This book is one of the core texts in the study of interactive digital storytelling. It appears frequently as reference in not only the conference proceedings from ICIDS (which I will draw heavily on) to Lundby (2009) to mainstream marketed books (Shirky, Pink). This is not written as an academic text but a practitioner’s best practice guide. The plain language matches the simplicity of the conclusions. I want to use this book as one of two cores of my PhD— where the core is the role of the interactive documentarienne.
Stories(tellers) need facilitators.
“We do not pretend, at the Center for Digital Storytelling, to have license to function as therapeutic facilitators…. But it would be inconceivable, incomprehensible, and irresponsible if we did not recognise the emotional and spiritual consequence of this work.” Lambert (2002)
This single quotation sums the purpose and the limitations of this text (Center for Digital Storytelling’s ideology?). (more on the limitations below)
At the core of the Center for Digital Storytelling’s ideology is the ‘story circle’ which derives from a “Native peoples” tradition. The circle is formed in the CDS’s workshops by those taking part in the workshop and the facilitator. The principle of the circle is trust and non-judgement: by taking part in workshop, the participants agree to be a sounding board and support structure (technically and emotionally) for each other. CDS believes that stories can only be told well if storytellers first “deeply listen” to themselves, which they learn to do by “deeply” listening to others.
There is trust in the circle, but not necessarily outside of it. Lambert writes that the workshop’s temporal limits tend to engender a “sense of daring, of impossibility, and the wonder… When afforded this opportunity, participants tend to learn faster, and retain more, as well as take artistic risks.” In this way we may be able to imply that you cannot separate form from content. But that content may not be trusted by the storyteller outside of the circle: workshop participants make a collective bargain to be vulnerable, a bargain they may not be willing to make in all contexts.
Developing the story in the circle makes it stronger in the sense of more genuine because the emotions behind it are more developed: the storyteller better understands their emotions behind the story but also the emotions that the audience will feel when they see the story.
“Taking ownership of the emotions contained within a story will also help the audience connect on a deeper level…. So when a storyteller wants the audience to pause long enough to listen, to listen deeply and trust them as a storyteller, they have to convey a sense of awareness and ownership of the emotions contained with their story. We want to help the storyteller be as aware of their emotions as they can be.”
“People are rarely presented with opportunities for deep, connected listening, and if they are presented with them, they often doesn’t take the opportunity to listen with a depth that matches that of the speaker’s. Therefore our practice is predicated on providing a safe space for telling and listening to emotionally honest stories.
The listening process— thereby the process with which the story is internalised — is the process by which we identify with the story. This also occurs through the editing process, the mechanical aspect of storytelling — using artistic techniques, choice and manipulation of images and video filters, choosing cut-aways — Lambert also says is part of this reflective and reflexive practice.
Our identity is shaped and re-shaped by the stories we tell as they internalised through the process of telling them and listening to them. Thus, the storyteller gets as much out of the process of storytelling as the audience.
“Why this story? Why now? What makes it today’s version of the story What makes it your version of the story? Who’s it for? Who’s it to? How does this story show who you are? How does this story show why you are who you are?
… Life proceeds and is reflected upon, changes can be better understood, and stories have a chance to ripen.”
“It is important to recognise that that journey occurs for both the storyteller and the audience alike. When we hear stories we listen for answers that we can relate to our own lives.”
“In traditional storytelling it is commonly understood that the purpose of a story is to teach a lesson or moral…. However, artificial intelligence theorist Roger Schank tells us that through storytelling it is in fact the teller, rather than the listener, who seeks to learn from the story told. And through the teller’s repeated sharing of their story, listeners ask questions, make comments, and tell their won stories in response, which then provides the missing prices to help the teller find a deeper meaning in their own story. This process allows the story teller to own a more complete version of the story.”
We don’t own stories, we own our version of them. Whether we are telling a story in which we have a part or no part at all, what makes that story ours is that it is our interpretation, our application of them to ourselves. Stories in which we don’t take part, aren’t a character, that we tell become personal because when we we tell it, it is our version of it.
Thus, when we identify with a story, it is at this point that it is internalised. This is the entry point.
Stories are told with a sense of audience.
Above, when talking about the storyteller realising the emotions involved in their story, through this process the storyteller also becomes aware of the emotions that their audience feels whilst listening to their story. Properly, this has functionality in terms of the storytelling itself: what emotions the storytellers wants to the audience to feels such that they can chose which images/filters/editing techniques to make certain those emotions are felt (performative).
More than that, the medium of video and in the editing process participants generally and the young especially tend to feel a sense of audience when they edit.
Lambert writes, “desire to speak in the language of film is virtually universal among young people.”
In conversational transcript with Caleb Paul, Paul says:
“In doing media work with students, I expected the process would engender self-empowerment. That had been my own experience and I would have been surprised if the students came out the process without it. What surprised me more was the sense of audience.
Our experience is that a movie is public. Our students had a sense of the public nature of the piece as they were creating it…. They were not instructed that the story had to serve a larger public purpose. I’d never seen that happen with writing….
But with digital storytelling the public role of their writing became part of the process—to have a social consciousness of their work. It brings a community together. Their sense of empowerment was about not only taking control of their own experience, but it also let them feel that they could face anything and that they were better writers.”
In the prescribed process of digital storytelling at CDS, they say that a script must be written as part of the technical process of telling the story.
Leaving social media out of digital storytelling is anti-thetical.
