Guest Post: Shipman Reviews The New Digital Storytelling by Bryan Alexander


J. Scott Shipman, the owner of a boutique consulting firm in the Metro DC area that is putting Col. John Boyd’s ideas into action, is a longtime friend of this blog and an occasional guest-poster.

Book Review: The New Digital Storytelling

by J. Scott Shipman

Bryan Alexander’s  The New Digital Storytelling, Creating New Narratives With New Media is an excellent, highly readable, and comprehensive treatment of storytelling in our digital world. Dr. Alexander manages in 230 pages of text to capture the universe of available methods, processes, resources and tools available to storytellers, as of 2010. His 36 pages of notes and bibliography includes an exhaustive list of websites and sources used.

Dr. Alexander aimed his book at “creators and would-be practitioners,” storytellers looking for new digital ideas, to include teachers, marketers, and communications managers. Whatever your background, he assures in the introduction, “herein you will find examples to draw on, practical uses to learn from, principles to apply, and some creative inspiration.” I can’t speak for those in the target audience, but as one with but a casual interest in storytelling, I can say Dr. Alexander delivered! Over the course of the couple of days of reading, I came up with about a half-dozen ideas and discovered my MacBook Pro has a lot more under the hood than I ever appreciated or used.

That said, Dr. Alexander warns that his book is not a “hands-on manual” on the tech media discussed. In fact, he assumes the reader will not “be a technologist” and the material is presented accordingly. He says:

The New Digital Storytelling straddles the awkward yet practical divide between production and consumption, critique and project creation.”

The book is divided into four parts:

Part I Storytelling: A Tale of Two Generations

In Chapter 1 Dr. Alexander provides an unambiguous meaning to digital storytelling: “Simply put, it is telling stories with digital technologies.” The medium providing this review to you is my digital story about the book. But that is just the beginning; just about every digital device imaginable is being used to tell stories; blogs, social media, videos, and even in Twitter’s 140 character limit, storytelling genres are emerging [readers at will recall Charles Cameron’s use of Twitter feeds following UBL’s death]. As Alexander points out, “no sooner do we invent a medium than do we try to tell stories with it.”

In Chapters 2 & 3, Dr. Alexander provides a history of digital storytelling in two parts; part one is what he calls “the first wave.” From foundations in the 70’s and 80’s (his reference to the 1983 movie War Games brought back memories) to the evolution and importance of hypertext. Alexander asks, “How do hypertexts work as digital stories? Users—reader—experience hypertext as an unusual storytelling platform. We navigate along lexia (“multiple readable chunks”) picking and choosing links to follow.” This point truly “clicked” for me; one of the pleasures of reading is the ubiquity of supporting links and how sometimes these links lead to unexpected, but valuable adventures. Often I’ve landed in a place I would never have found if not for the first “story.” Alexander writes that Web 2.0 has allowed for “the ability to create content for zero software cost is historically significant, and now par for the course.” He points out with the ubiquity of hardware (both PCs and mobile devices) and the social element (social media, for example) a means of of delivery and an architecture are in place where potential storytellers have a low barrier to entry—to get their story out. Alexander includes gaming devices (mobile and console) in the review of the Web 2.0 phenomena.

Part II New Platforms for Tales and Telling

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