So far this month I’ve received 5 faculty notifications announcing “Digital Storytelling Workshops” from the two schools I’ve adjuncted for in the last few years; I won’t be attending any of them. Not because I believe there’s nothing useful to be learned by examining the practice of digital storytelling–far from it–but because digital storytelling is not a new type of storytelling, it’s just storytelling’s 21st century token. Why make the distinction? Well, as Knut Lundby’s book, Digital Storytelling, Mediatized Stories, demonstrates, there is an implicit–sometimes explicit–assumption at the center of this kind of scholarship: digital storytelling has the potential to transform society (for the better) through the proliferation of new and innovative storytelling tools (to be fair, several of the contributors are skeptical of the mediums democratic potential). It’s the same old, “technology makes us better” story. And it’s a story that fails to suspend my disbelief–regardless of the form.
Now, I am convinced, as Lundby’s suggests, that all stories are just stories about the self, but I would add that the stories these selves are telling are not written by themselves; they are only re-enacted by them–sort of like how 10 Things I Hate About You is a re-enactment of Taming of the Shrew, which was itself a retelling of Pygmalion’s story in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Who is cast in the role of hero or villain, and what turf these agonists struggle over changes for sure, but stories only work through dramatic structure, which hasn’t changed for the last, oh, 5,000 years. We could also define “digital storytelling” more broadly as “digital rhetoric” if we wanted to include non-dramatic forms–say, poetry, for example–but even then the digital relies on the same tried and true rhetorical strategies we’ve been relying on to move people since we were writing stories down–and probably long before that too.
This dramatic structure is abundantly clear when skipping around storycenter.org–a digital storytelling archive. Go ahead, take a peak. The top two stories today, “Waiting” by Mondo Bizzaro, and “I Call Them Flower Portraits” by Zoe Jacobson are straight down the middle garden stories, in which the protagonist-narrators either yearn or learn to return to a simpler time–a slower time, a garden time, in which Jacobsen explicitly claims that there is no death, only sleep, and Bizzaro says that people had nothing but time–implying its abundance. Now, there’re a lot of tasty morsels to be consumed on this site, variously flavored victuals, but underneath the seasoning, it’s just good old meat and potatoes stories. The same ones we’ve been telling for a very, very long time.