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Telling technology

David Clccoricco

Reports of the death of old-fashioned story-telling at the hands of cutting-edge digital technology have been greatly exaggerated, or at least the work of a senior lecturer in English would suggest as much.

Dr David Ciccoricco, who has been researching what happens when narrative fiction meets digital technology, says that rather than threatening the existence of story-telling, digital technology is changing the way we are able to write and read narrative fiction.

"The movement from print to digital media has, by no means, left narrative fiction behind.

"Writers are still making time and space for story-telling in digital environments. They are not a typical imaginative or literary experience, but they are not necessarily less literary, artistic or important to a richer conception of literary culture."

Ciccoricco explains that he is not referring to print books being converted into ebooks, but to a range of new forms of digital literature that are deliberately created on, and for, the computer screen.

"Writers are still making time and space for story-telling in digital environments. They are not a typical imaginative or literary experience, but they are not necessarily less literary, artistic or important to a richer conception of literary culture."

These include what he has coined "network fiction" to refer to a collection of interconnected pieces that can be read in any order. He cites as one example a work by Lance Olsen, 10:01, in which readers navigate an interlinked web of connections to explore the thoughts of each audience member sitting in a cinema in the 10 minutes and one second before the feature film commences.

Ciccoricco describes other forms of digital literature as animated and kinetic. "The standard response is that the digital medium makes us more distracted and divides our attention, but the types of creative literary works that I am looking at often place different types of demands on our attention."

Here he cites the work of a Seoul-based duo called Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, whose "digital fictions" use flash animation to bombard the reader with single words or phrases. "It turns the traditional experience of reading a literary text on its head because instead of our eyes moving across the page, the text moves while our eyes – and our attention – remain fixed on the screen."

Ciccoricco believes that digital literature will continue to complement rather than replace traditional forms of literature. "People are trying to see how elastic story-telling can be by putting it in all these digital formats but, in some ways, all this is as niche and experimental as poetry, which is not and does not need to be mainstream to flourish."