Sunday, June 27, 2010

Putting a theoretical foundation under mobile storytelling

One weakness I have noticed in discourse about mobile devices -- and mobile storytelling in particular -- is a general lack of a specific theoretical foundation from which to build. There are many, many new media theories, and, of course, general communication (or old media) theories, and there are innumerable theories from related fields, such as psychology, sociology, anthropology, etc. But what are the theories that are key to mobile media? That's a difficult question to answer.

The best source I have found so far to start such a discussion is "Digital Cityscapes," edited by Adriana de Souza e Silva and Daniel Sutko (e Silva, A., & Sutko, D. (2009). Digital cityscapes: Merging digital and urban playspaces: Peter Lang Pub Inc.). That collection has six articles in the first section, from a variety of authors, focused primarily on theory. I also have found a smattering of articles that address the core issues of the field to some degree. But, again, the information is scarce. Part of that is just the infancy of the field, but I also think part of that is scholars mostly working on the micro level at this point (myself included), instead of taking the time to step back and look more generally about holistic issues related to the "mobile" life.

So I have begun to work on making broader theoretical connections, at least in terms of mobile storytelling, and soon will start posting about them here as well as linking them to I might even try to eventually develop those thoughts into a book article or chapter. But first, a paper. ...

The initial step in this paper-producing process is to determine what I really want to know about the theoretical connections across the mobile realm. Actually, there is a step before that. I first have to determine what I don't want to know about.

As a social scientist, I am not particularly interested in hardware specifications and manufacturing or model developments, such as the differences between the iPhone GS and the iPhone 4. I appreciate those, and I follow them on a consumer level, and I want mobile devices to keep gaining new abilities. But that's not want I want to write about.

Privacy concerns are integrated into user-generated content and mobile storytelling, but I think of those as ancillary to my studies at this time. Even though I am highly interested in location awareness, I am not focusing on achievement games, like FourSquare, or object location finding, via geocaching, or similar wayfaring, unless it is related to uncovering an embedded story, or something I think of as the "airrative," or story embedded in the air.

Back to the original issue, I'm not sure what theory or theories can cover all of that and the rest of it, but it's not my intent to find a master theory. At least not yet. I first want to look closely at storytelling with mobile devices, particularly nonfiction storytelling, which I anticipate being the core of my dissertation. So what does that involve?

Thinking of this as a relatively contained academic paper, or article, or chapter, and not as the basis of a lengthy dissertation just on theory, I started to look at all of the various realms this could include, such as cyberspace theory, museum studies, cognitive theory, immersion theory, etc.

I'm not sure where this will lead, but I plan to start by doing a literature review of the key theories in the realms in which I think the overlap is most critical. Those general areas are:

* New Media
* Locative Media
* Narrative Theory
* Interaction Theory

Here is a very quick Venn diagram that shows some points of overlap among those four, particularly in the realms of sharing information (stories) and connecting in social ways:

I also am interested in relations to spacetime and game design, but I think I have enough to consider for now. My plan is to take these four broad areas mentioned above and search through them for direct mobile storytelling ties, ones that I think inform the field, as a way to help to develop broader theoretical connections. I'm really not sure how this will turn out, until I begin. That's part of the fun. ... So onward!

1 comment:

Craig Baehr said...

Looking for threads in those four areas that relate or specifically mention mobile storytelling, location awareness, or interactive narrative sounds like a good direction to go in.