The Web 2.0 allows us to tell our stories in new ways, but it doesn’t change the principles of storytelling. Our stories still need to be interesting and relevant or our audience stops listening. The stories are still told with a purpose in mind, be it entertainment, information or challenge – or a mix. To do these things, the storyteller needs to be selective, and that is what I want to discuss in this post.
Recently I have been introduced to Storify.com (see JD Lasica, 7 top tools for content curation and Marcela De Vivo, 5 tools to curate content like a pro). This tool has been likened to a scrapbook (De Vivo) and is a way to present a story about a topic or event that presents “your overall take on the proceedings” (Lasica). For one event, then, there are many different stories that could be told, and I have experimented with this idea using Storify. After the recent NCWNZ Conference (see my blog post “Parallel Twitter Conference”) the national office curated a Storify-ed version of the conference (here), using content drawn from Twitter and Facebook. I have put together my own Storify-ed version of one small part of the conference, regarding the guest speakers on day 2 of the conference, to highlight the effect that a different selection of content can make to the overall story that is presented (here). There are several comments I wish to make on the selection process.
What is left out of the story can have as much impact as what has been included. Jean Rath acknowledges this in her autoethnographical paper when she says “this paper takes care to show the importance of what is not told – it is about the gaps and the silences. It honours the interplay between what is kept secret and what is shared” (2012). When an organisation or public figure tells a story they are not necessarily trying to keep some things secret, yet by ignoring particular features of the story they create a silence where there was actually sound. The cumulative effect of the shaped story being told over time is that people tend to forget there were ever other sounds to hear (regardless of the reasons, good or bad, for the shaping). Consider for example, how the Bible was developed by selecting amongst the texts that were circulating in the first few hundred years of the common era (here). The recorder has great power to influence the story, to make people forget. Michel Foucault advocates for recovering knowledges that have been displaced by the dominant discourses, an uncovering of the silences that were created when the stories we know use were made.
The power of the storyteller comes with responsibilities and ethical decisions. The selection process has the power to harm people, and the forum chosen for sharing the story affects the level of harm. I have special people to whom I can tell a story where I am totally honest about my feelings (i.e. who I can rant to), because I know that the story will not be made public. Using Web 2.0 tools automatically creates a public story (regardless of privacy settings), and therefore selections should be made carefully. In making my story about the NCWNZ conference, I chose what I considered to be a non-controversial subject (the guest speakers rather than the remit debates) so that the organization to which I am committed would not be harmed by any unsanctioned candid remarks. There is a time and place for critique, and my sense of ethics suggests that this unofficial commentary on the conference is not that time and place. However, I acknowledge that classifying this story as ‘non-controversial’ is based on my judgment, and there might be different stories to be told about that as well!
Finally, the level of the story requires selections that alter the narrative and this depends on the purpose of the author. NCWNZ’s story was an overview of the entire conference, and therefore brevity was an issue. By selecting a section of this story for me to re-tell, I allow myself the luxury of providing more detail. There is a trend in historiography to move away from grand narratives to the micro-stories (Maxine Stephenson, personal communication), to recover the lost stories of ordinary people (we are back to silences again). Telling the micro-stories allows more colour to the story, to more fully recreate the experience. Comedians show this clearly – try re-telling a comedian’s story by giving a summary of it!
A good story is one that is selective about the content it uses, and the method employed to tell the story. A good story is an effective way of transmitting a message to an audience, and I believe should be used more in education than it already is. To do this, the storyteller needs to make the selection process conscious.