Digitization of orality

Posted: April 4, 2012 in Uncategorized

So, I like storytelling, I like the concept of oral tales – but it’s not what I have grown up with, and (unfortunately) not what a lot of people are familiar with today. What is a growing phenomenon is the internet and digitization of .. everything.

During the Depression, the WPA was authorized to go out and collect stories which might be lost as their tellers died off, via the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP). This, I believe would have been the first digitization, as they recorded the tales on tape. They have been digitized further and are now available online through the Library of Congress website (loc.gov) as part of the American Memory Collection http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/index.html.  American Memory contains far (!) more than the FWP, but it is a wealth of resources that were originally oral.  What becomes of a civilization which is primarily oral, when the tellers die out and the tales are available only online?  Presumably if the storyteller dies without passing on the tales orally then the language or culture to which the tale belongs is in crisis or defunct.  I am a firm believer in retaining all that can be retained, by any means, rather than losing tales, but … How do we make sure that the tales are honored and not co-opted, not taken over by the very people who have contributed to the demise of the language/culture/story?  What tales are given are likely to give an incomplete picture of the culture as many oral cultures have restrictions on what may be told, to whom and by whom.  Every telling is slightly different, and each audience will receive the story in a slightly different manner, especially if there is a gap in cultural knowledge between the storyteller and the audience.  We lose part of the wealth that is the world when we lose the voice of a cultural group. We are all poorer for the loss, if we recognize it or not.

YouTube is a current online tool used by many to record .. everything, including much which should have been censored before it was performed.  It is very much a slice of life experience, detailing in a very proletarian way who the digerati are at this point in time.  The Internet Archive is also an audio repository, but it contains materials which could be scholarly, ancient texts, obsolete software links, and collections of political materials, among other things.  Both are free, though YouTube is clearly ad-supported.  What happens if the knowledge contained in these sites and others like them if they go the way of the dodo, or decide that to survive it is imperative they switch to a fee-based model?  One part of the Internet Archive is a regular webcrawl. Thie webcrawl is the basis of The Wayback Machine, which allows a person who gets a ‘404’ error to copy the url into the Wayback Machine and see what the page looked like.  They are making back-up copies of huge amounts of public data online.  [Please note Public Only – no Deep Web / firewall or password-only sites].  This is a relatively unique position, trying to archive bits and pieces of the Internet.  There are regulatory bodies in every industry which detail how documents (by any definition) must be archive and for how long, but the vast array of data that is the Internet is just going to an electronic black hole.  Cowbird. WordPress.  Flickr.  Scopes. These are the fairy tales for today, and they are more ephemeral than any oral tale ever was since the 80/20 rule is in effect; 80% of the web will only ever be seen by 20% of the people while 20% of the web will be seen by 80%.

Tell a story.  Post it online.  Share it.  But print it out, or (shocking!) write it out longhand.  You can amaze your kids with it someday.  [Wow!  You can write by Hand?!]

Storytelling, by authors http://www.storylineonline.net/


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