Tag Archives: Storytelling

My Social Media Vacation

4 Sep

A failed, or not, experiment

Cousins at CampThis weekend, I took a vacation from social media.  Over Labor Day weekend, my family resumed a long-standing tradition to attend family camp with our cousins.  It’s the kind of place where you’re perpetually dirty and the big event of the day is a game of ultimate Frisbee.  Where you actually sit and talk with your grandparents about what it was like when they were kids and interact with your parents like they’re your friends.  It’s great.

And it’s been great since I was a kid.  Since before there was social media.  Since before Facebook had even been thought of.  (Although I’m sure that, if pressed in a law suit, Mark Zuckerburg would say that he had been tinkering with the idea even back then.)  So, I figured that if I had loved camp without social media then, I would love camp without social media now.  I took getting away for the weekend as an opportunity to unplug for the weekend, too.  (Of course, I still brought my laptop, because I can’t unplug completely.  It’s my hard and clunky security blanket.) Continue reading

I wanna check you out… from the library

24 Aug

Or, a library has a great new program and I have terrible new jokes

Library by ellen forsyth

Photo credit to ellen forsyth

Most of the time when libraries are covered in new media circles, it’s because of stories like, “Library adds new computer wing” or “Local library creates Facebook page”.  I’ve seen them, I’m sure you’ve seen them; they’re a dime a dozen.  So, that’s why I was so surprised to see a library branching out in a new (non-tech) way – and getting coverage in social media for doing it.

PSFK is reporting that a Canadian library is now letting you check out “human books”, living experts on the topics that you seek to study.  The library will arrange for you to meet with an expert on the topic of your choice over coffee.  …And this is the place for a really bad joke about checking people out at the library.  Awkward pickup artists have just gotten an infusion of new material.  Get ready for “That looks like a good book, but I’d rather check you out.” Continue reading

Personal Branding though Social Media Profile Fields

20 Aug

Or, defining the rules by which we define ourselves

The Open Web Identity is the Platform by Matthew Burbee

Photo credit to Matthew Burbee

Forms and fields are nothing new.  We’ve always had to fill out employment applications and census forms by reducing our lives to just the words that could fit in the blanks or the choices for the check boxes provided.  But they were one off forms, which were then buried in drawers, not published for the world to see.

Social networking is changing that.  Now, we’re filling out forms about ourselves every day and making the information public to our friends, family, and the internet at large.  (And they’re public not in the sense of public records, but in the sense of “Hey, you guys!”)  Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. have made the rules of our personal brands.  They’ve told us you need a picture, you need a job title, you need an education history.  Without these and other fields filled in, your profile (really your personal brand) is suspect.  Continue reading

Becoming Real: Harry Potter and The Velveteen Rabbit

12 Jul

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone Book CoverIn honor of the release of HP 7.5 this weekend, I bring you an excerpt of my thesis, “The Branding of Harry Potter: How Fanfiction is Challenging Concepts of Owner and Author”.  Before jumping in, here’s what you need to know:

I love Harry Potter and I love fanfiction; not in the way that I sit around and read it all the time, but you know, if I’m ever in a really bad mood…  I love fanfiction because it teaches people how to write and encourage people, especially young people, to find their voices and develop their skills as storytellers.  Everyone knows that Harry Potter struck a chord with a generation, but not many people know how it uniquely impacted creative and bookish teenagers.  Millions of their derivative works can be found on fanfiction archives across the internet.  Their writing and art, based upon Harry Potter and other fictional stories that became touchstone cultural artifacts, made up some of the earliest examples of Web 2.0.  And they did it all because of their love of the stories that inspired them.  Here we go… Continue reading

Hyper-text and Storytelling

16 May

Young Indian man reading on a laptop.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. Continue reading

Authors as bloggers, bloggers as authors

28 Apr

SocialTimes has an article called “You Are What You Tweet: Writing Your Way into the Social Media Revolution” which argues that social media is helping to balance the (crazy and near complete) control that the publishing industry has over the stories that we read.

“Today more than ever, it’s difficult for creative writers to “make it” in the publishing industry; big-name publishing houses sign fewer contracts, hand out less funding, and allocate smaller advances to writers than ever before. But perhaps publishing itself is an outdated mode of finding your audience.

With the internet boom and the growing popularity of social media, the option of self-publishing is more attractive for writers everywhere. With spaces like Facebook, WordPress, and Blogger, authors can carve out their own online spaces and attract audiences from across the world. While we may still be attached to the printed page, that doesn’t mean that we can’t use the digital tools available to us to promote our work.”

So, it’s not just that bloggers want to be authors; authors want to be bloggers, too.  Blogs help us to learn to write and to find our voice and also to promote our writing once we’ve found that voice.  It’s a lot less intimidating to still down and write a few hundred word (okay, mine usually run in the thousands) blog post than it is to start a new Word document titled Chapter 1.  Although I’d love to do that one day, it seems terrifying.  I can easily convince myself that I have a post worth of interesting things to say, but 200 pages?!  Yikes!

