Terence Blacker: Only one person is writing this – me

The creation of a story is not a team event. The author is in charge

Share
Related Topics

When even the film industry begins to worry about our ability to concentrate, it is time to start worrying. Identifying what he calls a "snack-culture sensibility", David Kirkpatrick, the former president of Paramount Pictures, has announced a joint venture with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to look at what happens to stories in our restless, digital age.

"How do we make meaningful entertainment for people who cannot focus?" Kirkpatrick asks, launching what will be called The Center for Future Storytelling. "I find I look at a movie now as opposed to feeling it and skim a book rather than read it."

Unusually for a movie executive, this man is saying something rather important. Indeed, it may be more than the making of meaningful entertainment which is now being challenged by the crazed acceleration in the way we acquire and process information.

As a culture, we suffer from attention deficit disorder. The business of reading – not merely catching the author's drift and then moving on, but enjoying the prose, allowing the imagination to be caught up in the narrative – has become tougher than it once was, so habituated are our brains to skittering across the surface of things.

Even watching TV, which rarely requires much concentration, is now a fretful, channel-switching activity; to our fidgety modern natures, it somehow feels more productive to sample several programmes rather than surrender entirely to one.

The MIT project will be looking at ways to revolutionise storytelling so that it will become "more interactive, improvisational and social". Researchers will explore ways in which audiences of the future will not merely read or watch stories, but will participate in them.

So it is not merely a question of the modern brain becoming more easily bored. The key words here are "participate", "interactive" and "social", and they are not as warm, fuzzy and harmless as they may appear.

A crazed form of democracy, born of moral relativism and new technology, is on the march. At its best, it can be refreshingly egalitarian. On YouTube, the clip of a famous singer appears beside that of someone singing the famous singer's song in his bedroom. Blogging gives a voice to millions. The chance to tell stories online has released a muddy torrent of fiction.

But participants quickly develop a taste for power; interactivity is voracious. Now that some reality TV shows have become joint ventures between those making them and those watching them and voting, anything, as we have recently seen, can happen.

The telling of stories is different. Intrinsically anti-democratic, it requires the suspension of disbelief, a willing surrender of the imagination, from its audience. Stories can go in all sorts of odd directions, but one thing never changes. It is not a team event. The author is in charge.

It is tempting but utterly wrong-headed for film companies and publishers to play lip-service to a brave new interactive world in which everyone is a participant and the most important aspect of any project is that it is a shared social experience.

The point of a story (and even of an essay or written argument) is that it is the product one imagination, one brain. When that quirky, unpredictable process is surrendered in favour of a misguided form of people power, what is produced quickly loses what had made it worth reading, listening to, or watching – its individuality.

terblacker@aol.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

QA/BA - Agile

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are currently seekin...

PPA Supply Teachers

£121 - £142 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Early Years, KS1 & 2 Prima...

Primary Supply Teacher

£121 - £142 per annum: Randstad Education Luton: Early Years, KS1 & 2 Prim...

Primary Supply Teacher

£121 - £142 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Primary supply teacher Hertford...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Ebola virus in the US: How did the disease ever spread this far?

Sophie Harman
 

The most common question I am asked is 'How do I become a YouTuber?' This is my reply

Jim Chapman
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?