The Internet Is Killing StoryTelling?

Ben MacIntyre in the London Times posits that the proliferation of short burst media – Twitter, blogs and reading on a mobile phone — is killing the art of storytelling. “Meanwhile, a generation is tuned,” he says “ increasingly and sometimes exclusively, to the cacophony of interactive chatter and noise, exciting and fast moving but plethoric and ephemeral. The internet is there for snacking, grazing and tasting, not for the full, six-course feast that is nourishing narrative. The consequence is an anorexic form of culture.”  I am not sure that this is entirely true.  The need for storytelling, and consequently for listening is so ingrained in every culture (and possibly in us as humans), that I cannot imagine that a change in platform will make it disappear.  Our attention spans might be shorter as more media claim our attention, but I don’t think that stories are getting shorter either.  People do still read books – even kids still read books, and I will bet that this argument was proliferating at the dawn of the television age as well. It seems to me that every major historical shift – from oral tradition and travelling minstrels to the written word at the invention of the printing press, to the maelstrom of writing that is our current world – has engendered fear that we have reached the end of civilization as we know it.  And maybe we have, in a way.  But our need for story has never left us, and I doubt that it will now. It may be that finding a good story in the midst of the torrent is more difficult, and it may be that the platform has changed.  Good stories with good plots – Mad Men, The West Wing, Six Feet Under– have enthralled us, and become part of our lexicon in the same way that Ulysses did to the Greeks (that Ulysses, not the Joyce one). In the end, MacIntyre seems to come to the same conclusion.  He points out that Japanese  keitai shosetsu, book-length tales that are read on a mobile, one page at a time, are hugely popular. “These mobile telephone tales are written in the language of the net: scraps of text-speak, slang and emoticons, but these are still unmistakably narratives, stories with a protagonist, a beginning and an end.”  This is a topic well worth thinking about, and the article is a good starting point.


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