Digital Storytelling

9 Nov

I have never been a great orator.  I can remember being aware, at a very young age, that my off-the-cuff vocal expressions never quite relayed the thoughts I had as accurately as I wished they could.  My aunt has repeatedly reminded me that I was quite introverted, and painfully shy, up until I began attending school and learned how to read and write. “After that,” she affectionately expresses, “we couldn’t get you to stop talking to save a life.”  I did turn into quite the little chatterbox at that point.  And I think the reason for this developmental shift can be explained, somewhat, by my exposure to new forms of expression.  Learning to write (not just ABC’s) was, for me, like being set free.  I had to go through a process, I learned, to arrive at my desired result.  Jotting down ideas, writing out questions, researching and taking notes, outlining and then writing each sentence and paragraph in a manner that was simultaneously artistic and mathematical.  I fell in love with this process because I was able to feel pride in something that I had produced, and I could talk about it with ease.

I was in high-school when typing papers replaced the expectation of writing them by hand.  I remember feeling resistant to this, in part because I had worked so hard to develop a superior command of handwriting. But, I rode the wave as technological advancement ushered in a new era of thoughtful expression.  While handwriting gave papers a personal touch, typing papers offered a sense of authority and professionalism to any project upon it’s completion.  I enjoyed feeling as though I was a little bit closer to mastering this form of self-expression.

In college, I was forced to step up my game, going through several drafts and combing through each one with a fine-tooth comb before feeling satisfied enough to present my work confidently.  But at that time, I was again slipping behind my peers who were incorporating powerpoint presentations into their class presentations.  So, I hopped on board and began doing the same.  Using this form of media seemed to help convey, more clearly, the ideas and perspectives my papers addressed.  Peers engaged with me more during class presentations that had included a powerpoint, seeming much more alert and enthused than they did when I merely discussed a topic without incorporating any form of media.

What I did in college is now being done by high school, and even by some middle school students.  As a graduate student, I find I am still being pushed to constantly experiment with and incorporate new, emergent forms of media in my work.  I’ve created a blog, produced videos, and have come to not only accept, but to also understand and advocate for the importance of utilizing various media in academia.

I do find that there exists an interesting difference between my most recent forms of media incorporation and those that came before.  When I was younger, access to computers, specific software programs, and even the internet was much more limited.  So my leaps forward were inspired by a desire to “catch up to” the professional academic elite.  But, creating an academic blog and producing academic video essays is more like a professional adoption of a public (and therefore, typically non-professional) medium.  Whereas before, professionals were utilizing the latest forms of media (ie: powerpoint back in the day) before the general public had  access, now, professionals are adopting popular public modes of media, building a case for the professional utility of these modes.

With the relatively recent media developments (widespread access to web cams and sites like YouTube) we have witnessed the emergence of digital storytelling. People all over the world can share their own stories with the general public without having to plow through all the red-tape (to which so many academics and professionals have become accustomed).  As a graduate student embarking on an academic examination of digital storytelling, I’m curious as to the legitimacy of my claim to this space, this outlet, given its development in the setting of the public domain.  Am I, as a result of my social location, in some way potentially producing less (or more) authentic projects?  Does my academic background inhibit my ability to be as forthcoming as some of the more-seasoned digital storytellers?  Are my criticisms of authentic digital stories and their authors/producers relevant?  By offering criticisms, am I in some way attempting to professionalize a typically personal medium?  If so, is this permissible?

In attempting to understand exactly what constitutes digital storytelling, I have examined multiple YouTube videos.  I was somewhat disappointed to discover that some of these videos, while appearing to be authentic, were actually fictitious executions of talented (or not so talented) actors attempting to achieve some level of notoriety, to garner a large public following.  For example, the two videos below initially had me fooled (but apparently not enough to prevent me from pursuing my doubts as to their authenticity):

I was able to find a better, more authentic example (as ensured by the minimal view count), but this was a bit more professional than what I was looking for (and while I had access to some more relevant examples, I did not feel entirely comfortable using them in this post (regardless of the fact that they have obviously chosen to make their videos public) as they belong to my students and/or friends/peers.


