The other day I gave three consecutive workshops about stories in digital media, to kids in 7th grade. The organizers’ assumption was that ‘digital’ will attract them as ‘cool’. Knowing that once you expose people to new tools their attention wanders to the particulars and features, I decided to do three things:
- Story experiences – show them various mediums people refer to as digital forms of story – and see what they think and feel about them.
- Teach them how to formulate a story that will have a good chance to get someone interested – from scratch
- Give them a URL to a web-board where I’ve accumulated for them the workshop material, together with many references to digital tools, platforms and other things they need to know – for them to try out for themselves.
The board was good for their teachers too, which if decided they would like to use the ideas furthermore, could get everything they needed in one place.
We did a story together, they got the ideas about prompting and crafting, realized that working with others on a story can help keep it in context (you don’t need supersonic multiplying ‘others’ in every story to keep people interested…), they wrote down some stuff for themselves (I have no idea what it was but they looked very serious about it), and scanned the QR code to get to the web-board. Cool.
The reason for writing this post arrived from the first part – their reactions and ideas about the story experiences. Bringing together all those young people’s words, here is what adults should start realizing, and stop lying to themselves about – especially media and marketing “professionals”.
Spoiler: I cheat at the end of this post.
Wow, this is really interesting. It’s here, happening now, with us. There is a story in it, and it’s told in a way which is interesting to everyone present, we feel involved in making the story although you’re the only one talking, there is an interaction going on between you, us, the story, our minds and hearts, your expressions, voice, images in the story, our reactions, imaginations – it feels everything is connected and curiosity doesn’t stop for a moment.
One of the groups was combined from Hebrew speaking students and Arabic speaking students. I invited one of the Arabic teachers fluent in Hebrew to tell with me, and translate to Arabic as we go. This made everything they said about the reciprocal nature of storytelling even stronger: at any given moment, half of the people in the room couldn’t understand what was being said – but they were interested, and helped us carry the event.
Storyteller on video
The storyteller on video is ok yet much less interesting. She told a nice story, you could see she was doing here best but we were not part of it – she was telling other people, not us. Because she can’t see us or anyone else who might bump into this video, she can’t make sure we are involved. Some people will like it – mainly if they like the story, most won’t.
They suggested storytellers keep away from video because it’s the wrong medium for us. I asked them if telling directly to the camera would be a different experience for the viewer. They came up with the notion it might feel more engaging because when someone looks at you, you feel more obliged to look back; but that didn’t, in their eyes, change the fact the telling couldn’t adapt to each viewer in the feeling it created and that they were not part of the real-time creation. This point I find to be tremendously important in the context of interactive and customization – it’s not giving me the tools to participate or customize – it’s showing me the other side notices my existence and has the capacity to get me involved and adapt to me at the same time.
Reading from a scanned book on video
Listening to someone reading a text you can see but not touch, is pretty frustrating; for some she might be reading too fast, for others too slow. The illustrations block imagination – what if we wanted to see something else? Not seeing the person reading is also very weird. When someone sits next to you and reads, you sense their presence, you can watch their face.
It’s also childish. If she was sitting in front of us she wouldn’t talk like that, but being only a recorded voice she can’t know much about us, can she? And, why video? you expect something to move, but nothing did.
People expect things from the different mediums. Disregarding the medium and using it only for reach and distribution, results in a video like this – which isn’t the only one out there…
Photographs with music
This is like wedding videos made of stills. Great music by the way, no story if you’re asking. On the contrary – no story is needed, that’s not what this kind of presentation is for. It’s more for eliciting memories and anecdotes about someone you know or somewhere you’ve been. If there was a story in it, it was most probably intrusive to memory, a single version of many possible reflections.
When I told them some people claim this kind of presentation to be “visual storytelling” they looked at me as if I fell from the ceiling and bumped my head really hard. After I pressed for a more articulate response they came up with – storytelling elicits visuals, visuals don’t elicit storytelling – they elicit story fragments and ideas.
A Zen story in digital format
This is much more interesting than all the other digital examples. Especially because although the visuals somewhat disturb the imagination, they allow for some self-generated imagery too. That’s interesting although it would be better to have less images and transitions. Still, not everybody will like it because it’s not done on the spot face-to-face. The storyteller might have chosen something else to tell us if he was present here. He might have told differently which would be better and more engaging.
A personal story in digital format
This was interesting since none of the kids could clearly understand what the person was saying. I did have a prepared translation for them waiting in a text file but I showed them the video as-is to see what will happen. They all grabbed it was a personal life story and that there was sadness present. Some kids could sense that alongside the sadness, there was also a sense of acceptance. Quite a few of them realized the sofas represent phases in that person’s life, or relationships. The most striking realization to my opinion was the fact they all recognized it was an entire life story, not something short or anecdotal. I wanted to know how they figured that out and the reply was, “you can hear it in his voice”.
At the end of this part I told them, that while teaching them about stories in digital media I was also conducting a little experiment: I’ve added a story experience at the beginning, that wasn’t digital. See, I warned you I would cheat. I told them there are people who claim everything I showed them is storytelling, together with social-media, user generated content on the web, marketing material, brand stories, UX, gaming, applications that ‘tell’ stories or enable you to assemble and share etc.
I wanted to know what they think.
They all nodded their heads sideways. In each group I had kids saying, “nope, nothing of all this besides the first experience is storytelling”, or asking, “don’t they get the differences? why on earth are they claiming that?!”
Great questions. Really, why are you claiming that?