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Digital storytelling and identity

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Last week, as an introduction to the ds106 course, I read Gardner Campbell’s “Personal Cyberinfrastructure” essay, and watched his presentation “No More Digital Facelifts”. I also watched Michael Wesch’s From Knowledge to Knowledge(able) video.

I’ve been contemplating this all week, and to be honest, I’ve been trying to understand how these were connected to the whole concept of digital storytelling. On the surface, and whilst this is interesting in it’s own right, the resources seemed to offer ideas relating to new forms of education, mass disruption, and the shift of society from an information (knowable) age to a knowledge (Knowledge-able) age.

But, I think I’m finally starting to pull together some of the loose threads.

It was only after I watched this talk by Robert Tercek at TEDxMarin May 2011: “Reclaiming The Power of Personal Narrative” that I made some more connections.

Like Cynthia Kurtz (which is where I came across this) “it made my heart pound like a hammer.”

The main thread seems to be identity.

As Robert says in the video, we’ve “outsourced our storytelling” and have let the mass media manufacture our identities. That identity is one of a consumer.

In essence, Michael is also saying that identity and recognition are dominant theme of modern life — or how he puts it “a whole lot of your identity is reflected back to you”. He reinforces this message by telling the story of how being in Papua New Guinea had stripped him of his identity.

Gardner Campbell talks about identity markers, like decorated high school lockers. He also alludes to identity, when he talks about students being ‘architects’ of their own digital libraries. In other words, telling their own story, and creating their own digital identity.

Ross Dawson wrote a blog post yesterday that hammered this idea home for me. In it he argues “how you are seen online IS your identity … (and) … your social media profile IS your identity.

The other thread, is an argument that there is a big societal shift. As Robert Turcek puts it, we are “waking up from a trance and TAKING BACK OUR POWER TO TELL STORIES” (emphasis mine). We are re-learning to tell stories about ourselves, and this is facilitated by new media.

This is what Gardner Campbell is alluding to when he points out that “we are entering the new age of education that is programmed for discovery rather than instruction.”

He talks about the new education practices of narrating (telling a story of investigation and learning), curating (taking care of your stuff) and sharing (putting it out there to be of value to someone else). This IS storytelling! We make sense of the world through stories (structure random events in our lives). But they are meaningless until we tell someone else. Meaning only happens when two people connect.

Linking these previous thoughts to ‘digital’ storytelling, or new media, Gardner says that “digital literacy is more than knowing how to use tools its about being in an ecosystem with participants and producers. Michael frames it this way: “media is not just tools, it changes the way we connect with each other. Media mediates relationships. Right on!

In his video presentation Gardner Campbell laments the slow pace of change “… when does the tide turn?”

I empathise. It’s easy to get frustrated at the seemingly difficult endeavor of moving things forward and facing the resistance to change. I hold out hope. As Mother Theresa said:

“You cannot do great things. You can only do small things with great love”.

And, as Michael (and Robert’s) videos also point out: one of the important elements of new media environment is that simple individual actions become collective actions.

Keep doing the work. Tell your story.

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