Thursday, October 11, 2007

Technology's Impact on Narrative

Here's the rough draft of my midterm...

One of the main topics discussed in this class is how narrative and technology interact with one another. However, I feel that these two broad subjects do more than simply interact with each other, they develop together. Specifically, I get the idea that advances in technology dictates and broadens the way narratives are formed and interpreted. When I use these two terms, narrative and technology, I speak of them in basic terms; meaning technology is creation of new and improved ways of living and narrative is events being represented in any form (of technology). This paper will explain how important technology has been to the development of narrative since the start of storytelling. Narrative and technology are two words that are not thrown together for the heck of it, there is a very special correlation going on between these two.
Since the beginning of mankind ideas and events have been shared and passed on from person to person. At this early time there was hardly any technology to represent your ideas besides by mouth or maybe with a stick used to write in the dirt. Technology at this moment is dictating and limiting the way narratives can be used. Verbal story telling obviously was not a good way of representing events because only so many people could hear the story and if the story was retold there was no way it would ever be the same, the ideas would be skewed. In a way this could be a good thing, people don’t always want to hear the same thing, putting a different spin on a story is always entertaining. There then became a way to actually get your ideas down on something long term, like clay slabs or writing on cave walls or rocks. This technique was not much of an improvement besides the fact that narrative could last longer here than in the mind or in the dirt. Clay slabs are fairly heavy and therefore extremely difficult to carry around; especially a whole book full of words would be hundreds of pounds making it virtually impossible to put a bunch of ideas together at once. Not only were these slabs cumbersome but not everyone could get them, they were difficult to make and hard to get. Scrolls came a little later, but the same concept applied, they just were not as heavy. As you can see there was little technology to help out people who wanted to get their ideas out to others. Good think paper came along.
Paper (and writing utensils) were most certainly the most important technologies introduced that gave way to whole new ways of making narrative. There were so many positive things that paper could do better than anything ever introduced before it. Where should I even start in explaining the ways narrative benefited from the introduction of paper? How about the ease of getting it (not in the beginning but that’s for another paper). Unlike the clay slabs that you had to make by hand, there were machines to make paper for you. Another benefit was that paper was cheap; this allowed people to take more risks with ideas and not be afraid to mess up, where with clay slabs if you messed up there was no going back. Now people could make bigger documents than ever before because of the ease of carrying around the lightweight natural product. This was a time where storytelling became more than just a social thing, people came to realize there were many ideas that you could represent on paper. In my opinion if we never discovered how to make paper, then all narrative would have never developed. Paper gave way to bigger and better things; it was a way to expand the mind. Of course paper alone was not going to do the job; we needed a way to create multiples of one idea or document. This is where the printing press came in, another very important innovation that helped expand the idea of narrative.
Machines, in my opinion, were a major development that allowed narrative to break free. These machines include a variety of new technologies that got narrative out quicker, more efficiently, and in larger quantities than ever seen before. The ability of these machines to do these three things benefited creative artists everywhere. I do not know much about the history of these types of machines and what they did in particularly, but it seems to me that this was a time that newspapers and such started developing. You may not think of newspapers right away as being narratives, but they are because there are events being represented and with all narratives they contain opinion. Without these machines to produce copies so quickly we would have never been able to get the narrative we call news in our hands every morning. Early on, you could only know what was going on around you without the news, while there was a whole other demographic not being reached. The ability to know what is going on in the world gives people more things to write about and consequently more diverse ways of narrative. Not only did you get news in the newspapers, but there were always small stories and such. This gave amateur writers a chance to practice and entertain people while getting their selves known. In my opinion this was one of the first opportunities starting writers had since they did not have enough money to make books. Newspapers were not the only good thing that came out of mass production machines, magazines were also impacted. They were a type of narrative never seen before because they were aimed at a certain demographic. Magazines were one of a kind. No other narrative could target their customers better than a magazine could. This allowed people to write about what they had a passion for, like hunting, you were not going to see hunting in a newspaper, much less a book. The passion that came out was exciting and expanded the way narrative could be used gave people a new perspective on narrative and what narrative meant. These two sources of narrative alone provide concrete evidence that with the development of new technology you get a new way of expressing narrative.
Another important role machines had at this time was to make large quantities of narrative. This raised the bar for anyone who created narrative. People were not just competing with surrounding competitors anymore; they had to compete with a whole nation since there was a way to mass produce their work and ship it out to whoever wanted it. I’m sure this factor made people come up with more unique and innovative ways to get narrative out to the people to make yourself known. These mass production machines brought narrative to a whole other level because of the way so many people could get involved (either being a producer or customer). The next huge technology movement included motion and sound, which of course is the production of movies and television.
When motion picture, whether movie or television, came out narrative once again was taken to a new level. No longer did you have to imagine what was happening in a narrative, it was given to you first hand. In the beginning stages movies and television shows were hard to follow with limited audio and video capabilities. Today motion picture narrative is better than ever with the ability to make us immersed in the narrative using animations and special effects. In a written form of narrative you were not always positive of what the author (or whomever) wanted you to comprehend, but with motion picture there was always a definitive way to look at the narrative. With movies and TV a person could be completely immersed in the narrative the whole time the show is going on, while reading a narrative allowed you to stop and start when needed. Now I am not saying that one form of narrative is better, the point that is being made is that as technology is developing, the number of ways we can form narrative increases drastically. Not only were there more narrative opportunities, but there were more job opportunities. As was the case with newspapers, motion picture opened up a whole new type of profession. At the time when this was new, no one person was better at making movies or a television series than the other, which gave every one a fair opportunity to work in this field. With the combination of audio and video together in motion pictures this narrative was hard to beat but when in came to innovation, video games have to top the list.
Yet again we see what technology adds to narrative with the introduction to video games. These are the most interactive types of narrative you will see. As with all narratives there is a wide range of options to choose from depending on the customer. Now, not only did you get to visualize and hear but you got to make your own choices which would determine the outcome of the narrative. There is basically no limit to how ludicrous a video game idea can be, while movies and books stay in a certain realm of reality (actually, maybe not); but still, video games allow a different type of narrative to occur, mainly with interactivity. Video games such as Zork where you could only read and type were still narratives but they were not as interactive as, lets say, Halo. With new generation gaming you have a better “representation of a series of events” than Zork because Zork is only reading while Halo is seeing, hearing, reading and doing. Video games require almost every sense you have, now that is a special type of narrative that can only be achieved with technology leading the way. Speaking of narrative completely reliant on technology, the internet provides narrative of all types.
Almost any type of narrative you can imagine can be found in one simple place called the internet. This information super highway is just what its name suggests; there is an abundant amount of information and more importantly for us…narrative. Nearly every site you go to there is a representation of events there, from sports teams websites to online encyclopedias. With the internet people can easily express their ideas through blogging and emailing. This is the only technology we have seen that can take on every narrative I have talked about previous to this, besides clay slabs. The combination makes the internet a very useful and effective way of seeing narratives of different types each day.
For now, technology has led us up to this point in the ability to create narratives. As you can see, technology has brought us from writing in the dirt and telling stories by mouth to having any type of narrative you could imagine at your fingertips. In the next few years technology will add another step for narrative to follow and none of us will see it coming. These two broad subjects are very good complements to each other and will be forever. Technology is the driving force behind narrative and it will continue to drive until all fuel is burnt out.

