How Electronic Media Is Changing Storytelling

Is today’s inherently interactive, non-linear, and immersive “deep media” loosening the author’s hold on the fate of the story? ‘The Art of Immersion’ explores the audiences’ new role.

While narrative and storytelling have forever been foundational to the human experience and creating meaning, Wired contributing editor Frank Rose’s  The Art of Immersion traces a new form of narrative facilitated by the Internet. 20th century mass media (the sitcom, the newspaper, or novel) allowed for only passive consumption, but deep media of today (think: online communities dedicated to discussing reality shows; downloadable video games to supplement television series) is inherently interactive, non-linear, and immersive. But with this new, participatory mode of storytelling come questions about the fate of the author and the audience:

Anthropologists tell us that storytelling is central to human existence. That it’s common to every known culture. That it involves a symbiotic exchange between teller and listener — an exchange we learn to negotiate in infancy.

Just as the brain detects patterns in the visual forms of nature — a face, a figure, a flower — and in sound, so too it detects patterns in information. Stories are recognizable patterns, and in those patterns we find meaning. We use stories to make sense of our world and to share that understanding with others. They are the signal within the noise.

So powerful is our impulse to detect story patterns that we see them even when they’re not there.

… We know this much: people want to be immersed. They want to get involved in a story, to carve out a role for themselves, to make it their own. But how is the author supposed to accommodate them? What if the audience runs away with the story? And how do we handle the blur—not just between fiction and fact, but between author and audience, entertainment and advertising, story and game?

The Art of Immersion

Wired: “The Art of Immersion: Why Do We Tell Stories?”

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