Rekindling The Oral Narrative

Hi, Everyone,

Words are like footprints, they lead you on a journey. Sometimes the journey is linear but more often than not there are the dreaded twists and turns. Journeys can be scary because they are often a step into uncharted territory, and coming back to college was like that for me.

I have always had an interest in stories, whether it be Grimm’s Fairy Tales (Revised), old Celtic tales, or the stories of peoples’ lives. Words have meanings and they weave the stories of our lives. Often stories have been heard from the perspectives of Kings and Queens but I like the stories of the ordinary man and woman. I have spent many years listening to other peoples’ stories, whether it be around a camp-fire, in a writer’s group, women’s group, or support group. My background is in community work and was centred on rehabilitative pedagogy. My last position was with Inishowen Women’s Outreach, an intimate spousal violence agency in Co. Donegal. I heard many stories, often dark and thorny, but some that danced with hope. However, I have parked that in a meadow, it is the distant past and I am now strolling towards different pastures. However, my rucksack is packed with stories. After my time in Carndonagh I went to NUI Maynooth, where I took a masters in Community Education, Equality and Social Activism. I have found memories there. In the hidden nooks and crannies of people’s lives we find creativity, and behind each face there’s a hidden inner landscape, and truth lies buried beneath the surface. I would like to use digital technologies to explore oral narrative. I am unsure if I want to focus on a particular group yet. One idea is to focus on the Wild Women of Cork. My path still has some boulders to overcome and that is mainly the tech stuff. My interest is knowledge which would not be considered academic because it would be tagged unfairly as mythic-rational.  I am looking forward to exploring it and looking forward to seeing what, if anything I discover.

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Web Docs, i-Docs, and whatever you’re having yourself

i-Docs is the subject area I’m interested in, interactive documentaries.

There are a variety of terms in circulation i-Docs, Web Docs, Dynamic Documentaries, Immersive Storytelling and so on, but i-Docs, it seems, has come through as the strongest of these and so it’s the expression I’m going to go with.pinepoint1I’d like to jump right in and talk about the best i-Doc I’ve seen so far which is Welcome to Pine Point (http://nfb.ca/pinepoint). The link here takes you to the Pine Point website while the YouTube video (below) is a trailer for the website (which is to say, a promotional video or advert).

Welcome to Pine Point is a website about a town which no longer exists but which once existed in the far north western territory of Canada. It was a mining town — open cast zinc mining — the town was built to house the workers, so schools, ballpark, ice-rink, town hall or meeting centre, the usual crew in 20th century Anglo-American culture.

img001Pine Point boomed in the boom times and died in the down times. The mine closed at the end of the 1980s and the town died out shortly thereafter. Totally — there’s nothing there at all now, not a building nor a lamppost standing to memorialise what was once home for thousands of people (for a cluster of generations).

work-screen-pp-v4The Welcome to Pine Point website was created by Mike Simons and Paul Shoebridge, collectively known as The Goggles, a Canadian duo. (Welcome to Pine Point is hosted by the Canadian Film Board and was launched at the Toronto Film Festival in 2012.)

The website consists of photographs, sound and video clips, interviews, music, and narration by Simons. The music (and the soundscape in general) deserves special mention because it is just so bang on, the tracks are so well related to one another and yet distinct, and so appropriate: a group called The Besnard Lakes wrote and performed the main audio tracks. The whole thing is ambient — pleasantly stonedstroketrippy ambient — interleaved with the sounds of mining machinery, kids playing baseball, a Mothers’ Union coffee morning, 1970s TV chat show chatter and the like. Not unlike, say, the KLF’s classic (1990) album Chill Out.

KLF Chill Out 3That mix of media (sound, stills, video, music, and even data), and the fact that the whole thing is web-based, these are some of the key characteristics of an i-Doc. But what’s really important, of course, is the interactivity part of it.

On each page you can hold for as long as you please and you can also delve further into each of the pages (most of them anyway), flicking through picture galleries, for example, or playing video or audio clips.

And, of course, you can ‘click’ back and recheck or reread or review something if you need to (or simply would like to do so).

static.squarespaceSome i-Docs feature explorations of what can be done with a cursor, Hollow (http://hollowdocumentary.com), for example, by Elaine Macmillion (2013), is one such. As you scroll, the documentary runs; it’s as if you had your finger in the spindle of a film projector.

