R1 – Response to Readings

“Storytelling for Oppositionists and Others: A Plea for Narrative” by Richard Delgado (1989)

I was particularly taken the way in which this article manipulated the way I felt about the situation every time it presented a different point of view. I couldn’t help be swayed by the storyteller, absorbed by their arguments and sucked into their reality. It makes me wonder just how easily “truth” can be manipulated and if there even is such thing as “truth.”

What is a story without emotional content? Can a story be told my a non-human entity, yet hold the same reverence we have for the tales of adventure our parents told us when we were young? Can you tell a story about nothing, with no content at all? To me, the story seems to be a distinctly human creation—a man-made artifact that cannot not be related to. Whether the effect of relating a story is that of neutrality, positivity, or negativity, the act of reception and of communication is in itself a significant act. This makes me curious about the role of the teller and the listener in shaping the story: Relating it to the familiar postulation, if someone tells a story in a forest, but no one is around to hear it, is it still a story? In other words, does it take an audience to make a story?

Delgado says “We participate in creating what we see in the very act of describing it” (2416). This act of formation through observation and perception makes me wonder to what extent stories are formed by the context in which they are told. For example, can the same story be told in two different languages and still maintain its integrity. How does language shape its delivery, reception and interpretation? Furthermore, is the act of relating experience inherently constructive? Or, in other words, does the act of matching words to thoughts create a reinterpretation, as if through the transfer of emotion between mediums, some is lost and some is found along the way?

What is the role of exaggeration in storytelling? Does it signify a good story or strong emotions? It is a form of personalization or a source of empowerment? Is it necessarily a “bad” thing? This begs the question be asked: What is more powerful: the story or stories about the story? This reminds me of the game of telephone in which one person relates in secret a phrase to another person. Here, the accumulation of small changes results in fantastic, seemingly unbelievable modifications to a communal “truth.” If this modification were not expected, would be continue to play the game?

“How to Tell a Story with Data” by Jim Stikelather (2013)

This article presents an interesting overview of good practices of data visualization, but doesn’t delve deep into how to actually accomplish them. Some of the questions I have are:

  • Is visualization inherently a form of selection? After all, emphasis in any shape or form is a kind of bias.
  • How is Exploratory Data Analysis (EDA) different than data visualization and can one lead to the other and vice versa?
  • How do you allow for opportunities of discovery of trends and self-discovery of oneself within the set?
  • How do you represent missing data, while keeping integrity to the set and clarity of communication?

“Micro Stories and Mega Stories” by Ramesh Jain and Malcolm Slaney (2013)

Jain and Slaney attribute the rise of sharing “small bits of information” to the the internet, experiential sensors, and a “critical mass” of individuals engaged online. I’m curious to know what is the biggest contributing factor to the continued production of information. Is it the existence and growth of an audience willing to listen? Do online audiences listen in the same way one might to stories told around a campfire?

I also wonder how our virtual lives would be different if we consumed primarily auditory information as opposed to visual information. Granted, consuming sound-based recordings of experiences takes time (a commodity we seemingly have less and less of), but if there existed an app to share short clips of audio, would it catch on? Would it find a niche? What area and what desires would it serve? How would this virtual communication be different than more typical visual communication?

If everyone is sharing the same kinds of information using the same tools, how different are the experiences we’re getting in return? Are we losing the art of storytelling to the art of curating? Is there a new art form emerging in the “architecting” of big data—in other words, how we choose to tell the “mega stories”? In the digital age, what do we lose in the act of exerting less effort to share the “micro stories”? How is content consumed differently? Where’s the originality of storytelling?

One of the more interesting observations in the writing is that before the internet and big data, we weren’t able to remember as many events with such extraordinary detail and precision. Thus, the range of human temporal perception has been extended in recent years: the near-present has become elongated, allowing for a greater, more valuable data set from which to draw our conclusions. Have we become wiser as a result? Do we make use of the data we have? How much data is too much?

“Data Culture” by Christian Marc Schmidt (2015)

Part of me wants to believe that every facet of life in the age we live is distinct because it is driven by data, but data has been around for a long time. When I think about the purest forms of data visualization, what comes to mind are the impressions and imprints of activities (humans or otherwise) on physical structures, for example the wearing away of stone steps, the accumulation of dust on the fringe piano keys, or the trails of scat left by wildlife in forests. What makes this era seemingly different is the ease with which a single person can quantize and collect vast amounts of information, due to advances in computing and sensing technology. If you take out of this definition the “single person,” then could you describe the entity of community within primitive cultures with oral traditions of storytelling as systems of information storage and exchange, that function in much the same way a database stores data and visualizations interpret it? What would we learn if we began to look beyond the confines of the individual, into the distributive social systems that have permeated human culture for as long as there have been people experiencing, communicating, and reproducing?

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