Storytelling, social media and life stories

 
 

 

It may be considered that the narrative forms favored by digital contexts – sometimes in transformation, sometimes in continuity and sometimes in remediation – have once again brought to the forefront the proposal of Walter Benjamin in his 1936 essay Die Erzähler (translated as The Storyteller). In this essay, Benjamin highlighted the distinctive characteristics of a way of storytelling the origins of which lie in oral traditions, and which were by that point already clearly diluted by the popularization of formal narratives, connected to cultural industries such as novels and film where the respective spheres of creation and consumption are discrete from one another. For Benjamin, this separation decontextualized the act of storytelling, and so its community facet was lost, its aspect of shared experience in which participants could both contribute and learn.

For this reason, using the term "storytelling" serves to identify a situated and contextualized narrative practice in which not only is the text or narrative object important, but also the place, moment, temporality, participants, material, and immaterial objects which make it up (from supports to platforms or algorithms) and the processes of interrelation that take place during the act of telling a story. It is not, as such, about simply observing new narrative forms, but rather that the perspective of storytelling also connotes a different approach to narrative formations. So, for example, in the context of social media, the content is as important as the conversation taking place, over time, in the form of comments, mentions, hashtags, ratings, threads, reinterpretations, locations, followers, and other possible intertextual manifestations.

Among the multiple changes that this involves, we particularly wish to highlight three aspects we consider fundamental. Firstly, the notion of closed authorship characteristic of classic narration is blurred in favor of a more openly distributed authorship: something which began at the turn of the century with the arrival of hypertextual narratives. Secondly, and accentuated by social media, the dimension of stories becomes much more fluid and variable. This enables us to look at another type of story that is more everyday, informal, open, ephemeral, apparently trivial, and to which we would not pay attention from other perspectives: a brief life story shared, an anecdote connecting certain people to others, a story destined to disappear a few hours later due to the design of a platform itself. Life experiences expressed in narrative form, in line with what Georgakopoulou (2017) defines as "small stories". And, finally, at the other extreme, stories can overflow from a single means or form of expression, opening themselves up to hybrid and multimodal forms specific to those known as "transmedia narratives", which, beyond their diversity in terms of elements connected to a narrative world, maintain a close relationship with their audience.

Approaching stories from this broad perspective helps us to ask ourselves, and attempt to respond to, how and why a story is told at a given moment. And how it is explained in a particular context, in accordance with its audience, chosen time or place, or goal being pursued. Because, as Moezzi, Janda and Rotman (2017) say, "the 'same' story can be explained in very different ways depending on the occasion, even by the same narrator, which questions the notion of stories as stable data". This is the approach we chose to take with the monograph Storytelling, social media and life stories.

The monograph we present was an opportunity to connect the act of narration with two disciplines with which it maintains a very direct dialog and halfway between which we find communication and information. This is reflected in the role of participants, the complexity and vitality of the stories and the redefinition of authorship and reception. So, we find narrative acts that reflect the informal, ephemeral, and multimodal nature of stories on social media, as is the case for the contribution "Yo creo que El Greco se está 'hasiendo' la 'vístima'. Transmedia and TikTok storytelling at the Prado museum" by Álvaro Martín, or storytelling as a space for sharing collective stories of social impact, as demonstrated by "Reporting and self-defence of sexual harassment and violence in Uber: history of users on Twitter and TikTok" by Fernanda Pires, Júlia Vilasís-Pamos, Ona Anglada-Pujol, and Maria-José Masanet. Other articles from the monograph focus on the narrative construction of educational profiles that aspire to professionalization, such as in the case of healthy foodies, transformed into celebrities and prescribers of healthy foods ("Health foodies as health, gastronomic and advertising influencers" by Cristina Aznar-Íñiguez and Jesús Segarra-Saavedra). Finally, the importance of small everyday stories is noted in the contribution "Implications of the new practices of publication on digital media for the creation of personal digital storytelling" by Marc Fuentes-Alpiste, Núria Molas-Castells, Jordi Quintana, and Miguel Herreros, in the education field, and in the context of public libraries, "Notes on a critical view of the Human Library within the social function of the public library" by Sergi Draper, which defines the social function of public libraries and analyzes the role of human libraries in the development of said function.

Finally, in the section "Experiences", two contributions are included in which the typologies of information units, public libraries, and archives become a channel for narration. The first experience, "The Human Library in the Netherlands: a successful exchange of life stories", by Anne van den Dool, compiles the results of research into the effects of human libraries not only on their protagonists but also on the people/users who read them. The second, "A new challenge for the management of documents: the management of citizens' memory", by Núria Postico, shows the action taken by the Municipal Archives of Barcelona to compile, process, and conserve the documentation resulting from the various displays of solidarity and grief stemming from the attacks of the 17th August 2017 in Las Ramblas, Barcelona, with the objective of preserving their memory and rendering it accessible.

For these myriad prisms through which we can observe and assess the function of storytelling in contemporary communication in their context, we invite you to read and enjoy this monograph. Happy reading!

This monograph and the platform introducing it are linked to the research project Culturas narrativas: storytelling digital, acción social y creación de públicos (Narrative cultures: digital storytelling, social action and the creation of audiences) (D-Stories, RTI2018-098417-B-I00).

References

Benjamin, Walter (1991). El narrador. Madrid: Editorial Taurus.

Georgakopoulou, Alexandra (2017). "Small stories research: A narrative paradigm for the analysis of social media". In: Luke Sloan (ed.). The Sage Handbook of social media research methods. Beaverton, US: Ringgold, p. 266–281. <https://doi.org/10.4135/9781473983847.n17.

Moezzi, Mithra; Janda, Kathryn B.; Rotmann, Sea (2017). "Using stories, narratives, and storytelling in energy and climate change research". Energy Research & Social Science, vol. 31, p. 1–10. <https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2017.06.034. [Accessed: 01/04/2022].

 

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