-Zach Lee


Adam Johns said...

Let me begin with your strength in this essay: you touch on many worthwhile subjects. There are quite a few examples of places where you have good ideas. One example is your interest in magazines, and the intense targeting of particular narratives at particular people - technology can allow highly specialized narratives. Another genuinely interesting idea is that narrative has become economically more important in recent years: there are many viable forms of narrative and many people employed in relationship to each (regardless of how people involved with particular forms, like written fiction or comics, complain about their inability to make a living).

Now here's the problem: you are trying to give the history of narrative in a few pages, when it would require a book at a minimum. You need a much narrower focus -- rather than breezing through twenty topics, examine one in depth (which one and how would be a good thing for whoever's commenting on your paper to think about).

Here's the related problem: because you're covering so much ground and you're not doing any research, you make more mistakes than I can easily cover. Example 1: we didn't just start out with "speech" and "drawing in the dirt"; even if you look only at neolithic peoples there is cave art, which can arguably be narrative and certainly impressive. Example 2: we didn't start out making paper with machines. There was a long tradition of papermaking as more of a handcraft. If you're going to talk about a subject, you need to educate yourself about it - which is why you can't do a paper this broad: you need to pick a small enough subject that you can actually learn about it.

neutch718 said...

I admire the fact that you tackled this topic from very early in history, but I agree with Adam that you would need to do a lot more research to more accurately write about it. It would be nearly impossible to research the history behind all topics in your paper in time to produce a midterm project.

A strong idea in the later part of your essay is mass production. I like how you incorporated mass production with a number of different ideas.

Perhaps it would be a good idea to narrow your essay down to a more specific topic. Even without a history of mass production, you could still provide a strong argument about how technology has enabled mass production which in turn has molded narrative into different forms.