The Case for Digital Storytelling

Next January, I will be co-teaching a workshop on Digital Storytelling (DS) at Winterfest 2010. In just two hours, we will cover everything from writing the story, to gathering images from Creative Commons, to publishing the final video on the web. Because we can’t possibly delve into the intricacies of DS during one brief workshop, I’d like to share some thoughts on the craft over next few posts here. So consider this the teaser trailer for the training session…

Though the definition is purposely open-ended, digital stories are generally considered to be 2-5 minute videos featuring multimedia elements, such as still-images, music and voice-over narration, as well as video-clips, animation, and comics. Many organizations, like the Center for Digital Storytelling, specialize in the aesthetics of this craft, recognizing its potential for driving introspection and formulating communities. At its finest, DS merges a compelling, well-written story with an engaging vocal performance and visual style. Scissors, by Daniel Meadows, is one that caught my eye. Whether a story is about family histories, personal discoveries, cultural practices, or social movements, a person’s unique perspective can inspire some truly inventive, surprising, and astonishing work. The key is to provide students the opportunity and the platform to create it.

I like to think of digital storytelling as representing a culture in opposition with that of YouTube. To be sure, both involve amateur videos. Yet instead of instilling quick, instant hits of satisfaction and entertainment, digital stories aim to promote reflection and contemplation. We might look towards Ohio State’s excellent digital storytelling showcase for some examples.

Indeed, we live in a world that is saturated with media and overflowing with information. Rather than using technology superficially, as a means to multitask through life at warped speed, digital storytelling requires you take a timeout, pause, and utilize the tech tools to think critically and express oneself meaningfully.

Digital Stories are also about perspective, about seeing experiencing the world through someone else’s eyes and hearing listening to their message. For example, in the story “Take a Walk in My Shoes,” Jamaine Del Rosario describes what it’s like to care for a family of seven, all of whom live in a one-bedroom apartment in the projects.

If you’re that person who says, “I don’t really have any stories worth telling” then, well, you are incorrect. Everyone has their own individual experience, their own point of view, moral values, beliefs etc, yet we also share together a collective experience by virtue of being human–our curiosity, emotionality, self-consciousness etc. The trick is to capture our own personal journey in order to convey a universal truth. Thus, digital stories are about understanding other people, about learning how they view the world, and realizing that is there is far more that unites us than divides us. And that is a story worth telling.

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