I have submitted an abstract to the 2012 Japanese Association for Digital being held this year in Tokyo, Japan. The theme of this year’s symposium is “Inheriting the Humanities.” I have posted my abstract below. Even if I’m not selected, I will post the paper in full when it is finished.
The Importance of Storytelling in a Digital World: Or, What the Digital Humanities can learn from TED
By conventional wisdom the Technology Entertainment and Design (TED) talks should not be popular. These talks are videos of academics and intellectuals giving powerpoint presentations for 20 to 30 minutes on topics generally considered dense or uninteresting to a broader public. And yet, the TED talks are a viral sensation. As of June 2011 the TED videos had been viewed more than 500 million times.
The TED talks are an internet zeitgeist, touching on a number of issues of critical importance to the digital humanities. This paper will focus on three issues raised by the TED talks: access, authority, and engagement. In each of these categories TED acts as an exemplar for the digital humanities.
TED succeeds at allowing the internet public to access their information. TED videos can be accessed freely on a number of services ranging from Youtube to iTunes to Netflix. TED has demonstrated a keen understanding of how and where the internet public consumes content.
The TED videos also touch on issues of authority in the digital world. As the internet democratizes access to information and allows the internet public to create as well as consume information, the authority of the ‘expert’ has eroded. The internet has granted more agency to the user, allowing anyone to be a content creator. The TED talks have embraced the user-driven web, creating a TED community which takes an active role in the talks. TED encourages users to communicate and collaborate with presenters, giving users digital platforms to engage in ideas, questions, debates.
The final, and in my opinion most important, lesson to be learned from TED is engagement. TED places a strong emphasis on the oldest of human practices: storytelling. I believe that storytelling is critical for public engagement on the web. Storytelling is a fundamentally human and social practice that allows individuals to connect through mutual cooperation and shared empathy. Storytelling inspires. Storytelling moves. It is a timeless practice that is the future for public engagement on the web.
The theme of the 2012 Japanese Association for Digital Humanities is “inheriting humanities.” Storytelling is our most valuable inheritance from the past. By combining the oldest of human practices with digital methods of collaboration and communication, the digital humanities can learn from TED’s success to create stronger ties with the digital public.