Collective Narrative

Every morning, like a song stuck on repeat, the first thing I do is to reach for my iPhone. On September 11th I was going to reflect on the actions that occurred ten years prior whether I wanted to or not. My CNN app told me so…before I had even brushed my teeth.

It was going to be a heavy day. This assignment required public reflection on my experiences relating to September 11 and I wasn’t going to be able to ease into it.

I live in California and began the assignment three hours behind most of you.  As I acclimated to the 911 twitter feed I automatically felt behind.  I was reading posts by Brittany, Rachel and Randall that listed specific times. They recalled where they were at specific moments 10 years ago.

“Sitting in my 7th grade class 10 years ago today at 9:03 am. I remember watching the second plane hit the tower on TV” 

“10 yrs ago I was sitting in class. Teacher got a phone call and put on the TV-watched the towers fall in silence”

“10 years ago watching Aaron Brown on CNN narrating the falling crush of the towers. It was completely unreal.”

“I remember watching the events on TV unfold, while holding on to my one-year-old. I didn’t want to let her go.”

Seeing these precise memories made me stop and reflect. Where was I? What was doing at that time? But it felt funny. It was three hours earlier in San Diego so it didn’t feel legit.

When I couldn’t add to the majority, I started to deflate like air seeping out of a tire. I wondered, would I be the tweet that through the whole narrative off-balance or out of whack?

I steered away from writing about my thoughts throughout my morning because everyone else was half way through their day.  I was clearly altering my participation and felt iffy about it. Then I remembered Ascott. He said that problems of uncertainty instability arise in the relationship of the reader and the artist because “telematic art meaning is not something created by the artist, distributed  through the network, and received by the observer.  [Instead the] meaning is the product of interaction between the observer and the system” (Ascott 308).

This was happening and I was feeling uncertain.

As the day continued I began to see the depth the different time zones, neighborhoods and ages brought to the narrative. It was interesting to see images of New York and Ground zero side by side with images from DC, Seattle, PA, etc. I wondered how the beach towns of San Diego would compare. In true Cali style, they did not disappoint with tribute in Cardiff by the Sea.

Reading the different perspectives did add to my experience of 9/11. As Ascott suggested, creative writing has become more participatory because we are no longer just receiving content. We are creating own content after interacting with what came before, distributing the content again and eventually transforming to the surface for other users (Ascott 311).  I noted some similarities between the process of distributed authorship and our assignment. For example in our 9/11 twitter feed one person would begin with a post and or photo, and several others not knowing what would proceed them, would continue it. Each person participating could read the latest additions to the narrative and add to it—with all participants receiving updates on their feeds. In this way, the narrative was continuously supplemented with unpredictable twists that produced something that could not have been obtained by any single person. This project demonstrates Ascott’s goal of creating a field of consciousness that is greater than the sum of its parts.

I was drawn to the images throughout the day. A good image tells a thousand words, right? This got me thinking about Baurdillard. He said that an image captures the event, and at the same time glorifies it. He continues to argue that “there is no good usage of the media, the media are part of the event, they are part of the terror and they are part of the game in one way or another” (p.4).

If you agree with his perspective then you probably agree that the media drew more attention to the terrorist associated with 9/11 and in a way, furthered the terrorists’ cause. It’s what Baurdillard refers to as a symbolic act. It seemingly achieves one thing on the surface–informing the public about a significant event–and achieves something else entirely at the same time, whether intentional or unintentional.

Wast this assignment a symbolic act? We added attention to 9/11 and the acts of terrorism…and we were now trending in DC on Twitter.

Opinions aside, the question has been posed: are collective narratives the storytelling of the future? The explosion of social media combined with our busy schedules and short attention spans, seemed to create the perfect trifecta when it comes to distributed authorship. This assignment did show me that the sum can be much greater than its parts.


About charlottecosgrove

Disclaimer:this blog has been created as an educational exercise for my graduate coursework at John's Hopkins University
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