Lyle Skains explores the world of digital storytelling and how new technologies are affecting the way we experience and communicate our cultural narratives and stories.
When we talk about the digital age, we talk about the incredible advancements the computer and the Internet have effected — global communication and commerce, massively multiplayer online games, the cultural phenomenon of Internet memes — but perhaps one of the most crucial ways that digital technology has affected us is how we write, share, and read stories.
Sharing stories is a fundamental human activity, a key component in what makes humans different from any other known species. We communicate in narrative and metaphor, and the extreme pleasure we derive from reading a good book or immersing ourselves in a good Netflix binge is postulated to be a result of evolutionary pressures shaping our minds to get better and better at communicating not only concrete details, but abstract and social concepts as well. And no technology has ever afforded more ways to tell a story than digital technology.
The beauty of digital media is that it encompasses all other media, save live performance. On your computer screen, you can experience films, television shows, books, games, and audio recordings — even better, these elements can be mixed together for the ultimate expression of ideas, people, and places. We now have streaming movies and music, e-books and digital magazines, enhanced textbooks and multi-media apps, and more games than any other media. Yet most of these are little more than reproductions of the old media, digital equivalents of celluloid, paper, and playing cards.
At the School of Creative Studies & Media at Bangor University, our interdisciplinary team of researchers is exploring the deeper changes that digital technology has brought to the art of storytelling. Twenty years ago, less than 1% aspiring fiction authors could ever hope to make a living from their writing; today, more authors are publishing books, and making more money off those books than ever before, thanks to the advent of the e-book and online publishing. Experimental authors and scholars have also been playing with the form of the book, from stories in multimedia apps, to literary games, to the admittedly more academic electronic literature.
The Internet and digital media have also created a playground for more subversive forms of creative writing. Indie writers and game developers have taken implicit ownership of the Twine gaming platform to offer players intimate experiences from the perspectives of people in under-represented communities, such as LGBTQ. Internet memes, though they usually omit a creator’s name and are treated as public domain, nonetheless play a role in greater cultural communication. Parody accounts on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook provide an avenue for reflection and discourse on trending current events. Even commerce sites are not immune to the creativity of the everyday user, as reviewers make use of the community functions of feedback and reviews to offer cultural commentary. The future of storytelling may even be moving beyond the digital screen, and straight into the reader’s brain.
At Bangor University, we are developing a Centre for the Book, exploring the future of reading, researching the effects of new technology upon writers and texts, and how publishing is adapting to digital devices. While there is no doubt that theatre, films, and books will always be around, we’re excited to explore how many more ways stories can play themselves out.