants are having their voices shoehorned into forms that funders and school-thinkers do recognize.

I bet that if you looked at the stories coming out of this center, they’d be moving, and powerful, and probably even authentic - but also that many of them would be the same. The Center for Digital Storytelling gives their kids the tools to make these movies, but it’s not clear from their materials that they actually give them tools to make stories.

I’m not interested in teaching kids how to use Premiere. Let’s forget the technology and worry about what they’re trying to say with it. How do we help people tell stories that they don’t already know that they have to tell? That’s the question that’s bugging me, and I’m not sure that the Center for Digital Storytelling can really help with that.

Not that the digital storytelling movement hasn’t done a hell of a lot of great stuff. For example, Fray is a fantastic storytelling community, and one that takes advantage of the technology in meaningful ways. It provides community support, story-starting discussion topics, and access to previous works. All of those things are meaningful ways of supporting the story part of the equation, not just the medium through which the stories happen to be expressed.

Despite my critic-head kvetching at me about all this, their list of links is highly worth mining, and I’m also wondering if the Digital Storytelling Association is active and might be a good resource for working on collaborative, improvisational story stuff.