Saturday, February 12, 2011

Week 5 - Facebook seed question

In the spirit of Web 2.0 (i.e. collaboration) I decided to ask my Facebook group “Authors” the question about whether Facebook status updates could be considered a new form of narrative. One of the responses stated:

“Yes. I am always interested in the subtext. After someone breaks up with their lover they are suddenly all over the place, clubbing and having a GREAT TIME! Or... just letting the other person know that they really don't need them?”

In this example, the narrative is found in the interpretation, but not necessarily in the status update itself. This leads to an interesting question about authorial intent. Is the writer conscious of his or her motivation in presenting the status of having a “great time”, or is the motivation more subconscious? Also, is the spurned lover really the intended recipient of the message, or is the statement meant for the world at large? Is the writer even concerned about the reader’s response, or is the status update motivated by more narcissistic concerns?

Another comment from the “Authors” group:

“But of course. Storytelling is always changing shape. From cave drawings to the epic poems of Homer to sonnets and plays and novels and films...”

This suggests that Facebook status updates are another form of storytelling that has evolved from previous forms. This doesn’t negate the other forms, but simply reflects the changing artistic esthetic of the readers. Although elements such as plot may not be so obvious in status updates, other literary techniques such as metaphor, allusion and other types of figurative language can certainly be used effectively. I often use metaphors and allusion in my status updates to entertain my friends as well as sharpen my own skills as a writer. (Although often, my meaning is buried under so many layers that readers may just be confused. This, I suppose, makes another type of personal statement.) It is much more interesting to try to invent abstract methods of expression, rather than just stating “I’m happy/sad/angry/tired today.”

I would also argue that more structured concepts like plot and character development can be expressed through status updates, although it is likely that a reader would have to track a series of updates over time for a particular individual. This takes more care on the part of the reader, as many Facebook users may only browse the status updates that the Facebook software “selects” for their News Feed. This fragmentation will certainly interrupt any attempts to intentionally create a narrative flow, but Facebook readers who are interested in “following” a particular individual will still be rewarded with some type of story.

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