More about stories (and how they are shaped)

Some posts ago I talked about my impression on storytelling, making references and resuming a lesson I attended in my master.

I would like to go back to Kurt Vonnegut theorization of a the Shapes of stories.

In this video Kurt Vonnegut explains through simple examples that all stories have a specific structure that can be drawn in a curve that alternate ups and down that create empathy and engage the spectator.

Vonnegut explains his theory thanks to the help of one of the most famous stories of western culture: Cinderella.

Anyway it is funny to apply the shape to other stories. An extremely interesting exercise is the one reported an illustrated by the graphic designer Maya Eilam, that shapes some different stories starting from Vonnegut’ spark.

Far from having Eilam’ graphic skills, I also decided to shape a story, choosing the Sleeping beauty’ tale.

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Sleeping beauty story starts with the enormous happiness of a king and queen for the birth of a daughter.

The baby-princess receives a lot of gifts from people and fairies but also a curse from a not-invited wicked fairy. The curse says that before her 16th birthday, the princess will bite herself with a spindle and die.

Anyway one of the good fairy succeeds in mellow the curse and changing it: if the princess bites herself before her 16th birthday she will fall asleep for the next 100 years but could be saved thanks to the kiss of a brave king.

Princess’ life proceeds normally in a kingdom without spindles but one day, the princess meets an old woman showing her a spindle and, since she never saw one before, she tries to touch it and she immediately  falls asleep.

Having great powers of foresight, the good fairy sees that the Princess will awaken when she finds herself alone, so the fairy puts everyone in the castle to sleep. The fairy also summons a forest of trees around the castle, preventing anyone from disturbing the Princess.

A hundred years passes and a prince from another family spies the hidden castle during a hunting expedition. His attendants tell him differing stories regarding the castle until an old man recounts his father’s words: within the castle lies a beautiful princess who is doomed to sleep for a hundred years until a king’s son comes and awakens her. The Prince decides to go and save the princess. He braves the tall trees and enters the castle, he crosses the sleeping castle folk and comes across the chamber where the Princess lies asleep on a bed. Struck by the radiant beauty in front of her, he falls on his knees before her and kisses her.

The enchantment comes to an end, the Princess awakens and after few days the two get married.

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Some perspectives on storytelling

In a November’ post, I talked about storytelling, reporting also some technical issue on the dynamic of stories and on their success.

I want to go back to storytelling and talk about some video and articles I had the occasion to go through during the Christmas holidays.

If you search for “storytelling TEDx” on youtube, you will find tons of video focusing on different aspects of storytelling and, more in general, on the power of stories. So, you will find video talking about the politics, the marketing, the nature, the technology of stories and even more.

One of the TEDx I liked most on storytelling has been the one of Andrea Gibbs, titled “The power of storytelling“. It actually does not go too much in details of what is storytelling, its dynamics or what makes storytelling a powerful tool. Indeed, in the video, Andrea Gibbs make us understand the power of storytelling simply by telling us a personal story and focusing on the importance and the beauty for people to have a story to tell to other people. In this sense, stories becomes a driver for social interaction and for shaping our personality in our daily lives.

Another TEDx talk I liked a lot, is the one of Zach King. In this TEDx, Zach King makes a reflection on the power of new technologies applied to storytelling, focusing on the fact that nowadays you don’t need to be a successful film maker, journalist, musician, etc. to build a story and communicate it in an effective way to a huge amount of people. What fascinated me most about this video was the tacit reference to a change in the paradigm of who is the consumer and who is the producer of stories in the public sphere.

Changing the scale of the focus on storytelling, I chanced upon two opposite perspectives on the “systemic” (and not “individual”) value of storytelling that I think deserve a combined view.
In a first video, Dave Lieber explains the structure of stories, thought to engage scientifically people, and the educative power of this structure that include not only success but also failure. I found this video very interesting, also thanks to the capacity of Lieber to hold the attention of the audience. Anyway, I found the title of the video (“The power of storytelling to change the world”) a bit exaggerated and I started thinking that I could have found anybody expressing a not only enthusiast position on storytelling.

So I started searching for it, and I found a video by Tyler Cowen called “Be suspicious of stories“. I found it extremely interesting, because it represented a different voice, that allert us also on the risks of stories. Indeed, he makes us think about the fact that storytelling creates order tries to put complexity in a predefined scheme without always being able to respect the messy aspect of our lives. When talking about simplification, Cowen does not say that stories do not have an individual and social function and that they should disappear, but he simply highlight some critical points of something that is becoming always more used in different public and private domains of our lives and that we should take into consideration.
But the most interesting critical TEDx talk about storytelling I found, is the one of Sinonke Msimang, titled “If a story moves you, act on it“. Sinonke Msimang links storytelling with social justice issue and analyze better the relation between storytelling and facts. What i really liked most is the effort made to change the focus from the tool itself to the story and the people that are telling it and listening to it. Finally, I was amazed by the constructive and proactive exhortation toward the necessity of getting passionate with stories and use it to act and “to look closely at the present you are constructing” to help us in building the future that we are dreaming.

p.s. If interested in some articles about storytelling written by some Italians looking also at the Italian situation, I found extremely interesting two articles: a first one is written by a collective laboratory of writing and journalism called MAZ Project and you can read it here; a second one published on De Biase’s blog that talks about the relation between storytelling and history and you can find it here.

