If google results are any indication, ‘digital storytelling’ is a fairly well defined entity. The University of Houston site outlines how to use digital storytelling for teaching and as a learning exercise. Their suggestions, rules, and guidelines are based on those of the Center for Digital Storytelling at Berkeley. It seems most people construct ‘digital stories’ as part of an assignment that teaches them to use audio and video as primary source material or as a way to rather quickly present an argument with multi-media.
To tell the truth I don’t see much difference between the methodology of digital storytelling and historical documentaries produced for television broadcast. The former, having the advantage of being more easily produced and distributed, are surely at a huge disadvantage in terms of attracting audiences. Historical documentaries use interviews, archival footage and narrative voice-over to make arguments. This seems also to be the major thrust of digital storytelling. The argument does seem to be of more importance in digital storytelling, or at least seems less obscured than the historical documentary’s often inevitable seeming conclusion. However, digital storytelling inherits many of the problems of the historical documentary, particularly in terms of narrative authority, causation, and the use of experience as evidence. Like its linear counterpart, writing, the choice of evidence and its arrangement in documentary often suggests a causation that may be questionable or presentist. Also, the Center for Digital Storytelling encourages participatory production methods, surely an unsettling issue for academics who prize critical distance in analysis. In short, the digital story as it is currently being defined seems to take advantage of online materials and the ease which software allows them to be arranged and interpreted, but doesn’t offer much in the way of new interpretation methods.
I myself recall the time-consuming matter of driving to archives, setting up an easel, and videotaping documents, then copying the video footage to the tape on which my interview or voiceover audio was recorded. Digital storytelling is faster, no doubt, but those setting the rules seem to downplay some of the other advantages of the digital. Those that allow evidence to be annotated, linked or footnoted instead of buried in the credits. Those that might question voice-overs as authority, break down narrative structures, present fuller and more varied patterns of causation, or even deny causation altogether. For many of us, I’m pretty sure it’s time to stop making the rules and start breaking them.