And, again, the audio work in Hollow is exquisite. Hollow is about a county in West Virginia, McDowall County, a coal mining territory which is bleeding out; the population is declining by about 10,000 every decade. In the 1940s and 50s there were over a 100,000 people living in McDowall County, presently there are about 20,000 and the total is still in freefall.

screen-shot-2014-03-30-at-08-38-42But also, to some extent, one can choose the line one takes through the material. Basically, i-Docs are about presenting a database. So, you have, say, 250 video clips — in fact, let’s talk about small narrative units (SNUs) because they may not necessarily be video clips, some of your 250 items might be little galleries of photos with audio files attached, or it could be a series of pages, or a series of slides (as in a Prezi presentation) and so on. So you have your opening unit, your general intro (preceded, very probably, by a landing page), but from there different viewers may take different routes through the material.

So, for example, I could make an i-Doc about living in Skibbereen and someone could watch it who is only interested in material relating to women, or to Protestants, or business people, or immigrants, or sports people or older people or whatever.

At the present time most of the interactivity and most of the choice tends to be theoretical more than actual — which is to say, as yet, generally speaking, the choices are rather limited.

But the point is, the potential is enormous. This stuff is really only in its infancy, but very soon you’ll see i-Docs which will be made up of 600, 800, 1,200 SNUs, and you and I could watch a film about life in Amsterdam, for example, or bell-ringing in Ireland, or the music scene in Istanbul, and see quite different material.

Web docsAnd that is another aspect of the i-Doc — that it is open-ended, you can go on adding material or editing it endlessly.

But, as I say, it’s the potential they represent which has everybody buzzing (almost every film festival has an i-Doc section nowadays; and, indeed, we are beginning to see the emergence of festivals specifically concerned with i-Docs —  Sheffield in the UK, for example, also Amsterdam).

And that’s what I want to do: I want to chart the development of this new form of story-telling — examining the early development of the syntax and grammar of i-Docs, comparing and contrasting this emerging form with the early years of older forms of off-the-page story-telling and presentation, particularly viz television, radio, and cinema.

If you want to explore i-Docs for yourself there are now a number of sites which specialise in curating them, which is to say, listing them, linking to them, and rating them,§ and providing descriptions of them (including, of course, the technical and operational aspects of each [because who knows what operating requirements a particular i-Doc might need]) —

http://docubase.mit.edu/

http://www.doclab.org/

http://collabdocs.wordpress.com/

http://www.wiredmov.com/manifesto/

See also the Korsakow website: http://korsakow.org/ and http://i-docs.org/

§ On i-Doc ratings, the MIT people, for example, have a five-point scoring rubric they call VINSE, an acronym for visual design, interactivity, narrative, sound, and engagement.

Perry O’Donovan, 20 November 2014

 

Losing The Plot

 

I believe that reading, in its original essence, [is] that fruitful miracle of a communication in the midst of solitude.
–Marcel Proust

I’ve always loved books. I love the way they feel in your hands, the heft of them, and their quiet, perfect solidity. I love the clean, tempting smell of a new book, the whisper of magic and the promise of untold secrets, or again, the dusty, elderly tomes one finds in little-known bookshops where a surprise discovery is always guaranteed. I suppose this love of ‘real’ books, as I’ve come to call them, makes me ill-disposed to digital reading, and perhaps it’s a bias I carry with me into the research I propose to conduct. This may make for a difficult start.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m still at the ‘idea’ stage of my research, as I feel that I have not read enough to be certain of the direction that I want to take, or in fact, if this would even make for a viable research project. I feel inadequate that I haven’t, as yet, hit upon a more conclusive visualization of my research, but I believe in being honest. To this end, here’s a statement of fact: I firmly believe that our reading habits have changed dramatically since we entered the digital age. We are now more accustomed to reading on iPads, e-readers, smart-phones, and other devices than from ‘real’ books and physical documents. I believe, in fact, that we retain less information overall when we read information on a screen than if we were to read it in the traditional way. I’d like to find out what it is exactly that makes reading on screens so very different from the traditional form we know and love, and whether or not there is a specific reason behind the disparity. I have not yet thought through the methodology needed for such a study, nor the tools I might use to explore this idea further. Further reading is needed to allow me to reach those conclusions.

As I’ve already mentioned, this proposal is not absolute by any means, and I do have a contingency plan in case it rains. I am reluctant, however, to discuss this in any detail until I find out a little more about the viability of the idea, as it may turn to dust. You will, I’m sure, forgive my reticence in this matter. 🙂

Reading in the Digital Age

As a digital native coming from a background in English literature and Computer science, I’m interested in exploring how the digital age has impacted the way we as a society read and engage with literature.