But, back to authors… With so few major publishers that often say “no” rather than take a chance on a new author, (It took J.K. Rowling a year to find a publisher for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.) many authors turn to self publishing and use blogs as a means to find an audience for their work.  “The blog is a space where people can fall in love with you as a writer,” said Vivek Shraya, one of the authors that SocialTimes’ Amanda Cosco interviewed.  It allows authors to connect directly with the audience and to present themselves and their work in their own words (and in real time) rather than going through publicist, agent, etc. Continue reading

In defense of genre fiction

23 Apr

Although it's a few years old, Finanical Times' "The Information: Genre fiction sales" does a good job explaining how genre fits into the wider world of book sales.

Recently, the BBC featured a program that covered the place of fiction in contemporary society, focusing largely on “contemporary fiction” or “literately fiction” – you know, fancy fiction, what you read in high school English classes and what book snobs read forever, the books that you’re happy to display on your shelves so that someone might mistake you for cultured.  And, this rubbed authors of “genre” or “popular” fiction (the people who write all the other fiction: sci-fi, fantasy, horror, etc.) the wrong way.  They felt that the omission of their books (which constitute a very large percentage of books sold and read every year) was purposeful.  Because something as auspicious as the BBC wouldn’t talk about the fact that people like to read books with spaceships and elves and other cool stuff…  (For more on this, read Genre authors attack “sneering” WBN coverage.)

Author Stephen Hunt organized 89 genre authors to sign a letter in protest of this omission.  On his blog, he explained the importance of genre fiction.

Imagine a world where those in charge of broadcast programming have decided that polo, show jumping and grouse shooting are the only sports considered decent to be aired on TV and radio. You open the sports pages of newspapers to find page-after-page of coverage of how many birds a group of investment bankers have blasted into feathers over the glorious twelfth. No football. No cricket. No car racing. No rugby. Continue reading

Social Media and the Art of Storytelling, Reader Responses

20 Apr

This is the customary follow-up piece written by someone who didn’t consider all of the lovely ideas that the commenters brought to the table while she was writing her original article.  Unfortunately, a lot of times writers of these pieces seem to miss the bigger issues that the commenters brought up and instead focus on a few straw men that they can tear down to bolster their argument.  Of course, I wasn’t really making an argument, so hopefully I won’t fall into this trap.  (But, let me know if I do!)

Thanks to being featured on Freshly Pressed, Social Media and the Art of Storytelling has become my most viewed post.  After reading the comments (and responding to as many of them as I could), I realize that I left some lose ends in that post.

One thing that was pointed out time and again was that online communication cannot fully replace face to face interactions.  I think broadsideblog said it best:

There is something much more powerful about telling one another our stories face to face, not pixel by pixel. We need to know the effect on one another of our stories, whether tears or laughter, sighs or gasps…. I want to hear the voice, see their eyes, and when I am story-telling I need to see and hear what’s compelling — and what’s not.

Of course, that’s totally correct and applies not only to storytelling, but to communication in general.  You don’t comfort a grieving friend through chat and you don’t celebrate your child’s 5th birthday with an e-card.  It’s just not the same.  Some things do require physical presence, eye contact, and touch.

But, the medium through which we communicate is changing and we’re losing these elements in many of our day-to-day interactions.  (Earlier this year, I did a Facebook poll of my siblings and cousins to see how they wanted to celebrate Christmas…)  That’s happening and we can’t stop it.  So, really, the question is, how can we make sure that changes to the medium don’t affect changes to the message?  (Yes, yes, I know – “The medium is the message.”)  As commenter Jaime Greening said:

the medium of the story matters, but it neither stops nor starts the story. the story originates in the storyteller and germinates until it finds an audience. human beings must tell stories, and we will use what is available–twitter, fb, blog or cave walls.

Perfectly said.  Now can someone please make an evolutionary chart that shows the progression of storytelling mediums from cave paintings to twitter?  Information is Beautiful, maybe?

Another thing that came up a lot was people wondering how all of these stories that we’re creating and posting online could be preserved.  Listener commented:

And to think, for millenia the vast majority of people existed with no record of their existence other than their DNA. I suppose we are lucky.?! This should be motivation to make use of the new-found ease with with we can create.

At what point will historians, museums, or historical societies start to preserve and catalogue the virtual world? It seems quite a daunting task to take a snapshot of the entire web. Since things online are always changing, you’d need to somehow capture everything at once if you wanted a representative view of the web of 2011, for example.

