Two things struck me while reading these texts: the difference between story and narrative; and the role of the audience.
I see story as being the crux of the information that is being communicated, the issue, the moral, the point, whatever. Narrative, on the other hand, is the way in which it is told. Linear/non-linear, didactic/participatory and so forth. If we think that in the web 2.0 world narrative takes on these latter forms (non-linear, participatory) not only can the narrative be subject to change and experimentation, but so too can the story as new participants bring to it new ideas, thoughts and feelings. With web 2.0 whose story is being narrated?
I ask this because my political brain has been twitching lately about the best way for lefty and radical activists to tackle the Coalition government. There are many writers demolishing government arguments using cold hard facts and data on the blogosphere but it’s almost as though this is falling on deaf ears. It’s in the past year or so I’ve realised that facts aren’t enough, they need to be part of a wider package of ideas and stories the left can put forward that strike a chord with the public and gain support.
This brings me to the second point – audience – which is something that’s been troubling me for some time. How does the hard work being done by bloggers gain wider traction? Can web 2.0 help with this? While I don’t doubt the participatory nature of web 2.0 and the many fantastic things people are capable of accomplishing with its tools, I often feel the excitement of the medium leads to some detachment from real life, especially the idea that people are queueing up to witness and participate in your content.
My hometown has been flagged up by the government as one of the key areas requiring more digital involvement. The population is dominated by the elderly and retirees with print and television (as well as word of mouth) the primary sources for news. The local rag has a tendency to irritate me with its poor reporting or outright inflammatory comment. On a number of occasions I’ve responded via email but my most scathing criticism goes unpublished. Oh well, I can always publish it online, can’t I? Well, yes, and I have done. But who reads it? In a town where many people have probably never been online how can I challenge the views of existing media if I’m simply pissing in the wind? And even if that digital divide* can be overcome, how can I build that audience when the web is a pull medium?
Which returns me to the point I started with about story and narrative. In terms of activism, how can we use web 2.0 to develop convincing stories and what narratives to involve people politically? It definitely has the potential, by engaging people and asking them to get involved with discussions and planning through commenting and contributing content, though I’m not sure how widespread this is. When I look at the online politics I’m engaged in or have at least witnessed, it’s often the usual suspects of politically conscious and active people who are taking part. Bubbles, cliques, existing networks are apparent: how many new faces get involved in groups and actions revolving around a particular story? If the story in web 2.0 is open to evolution, how often does it change according to input from participants? Getting new faces involved is the difficult part and I think one that in places has to reach out from being housed purely online.
*I’m not sure how relevant the digital divide will continue to be. Undoubtedly there are people with no access to the internet but with the rising ubiquity of mobile web devices, I wonder how much of an issue access to digital information is really going to be in the future. I’m not naive enough to think it will ever totally disappear; there will always be those who can’t afford the access or who simply choose not to be online, but it seems this physical divide is being overcome.