Today SocialTimes has an article about Twitter, hyper-text, and the evolution of storytelling (Are Twitter Storytellers the Heroes of a New Postmodernism?). It’s written by Amanda Cosco who is proving to be my social media soul mate – recently she’s written articles on foodies, citizen journalists, Lady Gaga, and super hot nerds. Ms. Cosco discusses @VeryShortStory a Twitter feed that’s been telling an ongoing story in bursts of 140 characters over the course of the last two years. She discusses the positives (including interactivity) and negatives (including lack of continuity) of telling a story through Twitter, but the piece really gets interesting when she talks about reading in a larger cultural context.
Our cultural reading practices have trained us to consume stories chronologically: novels and even news stories contain beginnings, middles, and ends, and readers rely on these conventions in order to be guided safely thorough the patterns of plot. VSS upsets these practices by drawing attention to the ways we consume narrative and by forcing us to abandon chronology and let go of order. Instead, readers must embrace the fragmented form and swallow the fact that they’re engaging with a story that has no shape, no arc, and no intended ending. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth reading—Hill’s tweets are sometimes hilarious, sometimes provocative and strange, and sometimes deeply poetic.
In addition to upsetting chronology, VSS also thwarts are ability to finish a story. When reading a printed story, you know when you’re going to get to the end because you can feel the pages thinning in your right hand: Three more pages and the story is over, One more page and I’ll know how it ends. Classical modes of story telling had knowable and tangible endings, but hypertexts are completely open-ended, boundless, and limitless. Does the story die with Sean Hill, or will he stop tweeting when he feels the story is over?
I love the idea that hyper-text changes the way we read because it changes the concept of “the end”. We all know that stories start with “once upon a time” and end with “…and they lived happily ever after. The end.” (Or maybe not so happily – but you get the point.) But, what happens when a story doesn’t have an end? Can we ever say that we’ve read a story if we haven’t made it through to the end? But, what if there is no end to make it to? I guess it’ll be like consuming other forms of media – we follow it until we get bored. You may say that you watch CCN, but that doesn’t mean that you watch all of CCN. You may read a blog, but that doesn’t mean that you actually read every word of it in the order that it’s published.
I guess that I always held reading a story to be somehow more sacred that this – an act to be completed. You could close the last page and feel that you’d accomplished something. You’d know the end and could see the whole thing in perspective and talk about the story with others that had done the same. But what happens when there’s no end? When we can’t ask people what page they’re on because there aren’t any pages? I love the idea of hyper-text and the possibility of interactivity that comes with it. I love the ideas about death of the author that it brings up. But, I also love sitting with friends and talking about a book that we’ve all read and what we thought about the end. I’ll miss the end.
Here’s my question for the day: Can you say that you read (past tense) a story if you didn’t make it to the end? If not, what’s the right term? You followed the story? (Or, you know, you could just answer one of the many questions from earlier in the post.)
MaggieCakes is a blog about culture, social media, and what’s new on the Internet culture. Every day (okay, I try for every day) I comb blogs and news outlets for the news about Internet culture and social media to bring them to you (with my commentary, of course) here on MaggieCakes. MaggieCakes is hosted by WordPress and often draws upon Slate, Jezebel, The Hair Pin, and SocialTimes for links and inspiration. My post Social Media and the Art of Storytelling was featured on Freshly Pressed, bringing a whole new readership to my blog. Find anything interesting in the worlds of culture or social media that you’d like to see a post on? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail at email@example.com.