I do have real answers to this one, not just the meandering thoughts that I’ve had to the previous two.  (But, don’t worry, I have meandering thoughts on this, too.)  We as bloggers aren’t alone in recognizing the need to capture our stories, our culture, and our communications and to save them for the future.  The Library of Congress does, too.  Last year, they began archiving tweets.  They’ll be searchable for scholars in the future.  To learn more about the archive, read How Tweet It Is!: Library Acquires  Entire Twitter Archive.  Imagine if historians had similar data from different periods.  What if a civil war scholar could get data about opinion and chatter on any given day in the lead up to the war.  What if a WWII scholar could look into the social networks of Germans leading up to the war and see how densely Jews were tied into larger social networks and at what point those ties broke?  (Have I mentioned that I’m a history nerd?)  Also, the Internet Archive, is working to catalog the Internet and its growth and changes for future scholars.  (Who knows, your blog may appear in a book 100 years from now!)  Their project, the Wayback Machine, allows you to see to internet site at different points in the past and view their development over time.  So cool!

I did have one commenter, Alecia, who kind of stumped me.  (Unfortunately Alecia didn’t link to her blog, so no pingbacks for her.) She asked:

Why is storytelling so important in relation to digital social media?

When I first heard about the importance of storytelling in today’s tech world, I was a little confused. Storytelling doesn’t seem that important to me. But Guy Kawasaki and other ‘connected’ people I’ve read about stress storytelling’s importance.

Why do you think digital storytelling is important?

I think I may have failed a bit on my response:

Hmmm. For me, I guess I’ve never questioned that story telling is important. I think of it as a basic way that we interact with and connect with each other. It bonds people together and forges shared experiences.

I’ve always been really interested in the study of what myths and creation stories say about a culture. I think that you can tell a lot about a people and what they value from the stories that they tell. Are you familiar with the Horatio Alger stories? Stories are often shorthand for our hopes as fears.

My real interest in writing this is that we don’t lose storytelling’s place in our culture as we become a more physically disconnected society.

So, readers, commenters, I put it to you.  Why is storytelling important?  Can you help me articulate it any better?


MaggieCakes is a blog about culture, social media, and what’s new in the world of 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 while 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 2maggieotoole@gmail.com.

Social Media and the Art of Storytelling

6 Apr

A few days ago, Chris Sullivan of MyNorthwest.com wrote an article called “The art of storytelling in a world of technology”.  He asked if you can tell a story over Twitter and wondered if the limitations of the medium limited the message.  He quoted professional storyteller Anne Rutherford as saying “Whatever their age, whatever their circumstance, if it’s a good story and it’s well told we completely have the ability to respond to that. However, what I think we’re losing is the opportunity to be in those situations.”  Ms. Rutherford believes the communications over digital technology, particularly via social media, are causing us to cut back on our in person interactions, and thus on our chances to tell and listen to stories.

In response to Mr. Sullivan’s article, Amanda Cosco of the Social Times said:

“It is my argument that social media makes story-telling even more possible today than in earlier years. While I’d agree with Sullivan that we’re not sharing stories in the same manner as we used to, I’d suggest that Story itself is an evolving beast, something that grows and mutates with time. Throughout history, storytelling forms have changed with technology— from oral traditions, to the printed word, to most recently digital media—but the elements of narrative can be detected throughout, as Story manages to creep its way into every linguistic or visual expression.”

And, I agree.  We use social media to connect and to share about our lives.  Really, our posts, tweets, and status updates come together to tell our stories.  A new “friend” is a new character entering the story.  Every check-in on FourSquare brings a new scene.  So, while the medium may be changing, the stories are still being told, now more than ever.  After all, we’re all writing our autobiographies, whether we know it or not.

Admittedly, social media tends to focus more on non-fiction than fiction.  (Interesting, because if you asked teens or twenty-somethings what they prefer, I bet the vast majority of them would say fiction.)  But, there are whole realms of online social interactions that are devoted to fiction.  Although they’re not as big of names as Facebook, they’re still important.  LiveJournal has many story writing communities.  And, there’s always fanfic.  (Yes, I realize that fanfiction.net is probably the lamest fanfic link, but I’m not sure who all is in the audience here and how many of them would think I were crazy if I posted some other ones…)  See the story of Cassandra Clare (fanfic author that got a book deal and made good) for an example of social media and online communities leading to authorship.

In response to Mr. Sullivan’s dare (“I challenge you to tell a great story on Twitter”), I submit that Charles Dickens released his stories in serial format.  I’m sure that they were much longer than 144 characters, but his medium was novel at the time, too.

So, keep updating, keep posting, and keep tweeting —  after all your writing you’re own story.  (And if you don’t write it, it probably won’t get told.)

Update: I’ve posted a follow-up piece, Social Media and the Art of Storytelling, Reader Responses.  I was so impressed with the thoughtful and articulate comments that I couldn’t just let them sit without a reply.  Read some selected comments and more on the topic here.


MaggieCakes is a blog about culture, social media, and what’s new in the world of 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 while 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 2maggieotoole@gmail.com.

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