I will pursue research that aims to examine the ways in which society’s reading has transformed since the digital age. In the article How We Read Now: Close, Hyper, Machine N. Katherine Hayles notes how, in the past twenty years, reading of print has significantly declined. I wish to expand on Hayles’ theories by conducting thorough research into the ways in which the hypertext and the mass availability of digital sources have facilitated a swift decline in the reading of traditional print sources. Owing to this, my research will explore how the vast amount of information available to us through hypertext encourages skim-reading as opposed to the traditional method of close-reading when engaging with a printed text.

Moreover, I will analyse how the vast popularity of smartphones, tablets, and mobile devices such as laptops have changed the ways in which we engage with literature and film; it is not uncommon for an individual immersed in the digital age to watch television while playing computer games, participating in social media, reading online articles, and/or texting and I wish to study the impact this has on the way we read. As opposed to using digital tools to research literature, I wish to examine the ways in which digital tools have impacted how we engage with literature as a whole.

Alana

Narrative Though Digital:

I have always been interested in collections; collections can be anything from photographs to diaries. Each collection tells a story – an untold true story or simply an interesting life story. I am big into autobiography particularly those who lived before my time. I enjoy looking at personal artistic journals as well because often they tell more about the person than they actually tell us themselves.

In the next few months, I will be studying how people created a narrative story and how it can apply in my own research on Nancy McCarthy’s Collection, which I am hoping to develop. I will be observing the ways people conserved the artifacts and how this was done prior to the digital period and up until now.

Studying stories will be a tricky one as “stories” are so broad and I am interested in gathering “real” sources and plan to create a narrative by using these digital artifacts and showing the collection online. I hope to go on and do research about the personal lifestyle e.g. socialite, traveler, chemist etc and try to understand her life journey if possible but my main interest is in the use of the “primary” source and in transforming them into a story.

On reflecting on this collection I am transported into a ‘magic circle’ as if I were transferred back to Nancy McCarthy’s time and it becomes present to me. I am hoping to create the same feeling though the digital experience. Digitisation is really important today due to the nature of the artifacts. These stories needed to be shared so this collection will be re-recorded forever and I hope people will continue to feel the same way as I do.

Caroline Bowen.

Changes in Children’s Culture as Consumers

Can you see a change in how children view products nowadays compared to our generation? With the amount of exposure children have to the media, are they able to differentiate between the programme they watch and an advertisement? I have a lot of questions, being a communicator, marketer and especially, a mother.

You can see evidence of these questions now in the run-up to Christmas. The mad dash to get the presents, shelling out the money for the top-class gifts. But in reality, do they really need them or have they been told by the media and peer pressure that they do? This is how children’s culture is today. A fast moving, commercialised, digital age for the “digital natives” (Prensky, 2001).

I am hoping to question how the change in children’s culture (particularly of children before the ages of 13) has shifted the strategic planning of marketers in publishing, when looking at children as consumers. The market for this age was always a large one, but has changed radically in areas of how to market a book. It is no longer just a book, it’s a brand, it’s a concept, and it’s a digital tool. Children always liked the idea of a story, but what about when they finished the book?

I will also look into the idea of how this shift has filtered into the learning environment of primary schools. With more children reading from a tablet or laptop, has hyper reading effected their cognitive skills when it comes to learning?

Maeve Ahern

Electronic Literature

Hello everyone! My name is Aisling Burke, I am a recent graduate of University College Cork with a BA Single Honours in English with Computer Science. As a student whose background is predominantly based on English literature, I am keen to explore how digital technologies are now being exploited in order to explore new forms and genres of literature. My current areas of interest include: digital literature, intertextuality, combinatorial literature, publishing, and E-ink technologies.

An interesting area that I have recently come across is electronic literature. Katherine Hayles provides a concise description of e-lit as literature that is “digital born”, a first-generation digital object that has been created on a computer and that is usually meant to be read on a computer, as opposed to print literature that has been digitized. (Electronic Literature: What is it?) The Electronic Literature Organization which was set up in 1999 to encourage the teaching, reading and writing of literature as it changes in the digital world, adds further clarity by defining e-lit as “works with important literary aspects that take advantage of the capabilities and contexts provided by the stand-alone or networked computer.”

