Tuesday, November 10, 2009

the death of narrative?

Is the internet killing storytelling? Ben Macintyre, writing on the London Times Online, thinks so:
Click, tweet, e-mail, twitter, skim, browse, scan, blog, text: the jargon of the digital age describes how we now read, reflecting the way that the very act of reading, and the nature of literacy itself, is changing.
The piece came to my attention on NPR this morning, via Daily Beast Editor Tina Brown, the former editor of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, who again bemoans the death of narrative journalism as internet driven delivery systems -- and attention spans -- grow ever quicker, ever shorter. The irony, of course, is that The Daily Beast is online. And recently Brown announced a plan to speed up the publishing process by putting out quick, digital books. But back to Macintyre:

Addicted to the BlackBerry, hectored and heckled by the next blog alert, web link or text message, we are in state of Continual Partial Attention, too bombarded by snippets and gobbets of information to focus on anything for very long. Microsoft researchers have found that someone distracted by an e-mail message alert takes an average of 24 minutes to return to the same level of concentration.

The internet has evolved a new species of magpie reader, gathering bright little buttons of knowledge, before hopping on to the next shiny thing.

But this new method of reading is still at odds with why we read -- especially when it comes to journalism. When it comes to news, Macintyre writes, the stories that are compelling are "not the blunt shards of information, but those with narrative."

He goes on to suggest that the solution may be technology itself -- some sort of machine that "can combine the ease and speed of digital technology with the immersive pleasures of narrative." As an example, he offers Japan's keitai shosetsu, or thumb novels: books that can be uploaded to mobile screens a page at a time.

Until then, he writes:

Narrative is not dead, merely obscured by a blizzard of byte-sized information. A story, God knows, is still the most powerful way to understand. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word, in the great narrative that is the Bible, was not written as twitter.

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