Friday, March 04, 2011

The Art of Immersion, the magic of storytelling

Life is storytelling. Or let's say it alternatively---writing a story is constructing a life. On the Web we tell stories, our own stories. Some of them are professional, some of them are personal. What in the stories are the lives embodied. These stories altogether constitute the Web. By the constitution the Web becomes us and we are immersed into it since it is indeed our lives. The ways of utilizing the storytelling is therefore the art of immersion.

I just finished reading a new 20ll book authored by Frank Rose, a writer and contributing editor at Wired. The title of the book is The Art of Immersion. The book is well written with solid and rich content. I am afraid, however, that the content is so rich and the theme is so profound that the author has not fully disclosed the potential of the topic in spite of the over 300-page length of the book. Nevertheless, I highly recommend the book to whoever is interested in learning how the Web has fundamentally revised our society. In particular, how may we start thinking of the art side of the Web? Make ourselves be immersed and become part of the Web in contrast to being the gods of the Web.


What is a story? In the Prologue Rose wrote, "Stories are recognizable patterns, and in those patterns we find meaning. We use stories to make sense of our world and to share that understanding with others. They are the signal within the noise."

This description of stories is insightful. To a Web researcher such as myself, the term "recognizable pattern" has a few unique interpretations. For example, a recognizable pattern often means a well-defined semantics that machines can identify. Following this interpretation, a story is a meaningful arrangement of data that machines may logically render. Therefore, may we say that the ultimate goal of the Semantic Web is indeed to have data presented in stories? Data without story is a string of digits; but data within a story becomes a reusable product. Isn't the Semantic Web to assign every piece of data a context of story so that we (and machines) can speak of it with emotion? By the way, have I mentioned emotion? What the hell is that?


Through the art of immersion, we can use WWW to drill down as deeply as we like about anything we care. Many Semantic Web people are enthusiastic about the creative consumption of the linked data. I am wondering, however, whether such a linked-data initiative is an art of storytelling indeed. Linked data by themselves are boring. But to speak of them into various stories is fascinating. To me, this is probably the ultimate meaning of the Semantic Web.

But there is another point. Through the storytelling what do we really look for? There is a difference between to explore the characters and to explore the stories. The characters are us, or more precisely the embodied ourselves. The stories are the embodied thoughts and behaviors of us. The difference is as the following. If the storytelling is about to explore the deeper inside of each of us, the data must be annotated in the sense of subjectiveness. On the contrary, the data shall be annotated in the sense of objectiveness when the storytelling is about to explore the objective extent of each of us. This delicate difference is an often neglected point in the exercises of the Semantic Web.

If life is true and art is construct, is a virtual world such as the Web a truth or an illusion? This is a tough question. To me, a virtual world such as the Web is about experience. In particular, it is about the embodied human experience. When we are immersed in the Web, we do not simply put ourselves into a fiction, but into an embodied fiction. A fiction is not real. But it is surreal to have embodied fictions, such as the Disneyland. The Web is a surreal existence that is the embodiment of the countless storytelling.

The wonder of being immersed (and embodied)

In the book Rose frequently referred to an example that is the success of the produce of Mad Men, an AMC's Emmy and Golden Globe-winning series. There is a question. Who shall control a story such as the story of Mad Men---the story writer or the fans?

Accompanied the rise of Web 2.0, there is the crisis of the authorship of the story writers. The prevalence of the social networks makes the communication between the authors and the audience become in dual ways. The storytelling is no longer a single direction activity from the author to the audience. By contrast, more and more audience have participated into the storytelling that is imitated by any author, especially the popular and well-known authors. (Am I doing an editing of the story told by Frank Rose right now?) Especially to the fictions, the audience are revising the characters the author created. The ownership of the characters is no longer solely belong to the author, but to the public collectively. The author creates the characters and the situation they find themselves in. The audience, however, complete the drawing of the characters within the scenario. This is one consequence Web 2.0 has brought to us. Its impact into our society is deeper than we ever have imagined.

But even just this effect has other deeper meaning. If we are embodied in the Web and the embodiment of ourselves is not totally controlled by each of the individuals, the Web actually reveals a deeper resemble of our society, which is beyond we could have thought of before.

How much value and how much reality to be a fictional character online after we are immersed? This is another grand question. The answer to this question could be the motivation to Web 3.0, the next generation of the Web.

Back to the real life

"Life is a constantly functioning information exchange." Rose wrote in the book.

The statement is profound. It tells that a virtual life must also be a constantly functioning information exchange. That is, the Web composed by the virtual lives shall primarily be the aggregation of services in contrast to the ontological layout of concepts. It matches what I foretold the Semantic Web must not be realized until it would be more than a web of data.

In the book, Rose described a four-piece composition of storytelling in the real life. A successful storytelling shall consist of the narrative (one who tells story), the conceptual (one who creates the theme), the stylist (one who decorates the story), and the systemic (one thinker who constructs and directs the distribution of the story). According to the author, the last component is brand new to us due to the emergence of Web 2.0. Moreover, the nature of online distribution is the "serendipitous discovery on a global scale". Unless we start to learn more about this new pattern of storytelling, it will be difficult to lead to the next true leap forward in the Web evolution.

What a deep-thought book it is!


Pix said...

Dude, you would benefit greatly from looking into the so called 'private language argument' of Ludwig Wittgenstein. Nietzchean perspectivism and focauldian philosophy of history is also highly relevant to developing your perspectives on the questions you pose ^^. They will make your brain hurt a bit but it's worth it. promise!

ps: thanks for the sunday post, it hit me

Yihong Ding said...


Thank you for the comment. 'private language argument' is a very interesting concept and I will definitely take a look at it carefully.

Moreover, I am glad that you love the Sunday post. May God bless you all the time!