Everything is a Story

Guess who has two thumbs, corkscrew curly hair, tons of coffee on a daily basis, and manages to write 2520 words today for her final two chapters of her thesis? It me!

It definitely is a big deal since I could not find myself writing any long-form articles or documents of any kind with proper structure and planning for about two years (for some reasons I’d rather not disclose) so I am quite proud of myself. On top of that, I am currently still on track for thesis submission this year — and for that I am super grateful my mental and physical health, among others, have been cooperating with me this year to achieve this goal.

I came across this article today on the proliferation of vertical videos — something akin to Instagram Story — in China. China, in every aspect to me, runs things a lot differently than the rest of the world — media (both traditional and social media), commerce, politics (trails mysteriously) — and it’s interesting to find out that there is a growing number of Chinese dramas built in a vertical format to cater to the growing audience who watch dramas through smartphones.

Then there are also some instances of how big media companies would also publish their articles in the form of Story format, not on Instagram — but on their very own platform. Kottke wrote about it, along with some examples and common characteristics of this format, most prominent is the display of progress meters and navigation by swiping or tapping on the left or right side of the (vertical) screens.

Finally, there is also this brilliant article by Ian Bogost on how stories are overtaking social media. It also struck me that the fact we kept referring to this format as ‘Stories’, “a collection of images and short videos, with optional overlays and effects, that a user can add to over time, but which disappears after 24 hours” is just both smart and terrible by itself, and we attribute this to Instagram — have we referred to this format as ‘Snaps’ though, even when the fact that Snapchat practically invented it?

That name is vestigial now, because it’s only incidental that an iPhone or a Pixel is a telephone. Instead, it’s a frame that surrounds everything that is possible and knowable. A rectangle, as I’ve started calling it.

The rectangle now frames experience. Information is rectangle-shaped, retrieved from searches in Google or apps or voice assistants. Personal communication comes in the form of a list of bubbles spilling down a rectangle. The physical world can be accessed by a map scaled to the boundaries of the rectangle, which can also provide way-finding through it. Music, movies, and television appear on these screens, and increasingly there alone. The rectangle is also an imaging device, capable of capturing a view of the world in front of it and the operator behind it.

I kind of have a love and hate relationship with Instagram Story — I post often but only to selected few, but I would find myself spending hours scrolling through everyone else’s before bed. It’s terrible, I know! Not to mention it is also littered with ads with every few scrolls but I hate to think that I still continue watching the stories after dismissing them.

The liveness of smartphone-authorship, combined with the ephemerality of the Story format, makes it a catalog of the experience of holding and looking through a rectangle almost all the time.

I also definitely could relate to this decision of framing / segregation of content according to these two platforms, as I do this: properly curated content shared on (Instagram) Story, but cats cats cats on Snapchat:

The Instagram version, as my son concluded, is “about pretending you’re living a lifestyle that is so exclusive you can only get a glimpse into it for a few hours before it disappears.” On Snapchat, it’s mostly a series of personal moments for your friends.

I’m not sure where the future of content verticality is heading, or if there’s anything new coming up (there definitely is!) but it’s crazy to think that it is almost impossible for us to disengage — because there are always corporations who would find the trends useful and find ways to contain us.

Comment 1

  1. Pingback: Discarding the ephemerality – Two Kinds of Intelligence

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s