Network Narrative: Prose Narrative Fiction and Participatory Cultural Production in Digital Information and Communication Networks
Meurer, David Michael
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In this study of prose narrative created explicitly for participatory network communications environments I argue that network narratives constitute an important, born-networked form of literary and cultural expression. In the first half of the study I situate network narratives within a rich, dynamic process of reciprocity and codependence between the technological, material and formal properties of communication media on the one hand, and the uses of these media in cultural practices and forms of expression on the other. I point out how the medial and cultural flows that characterize contemporary network culture promote a codependent relation between narrative and information. This relation supports literary cultural expressions that invoke everyday communication practices increasingly shaped by mobile, networked computing devices. In the second half of this study, I extend theoretical work in the field of electronic literature and digital media to propose a set of four characteristics through which network narratives may be understood as distinct modes of networked, literary cultural expression. Network narratives, I suggest, are multimodal, distributed, participatory, and emergent. These attributes are present in distinct ways, within distinct topological layers of the narratives: in the story, discourse, and character networks of the narrative structure; in the formal and navigational structures; and in the participatory circuits of production, circulation and consumption. Attending to these topological layers and their interrelationships by using concepts derived from graph theory and network analysis offers a methodology that links the particular, closely read attributes and content of network narratives to a more distant understanding of changing patterns in broader, networked cultural production. Finally, I offer readings of five examples of network narratives. These include Kate Pullinger and Chris Joseph’s Flight Paths, Penguin Books and De Montfort University’s collaborative project A Million Penguins, the Apple iOS application The Silent History, Tim Burton’s collaboration with TIFF, BurtonStory, and a project by NFB Interactive, Out My Window. Each of these works incorporates user participation into its production circuits using different strategies, each with different implications for narrative and navigational structures. I conclude by describing these distinct strategies as additive participation – participation that becomes embedded within the work itself – and delineating different approaches that are employed independently or in combination by the authors and producers.