In contrast to print literature that appears on a page, electronic literature is designed to engage the reader’s senses. The reader experiences the literature in a range of ways which incorporate sight, sound, touch and interactivity. The reader/user also plays a part in the narrative, which transforms the narrative from a static linear text to a dynamic and sometimes fragmented one, thus allowing a new form of engagement with the text. Therefore in electronic literature the reading process becomes active and exploratory rather than passive and predetermined (Swiss, Electronic Literature: Discourses, Communities, Traditions, 288).

Electronic literature incorporates a diverse range of forms in its construction of narratives which include: hypertext fiction and poetry, kinetic poetry, computer art installation, chat bots, computer generated stories and poetry, collaborative writing and interactive fiction.  For a comprehensive description of the above mentioned forms it is highly recommendable to visit the Electronic Literature Organization’s website. Electronic literature is an embodiment of the ever growing influence of the web and internet on society and culture. The many genres and forms which electronic literature incorporates illustrate the current fascination with films, computer games, narratives, graphics, animations, social media and the digital in general.

E-lit, in my opinion, should not be viewed as separate from print literature but as a new innovative extension that has arisen from the influence of print literature. Like all new experiences the past will influence the present, and I believe this is particularly true of electronic literature, a novice of e-lit will view and judge the literature based on their past influences and knowledge of traditional print literature or as Katherine Hayles (Electronic Literature: What is it?) more eloquently puts it “readers come to digital literature with expectations formed by print, of necessity e-lit must build on these expectations even as it modifies and transforms them.”

Traditionally, in print literature there are two fundamental components, the author and the reader, however, e-lit is designed to be read on a computer thus introducing another paramount component, the computer. A paramount aspect to understanding e-lit is the incorporation and use of code. Print books have an organised structure, for example, a table of contents, page numbers, end-notes, chapter titles and so forth, similarly, e-lit that is run through computing code has a structure and set of rules which it must follow. Unlike traditional print narratives, electronic literature cannot be read/played until it is run through properly executed code. Thus, e-lit is both a literary and technical creation. As the complexity of code has evolved over the years so too has the complexity of e-lit progressed. In comparison to recent aesthetically pleasing and complex works, the first examples of e-lit tended to be far more basic, with large blocks of text, few animations, graphics and colours (Hayles). Hayles further argues that while hypertext is considered the distinguishing feature of the earlier works, later works utilise complex navigation schemes and interface metaphors which has led her to categorise the earlier works as “first generation” and the later works as “second generation”. The categorisation system not only exemplifies the evolution of the use of technology in literature, it also serves as a useful tool to the literary scholar when taking a critical approach to electronic literature. An understanding of both print literature and of code is important in digital humanities research.

As with traditional print literature preservation and archiving of e-lit are vital. There is a strong possibility that certain forms of e-lit may become unplayable after a time due to new platforms being introduced. As a result a number of preservation and archiving databases and websites have been established in an effort to counteract the threat. The Electronic Literature Collection which is a publication of the Electronic Literature Organisation is one such website. Other organizations include:

Undoubtedly, computers are playing an increasing role in our lives, a clear understanding of the roles which digital culture plays in society, individual lives and in the scholarly community as a whole are paramount, as Espen Aarseth notes: “the emerging new media technologies are not important in themselves, nor as alternatives to older media, but should be studied for what they can tell us about the principles and evolution of human communication” (17). It is paramount to draw on traditional literature and its associated scholarly studies and criticisms in the digital humanities. It is also vital that the traditional is merged with recent and evolving modes of networked and programmable media, in order words it is essential to “think digital” (Hayles). E-lit is enthralling as it shows the evolution that writing and publishing has undergone. Not only can you now access literature in print, you can access and experience literature in new and exciting ways online, whether good or bad, new experiences are always a learning tool and electronic literature is important in the digital humanities as it is writing in a new form that may be attributed to digital culture.

Aisling.

 

Works Cited:

“What Is E-Lit?” The Electronic Literature Organization. The Electronic Literature Organization, 1999. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.

Aarseth, Espen J. Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997. Print.

Hayles, N. Katherine. “Electronic Literature: What Is It?” The Electronic Literature Organization. The Electronic Literature Organization, 02 Jan. 2007. Web. 12 Nov. 2014.

Swiss, Thomas. “Electronic Literature Discourses, Communities, Traditions.”Memory Bytes: History, Technology, and Digital Culture. Ed. Lauren Rabinovitz and Abraham Geil. Durham: Duke UP, 2004. 283-304. Print.