Adventures in a virtual reality cave

From a historical perspective, are the changes brought on by new technologies merely a continuation of the history of storytelling from cave walls to papyrus to Gutenberg, or does this mark a quantum leap in the trajectory of narrative?

The technology of writing itself placed many new constraints on the traditional oral tale, depriving it of, for example, voice, gesture, facial expression, costuming, music, audible phrasing and rhythms, improvisation and interaction. But those same constraints made possible new art forms – including literature itself. 

Literacy was at first deemed a magical art, greatly empowering the scribal class and launching the contest between pen and sword – a contest celebrated so eloquently by Cervantes’s Don Quixote millennia later and with us to this day on battlefields and blogospheres. Cervantes was born into literarily revolutionary times, just a hundred years after the invention of movable type and the printing press. This new technology was greatly democratizing the reading and writing experience, even while placing, with its intransigently linear, page-turning mechanisms, new constraints upon storytelling. 

Struggling against these constraints led in turn to such fascinating innovations (Cervantes himself engaged in such play) that new artificial constraints were invented to expand the delightful game. Well before the invention of the computer with its new protocols, writers were experimenting with nonlinear multidirectional stories, using density and symbolism as counterweights to the forward thrust of the marching type, adding images and links (footnotes, printed marginalia, indexes), even publishing unbound books with shuffleable pages. Film and video have long since reintroduced image, sound and motion to narrative art. For many, the new medium has arrived not as disruption, but as fulfillment.





June 9, 2011. Uncategorized.

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