Presentation: Telling Meaningful Personal Stories in the Age of Status Updates

A presentation made on 2/5/15 to Alex Naylor’s “The Power of the Image” class at DePaul University…

1. What is Digital Storytelling?

  • Community arts process invented in the Bay Area of CA in the 1990s
  • Prototypical form = 3-day workshop, run by a trained digital storytelling facilitator or facilitators, in which a small group of ordinary people come together to write, workshop, and learn media production practices. Each participant leaves the workshop having completed their own digital story.
  • Digital story = 2-3 minute video, which consists of a self-written and self-narrated personal story, illustrated with images from the storyteller’s personal archives. The storyteller makes the video him/herself, with the support and assistance of others in the workshop.

The History of Digital Storytelling

2. What’s Special About Digital Storytelling?

In the early 1990s, when the first digital storytelling workshops were run, video-making technology was, as Lambert says in his video, prohibitively expensive and complex for ordinary people. As Lambert says, that was part of the novelty of the process. But today, if you have a smartphone or a most basic computer, you can make a video for free. So why is digital storytelling still relevant—if fact, why it is it more popular than ever—even though anyone can now technically make a video using their own or borrowed gadgets?

There are three core values of digital storytelling:

  1. personal storytelling
  2. technology and media empowerment
  3. community process

Despite our unprecedented access to media production and sharing technologies, not a lot of what we do enacts these core values.

We post a lot of status updates…

But do these updates and the resulting banter add up to your story? Are you using media to talk about what matters to you as a human being? About what you want to do before you die? Many would say that all of this sociability distracts us from these big questions and meaningful conversations.

Vince’s story, made in WRD 377 in the spring of 2014

  1. Personal Storytelling: Vince’s story was written and revised over a period of weeks
  2. Technology and Media Empowerment: Vince could shape his story to his liking, using a range of robust editing and production tools
  3. Community Process: Vince’s story was developed and shared in a group of peers

3. Digital Storytelling Today: From Personal to Organizational Uses

You can still attend a public workshop run by CDS or a similar training organization—they happen all over the country. But beyond these ‘workshops of strangers,’ there are other options:

  1. Community workshops: Capture Wales
  2. Organizational digital storytelling: Train-the-Trainer Workshops enable organizational staff to run workshops for clients, members, staff, and stakeholders.

Example: Social Services Organizations Enabling Personal Storytelling (a PSA alternative)

Participatory storytelling projects sponsored by organizations can:

  • Honor the wisdom of people who have experiences that they want to share
  • Enable peer-to-peer communication and learning

4. My Research

My research focuses on two questions:

  1. How can nonprofit organizations and cause initiatives tell their stories with new media?
  2. What are the ethical complications of using personal media and personal stories for organizational purposes?

Learn more: Take WRD 309: Digital Storytelling at DePaul this Summer Session 1!