Reflections on Wikipedia community

Some days ago I uploaded my first Wikipedia page online.

As many of us, I often use Wikipedia to have information about the many thing that I don’t know – from the most silly curiosity to important concept useful for my study or job – but I have to admit that I always gave for granted the community dynamics of the page and the revolutionary nature of wiki-processes.

Writing for the first time for Wikipedia was not so easy and, given my proud and touchy personality, I immediately though about the fact that anybody could come and change my text and that I would have not had the authorship of my contents. Anyway, I remained extremely fascinate about what I learned and experienced with the uploading of my first page.

What fascinate me most about Wikipedia community is that it has strict rules but that at the same time it is extremely revolutionary, especially in terms of power distribution. Horizontal power distribution immediately canceled my necessity to hold the authorship of the uploaded content and the actual reward of my action did not come from the action per-se but actually from the process.

Indeed, the reaction of the community to the upload of my page was immediate: I just had to wait 5 minutes to see the first changes in my contribution. The changes has been extremely pertinent and the community helped me in producing a more precise and organised page. In particular the community helped me in structuring the page -moving some citations in a different section – and in adapting my bibliography to Wikipedia standards. All the process has been fast, never chaotic or too much time-consuming.

Another thing that extremely interested me is the scheme of incentives and persuasive tools that Wikipedia creates to reduce the possible level of frustration that could hit the user when seeing that its contents were considered imperfect or controversial. I could notice a real effort to keep the community alive and to try to find an equilibrium between the necessity to guarantee an high-level service and inclusiveness. In this sense, after having received changes and comments of the community, I also received an invitation to keep on working and contributing to the community and to not give up if in a first moment the page wasn’t perfect.

I also changed my opinion on the reward scheme that Wikipedia implies. If it is true that on Wikipedia people cannot detain authorship,  what is not true is that they are not rewarded for their work. Even in this case Wikipedia opens communication challenges with its users in a way that they always receive a feedback for their actions. This is extremely important to keep the community alive and inclusive and it is a reward scheme that substitutes “ownership” with “presence” and “acknowledgement”.

Between the rewards that Wikipedia offers its users, it is necessary to add also “collaboration”. Indeed, on the one hand, users have the occasion to improve their knowledge in the same moment that they are producing it and on the other they can experience co-production logic. In this sense, there was no better moment in my life in which I could understood what is a common good and why is it so important to think about different schemes of governance of this kind of goods.

For a more in-depth analysis on some aspects of Wikipedia community I suggest the readying of the paper by Forte, A., & Bruckman, A. (2005). “Why do people write for Wikipedia? Incentives to contribute to open–content publishing”

p.s. This first experience as a producer on Wikipedia fostered in me a more general curiosity about all wiki processes and their scalability. Surfing around in the internet to know more about these themes I found a very interesting TEDx conversation by Alberto Cottica about Wiki processes and public policies.

Cottica’s point of view on Wikipedia community and its model is extremely creative and inspiring and I recommend everybody to see it and to consult also Cottica’s book “Wikicrazia“.

My first Wikipedia page

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Some days ago I had the occasion to write my fist contribution for the Wikipedia community (here you can find it).

I wrote about “Giardino dei Ciucioi”, a pensile garden located in my hometown, Lavis.

I chose this topic since I am emotionally bond to the garden and because I find it extremely fascinating. In fact, my grandmother lives nearby the garden and it is a constant memory in my childhood, even if it hadn’t been open to the public for a long time. Moreover, in my hometown, there are a lot of legends about the garden and its ancient owner, Tommaso Bortolotti. For example, some people say that the garden was a place in which Masonic ceremony used to take place and that also in its architecture we can find symbols of the fraternal organisation. Another legend tells that after a lot of years passed constructing the garden, Bortolotti died in the act of attaching a clock on the main façade of the garden. This was supposed to be the last element of the intere building.

These elements also linked to the fact that the garden was recently re-opened to the public and that it is becoming a very important cultural attraction able to foster a sense of affinity and pride in my hometown.

Since the monument and its history are encyclopedic items, my page was accepted and I am thinking about posting it on the Facebook group “Il paese di Lavis”, to encourage people to contribute and enrich with details and curiosities the page and to know more about the garden!