Monday, August 27, 2007

"Narrative" and "Technology"

When you think of a narrative, one of the first things that comes to mind is literature, and indeed, the written word is one of the most widely utilized means of narration. As is the emphasis on our class, though, the narrative can be spread through a variety of non-traditional mediums. A narrative is simply the telling of a story. While the way in which the story is told can affect how much of the narration we absorb or how quickly, overall the message should be able to be translated into any sort of format. Whether the format is pre-historic cave paintings or an internet forum, the basic notion of the narrative remains unchanged.

Technology, much like the idea of the narrative, can come in virtually any shape. Technology is such a part of our lives that we take for granted, as we are constantly using it, perhaps without even realizing. For myself, the definition of technology would be any sort of tool that allows us to accomplish a task easier than it would be without it. If we go by this very basic definition, then even things like the key to your car could be considered a technological advancement. Maybe some of you have seen the old-timey cars that required the engine to be hand-cranked before starting. The key is definitely leaps and bounds beyond that process. Sure, you could pop off the panelling around the steering wheel and find a way to complete the circuit (this doesn't work on newer, push-button ignition cars, by the way), but that's the long way of doing it. The key is the short way, and thus earns the name of 'technology'.

As we become more technologically advanced as a people, we will begin to see more and more usage of technology as a means of telling a story. The radio dramas of old have been replaced by television shows that have been replaced by YouTube. We are at a point now where it's quite easy for anyone to capture their story, be it in print or in video, and disseminate it quickly to the masses. While the base concept of what story telling is remains the same, it is the evolution of technology that has allowed it to flourish, due in no small part to easier and farther-reaching methods of distribution. This relationship creates a sort of reliance upon technology for the narrative to flourish, which in turn creates the need for such technologies.

I hope I answered that well enough without being too long-winded, or else this is going to be a long semester.


Nik said...

How'd you make your text so small?

You said what I said after you, but in a better way. So sorry for repeating what you said, but in a worse way.

"While the base concept of what story telling is remains the same, it is the evolution of technology that has allowed it to flourish, due in no small part to easier and farther-reaching methods of distribution."

I just commented on Mike K's comment about how exact reproduction of a story might hinder the process of storytelling as a whole. Does the quality of the storytelling make a difference in the context of technology? I mean, people are really upset about movies lately, and not just because of the commercials they're showing before the previews now. It's because all the movies are the same. There was some philosopher or something who said there's only a set number of story lines. I don't have references, I just heard it somewhere. Anyway, though, is this another way in which technology has hindered us in the realm of narrative? If we hadn't created film and radio and the internet, would stories be better? More varied, at least?

In Indo-European Folktales, this other course I took, the professor said that there were two common ideas of how folktales came to be, and more specifically, how the same stories came to be in completely different parts of the world. So then I guess part of my question is whether or not that's just something that happens, or if technology has... helped that.

Actually, I think my question was something entirely separate from that, but I lost my train of thought. Thanks!

Adam Johns said...

Just a few thoughts on both the original post and Nik's comment.

One thing both are getting at (I think) is the problem of the relationship between "form" and "content." Can we separate the two? Can we, in fact, accurately talk about a narrative (a representation) separately from its technologies (means of representation)? Or should we emphasize the unity of a particular narrative and its techniques.

Nik raises the question of whether new technologies make narratives worse. In other words, has television, film, video games debased us, lowered the quality of our stories and even of our intellects?

I tend to lean -- very slight -- towards saying "no," but I can think of plenty of good reasons to say "yes.

A. Benevent said...

I suppose I'd better get around to answering some of these comments. Thanks to both for your input.

Nik - first and foremost, there's a little icon next to the font selection box on the post screen and it lets you change your font size.

Don't worry about repeating me, as since this prompt can only really be answered in so many ways. This kind of ties into what you go on to say in your comment later, in regards to how there is only a set number of stories to tell.

I'm inclined to agree with this - I've often heard it said that there "isn't anything original under the sun". This is pretty much true. Since I play the guitar, I'll go musical on you for a minute. In treble cleff music, here in the Western world, there are only seven notes (A, B, C, D, E, F, and G). Sure, these notes can change octave and pick up a sharp or a flat, but by and large, we're all working with the same stuff. Musicians put these notes into chords that blend well together. Chords that don't blend well together sound dissonant, and don't tend to sell very many records.

My point is this: because only certain chords work together well, only certain chord progressions are used. If you sat down and figured out what chord progressions your favorite songs were using, you'd be surprised how much they have in common (pretty much every country song ever made involves C, G, and D). However, it's the change in tempo, the change in octaves of the notes, and in flourishes that are provided otherwise that prevent tons of lawsuits from flooding the music industry.

In much the same way, the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Star Wars have a lot of similar plot points. There's a group of plucky heroes brought together by chance, magical powers, overpoweringly huge evil empires that threaten the destruction of life as we know it, and only one person who has the power to stop it.

The hook is, Star Wars is in space and the LotR is a fantasy novel. There's nothing new under the sun - it's just how we put our own spin on it that makes it 'unique'.

To both Nik and Dr. Johns-
I don't think technology like film, radio, or the internet breed lessened creativity, I just think that the ease with which a person can create a narrative that can be so easily distributed to so many so quickly has caused something of an overabundance of such narratives. Ultimately, yes, there's going to be some overlap.

Anyway, I need to stop typing because it's way too late and I meant to go to bed when I got home from PNC Park today after the Pirates beat the Reds in both games, and I spent 7 hours watching baseball.