There is one point on which I take issue with Lambert’s theory of practice and that is his animosity towards social media. At one point Lambert laments that he wishes there was a way to make the stories to be shared. The obvious outlet for this would be social media but paradoxically, this is something Lambert is against because he believes the authenticity of a story is sacred and therefore that spirit precludes it from being ‘broadcast’ as ‘broadcast’ to him implies mass consumption.
It is evident both from Lambert's experience and the testimony of fellow digital storytelling facilitators that the act of storytelling in their workshops is done with a sense of audience, often even a sense of activism.
At one point Lambert himself writes, “we see the implementation of digital storytelling as part of the community organizer’s tool kit as having a unique set of considerations as well.” He also mentions that it can be used as part of a K-12 curriculum and for business organisations, a professional reflective practice in a medium that would make ‘reports’ more accessible.
“Regarding the Internet, there is a protocol about honoring the sacredness of the story circle, and we have not found an easy way to publish or broadcast the material that sustains those protocols….
The problem for me is that broadcast, the notion of endless media that is pumped in and around our lives, is an inherently horrible cultural practice. While most media is filtered by our sense of interest and engagement, it is to one degree or another diminished by the noise of media ubiquity. We, as has been said, are a nation of neurotic channel surfers.
This creates an impossible system of valuation, because none of it feels relevant. We need circles of consideration-communities of context that provide stories or suggest stories, that through their familiar relation to us, their knowledge of our life path and interest, can enlighten us. This is the idea of word of mouth… I would much prefer seeing these stories stories travel by email or locked behind a password and encryption system, for which a community shares a key.”*
At the core of Lambert’s practice as a story facilitator — like the core of the practice of tummeling (see Gold et al 2010) — is trust between the facilitator and the participants (the story circle, as discussed above). From this perspective it is understandable that the publicness of ‘social media’ as a medium for distribution would make Lambert reluctant to embrace it. I think though, that is stance is anti-thetical to digital storytelling.
For Lambert the act of creation in digital storytelling for the participant often offers psychological clarity, conscious and subconscious processing of a situation or past events. In effect, the participant ends up reforming a part of their identity and that can be a sensitive and soul-searching process. Lambert sees the role of the digital storytelling facilitator to support the participant emotionally whilst they engage in this process. It is a relationship based on trust that in the process the participant won’t be betrayed, dishonored, or otherwise disparaged. This guarantee is difficult to uphold in public. Thus his reluctance to involve social media— a very public space— in his practice is understandable.
But I think it is also worth considering that social media does and should have a place in digital storytelling facilitation (see Gold et al on tummeling, particularly discussion of genuine connection, vulnerability and going first). I think what Lambert fails to consider is that there is so much broadcast going on that the only way people will truly “see” a “genuine” story is if they relate to it. The way this happens in social media is via a process of curation (see Shirky, Rosenbaum) — this is like “word of mouth” to which Lambert refers. Stories are suggested by Lambert’s “circles—communities of context” by the community for which the stories are curated.
Digital social media itself as a medium can be used for broadcast, it can be used to connect us, but connection doesn’t happen simply by broadcast. We can notice things via broadcast but we don’t necessarily connect to them. This is a subtle and important distinction that many people miss (especially in all those articles written about whether social media is bad or good).
*It’s important to note that the passage above is from a transcript of comments that Lambert himself makes in discussion with a digital storytelling facilitator like himself, someone that has worked in the “Global South” and responds to Lambert’s comments by saying that making stories public could be useful for an overall discourse between communities.
Why this is important for my research
Form cannot be separated from content.
Most explicitly this is derived from the comments made by Caleb Paul (see above). There is something about the medium of digital storytelling— the accessibility of the visual aspect that makes it self-perceptibly more public. There is a desire to connect, to relate, to empathise.
For me, I think this is why people participate in social media mediums — it is the performative, public aspect of it. The placeness of it, the medium rather than the story itself.
That form cannot be separated from content is also evident in Lambert’s discussion of the editing process as reflexive in that it gives the storyteller a sense of the emotions that he feels whilst creating the story and a sense of the audience within the storytelling circle, their emotions as well.
Social media (in the literal sense, not the ‘field’ of) is about relating to something emotionally.
If form cannot be separated from content, and the mediatisation of stories is inherently with a sense of audience, the process of making the stories is emotional, Lambert’s text supports that social media is participated in with a sense of emotion.
The role of the story facilitator is the role of the tummeler, is my role as interactive documentarienne.
At the core of my PhD is the consideration of my role as a interactive documentary filmmaker, from a context of the future of journalism. Best practice is to tummel a story, to facilitate a story. I’m less a storyteller myself (though I am a little bit because I would be setting the parameters of a story by setting a topic, proposing an initial question), but a facilitator enabling the public to contribute to the story. The methods and considerations that Lambert describes in this text as therefore, good advice.
Whilst reading the chapter on the “Seven Steps of Digital Storytelling” I took some inspiration for the interface I’m imagining. I annotated by drawing a line to the following sentences,
“Our lives comprise an infinite number of [non-linear<< I annotated] moments, and some of those moments are loaded with more meaning than others.… Whether the storyteller became aware of it at the time or in reflection, we want to help them find the moment of change that best represents the insight that they wish to convey. And depending on the story they may choose from any number of moments as an entry point into their insight… By building a scene around the moment of change, the storyteller is “showing” rather than “telling”.”
I would like the contributing public to annotate their entry point into the story at the exact time index where the story they are listening to becomes their own. Annotations can be in text as a matter of programming for different levels of participation but I would like the viewing public to be able to continue from one person’s story to the next person’s entry point— like a montage in film where one person is speaking and a few words overlap for a few seconds whilst the new speaker fades into view.