9 Responses to “Digital Storytelling”

  1. MP:me November 10, 2011 at 7:32 am #

    Your use of the word authentic is confusing to me, as is your pursuit of it. When would you know when you find it and how would it feel and what would it satisfy. Since you are a person, why are you any more or less authentic then people who are not professors or professionals? “Am I, as a result of my social location, in some way potentially producing less (or more) authentic projects? Does my academic background inhibit my ability to be as forthcoming as some of the more-seasoned digital storytellers? Are my criticisms of authentic digital stories and their authors/producers relevant?” It is my belief that irony leads on the internet, even as sincerity chimes for a voice.

  2. Andrew November 10, 2011 at 11:04 am #

    Katie, I really liked how your post read like a piece of digital storytelling, with the combination of imagery and personal reflection. I don’t know if that was your intention, but it struck me as a really cool way to discuss your work in this class. I think it would have been even more effective to also include your video essay to directly show how you’re experimenting with these new tools.

    Also, in relation to what Alex said, I question why the last video is “more authentic” simply because of its low view count. Perhaps that was meant sarcastically, but it seems to me that a “fake” video is still “fake” whether one or a thousand people view it.

    • stompingoneggshells November 10, 2011 at 2:27 pm #

      Andrew, thanks for noticing–I felt somewhat cheesy in doing so. And including the video would have been a great idea (maybe I’ll edit my post to include it).

      To clarify, I’m using the word “authenticity” in relation to the understanding of the term “digital storytelling” as an amateur venture rather than a professional endeavor and am questioning whether a professionalization of this medium will ultimately result in amateurs being squeezed out (like midwives were with the formation of the American Medical Association). Is a professional/academic presence in digital storytelling imposing upon an “amateur” space that should be allowed to remain “amateurish?”

      • Tamara Ramirez November 10, 2011 at 3:24 pm #

        Katie, I can relate to your questions about amateurism and digital storytelling! Separating out the use of the term “authenticity” from the idea of “amateurism” helped me understand your ideas better. I think you’re saying that a sincere video that you made would be as *authentic* as anyone else’s, but your status as an *amateur* might be questionable, since you are soon to be a professional academic with training in interpreting visual media.

        You write that the guy in your final video made a more professional-looking piece than you had in mind. That’s a perfect illustration of why the concept of the “amateur” digital storyteller is so hard to define. I doubt that this man is a “professional” videographer if by “professional” we mean that he has some sort of certificate of formal training or that he gets paid to make videos. But, he’s a lot more proficient with video recording and editing than many other people. He’s not a beginner. So what does that make him? Is he still “inexperienced” with digital media? If so, at what point will he graduate to “experienced”? What number of self-taught hours of media-making would cause Knut Lundby to regard this person as an expert rather than an amateur? Once he’s an “expert”, is what he’s doing still digital storytelling?

        I’m still not sure how to answer those questions.

      • stompingoneggshells November 10, 2011 at 3:58 pm #

        you have articulated my points perfectly–thank you!

  3. amandajslee November 10, 2011 at 6:08 pm #

    Your concern about the potential of amateurs being “squeezed out” as you say if digital storytelling turns into a professionals-only medium is intriguing. I haven’t thought about this extensively, but it certainly raised questions about whether professionalizing anything is more beneficial or harmful to free expression and a culture in which people’s thoughts and words are treated as valuable regardless of their status, salary or mainsteam reputation.

  4. oksana williams November 10, 2011 at 6:11 pm #

    Katie, I really like your creative post on digital storytelling subject. Writing a story about yourself is a complicated task. It can be difficult to choose something of personal significance and presented in the artistic and academic ways at the same time. Your experiences related to digital storytelling from your past represented in an appealing way and telling a good story that tells a little bit about who you are.

  5. musinosusan November 10, 2011 at 8:11 pm #

    Your storytelling relating to storytelling was intriguing. And the issue with authenticity and the amateurism made me think about college athletes who are considered amateur until the first encounter of profit for performance enters into the picture. Profit does not dislocates the player. Do we hold the same standards here? If going viral and receiving endorsements applies here as it does with sports then these video makers are in a sort of limbo without the true skills to make it in a professional arena.

    The makers of YouTube have created a controversy I am sure they never intended.


  6. laptop October 18, 2013 at 11:46 pm #

    Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied
    on the video to make your point. You definitely know what youre
    talking about, why waste your intelligence on just posting videos to your blog whsn you could be giving us something enlightening to read?

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