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Narrative new media ecosystems pata

This paper describes an ecological approach to new media narratives. The paper will appear in italian in Media Mutations conference proceedings book.

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Narrative new media ecosystems pata

  1. 1. Narratives as spatial stories in hybrid ecosystemKai PataTallinn University, Center for Educational Technologyemail: kpata@tlu.ee1. IntroductionThe rapid outburst of various kinds of mutually interconnected productive social media toolsusable for lifelogging with mobile devices has created a possibility for initiating narratives asconsumer-evolved hybrid ecosystems around popular books, TV-series, cartoons etc. Doyleand Kim (2007) wrote in “Embodied narrative: the virtual nomad and the meta-dreamer”:"as we now live in multiple realities, as we now occupy multiple spaces, our cultural dream-pool will soon include the very real, or lived, experiences of embodiment in virtual worlds,and in turn, new narratives will emerge." Henry Jenkins (2007) suggested in his blog postabout transmedia storytelling that influential stories provide a set of roles and goals whichreaders can assume as they enact aspects of the story through their everyday life. The books,films, and commercially created transmedia narratives lead consumers into the distributedstory world, where different media formats enable to grasp and add different dimensions tothe story. For the narrative fragments created by the readers with social media the wordextension is used, because these enable to extend the stories. In this paper I argue thatnarrative extensions are spatially used for personal placement in the hybrid narrativeecosystem, since audiences want to be immersed into the storyworld to participate and feelpart of it. I will conceptualize narratives as geo- and onto-spatially located story prototypesthat people use for their placement in the hybrid ecosystem and for seeking or creating theoptimal interaction possibilities with it.The concepts and principles of ecology, such as ecosystem, have been used in differentsubject areas – information and knowledge management, media, digital system design,learning and semiotics – to study how the mediating environments, the information/contentsof messages and the users’ perception and action are mutually interrelated. In this article Iwill introduce some ecological concepts and principles that may be useful in hybrid narrativeecosystems and discuss how the spatial format of narratives is created and supported byhybrid narrative ecosystem, and which narrative activities does it allow.2. The Shadow of the Wind Case in new media environmentsIn order to interrelate the ecology concepts with the situations in narrative hybrid ecosystem,I will use The Shadow of the Wind Case description: There is an imaginary “community” ofusers from different geographical locations in new media environments, who are notpersonally acquainted to each other but they all are attracted by one particular “story“ – basedon the book „The Shadow of the Wind“ by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. The website of the book offersan annotated intinerary on the google-map to visit the geographical locations of the book inBarcelona (http://www.carlosruizzafon.co.uk/shadow-walk.html). However, the book has notbeen deliberately created as a commercial transmedia narrative which targets proactive newmedia consumers. Yet, in the book Zafon has written lines that very well illustrate the idea,how narratives are empowered by readers: “Every book, every volume you see here, has asoul. The soul of the person who wrote it, and of those who read it and lived and dreamedwith it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages,its spirit grows and strengthens.” These story-fans that in this case empower the book arefamiliar with and use actively various types of new media environments, such as Twitter,Instagram, Statigram, Tumbrl, etc. In all of these environments, the “digital services” like tag,hashtag and geotag; push and pull; mash and embed; share, follow and like may be used insuch a way that the media contents initially uploaded by one user in one of these
  2. 2. environments can be viewed in many different locations and ways, for example situated onthe maps by geotags, filtered by certain meaning-associated tags and hashtags, woven intosome narratives by embedding, mashing or remixing. With the activation of certain services,each user has combined a specific personal narrative environment to aid his productivestorytelling activities with the self-created or found media contents associated in a personallymeaningful way with that “story”. For example, they can take pictures, write impressions,annotate and tag the contents, modify the original, self-created or found “story” contents,remix contents and share them. These users, the new media environments and thegeographical locations of users and the “story”, as well as, the media contents associated withthat “story” form the hybrid narrative ecosystem of „The Shadow of the Wind“.3. Ecology of narratives in The Shadow of the Wind ecosystemNext, my intention is to find analogies between ecology concepts and principles and thenarrative storytelling of The Shadow of the Wind Case. Ecology as a discipline deals withdifferent levels of structural elements of ecosystems, both biotic and abiotic. Note that thereis no consistency in literature what to consider as biotic and abiotic factors in digitalenvironments – users, media content, technology and services have all been classified as“living” species or as part of the abiotic environment. In ecology the biotic factors areorganized in a set of entities grouped in a growing complexity order: individual organism,species, population, community and ecosystem. The sub-disciplines of ecology deal withthese complexity levels, therefore, I will introduce the concepts in association with them.Behavioral ecology focuses on the communicative interactions of individual organisms ofthe animal species with variable phenotypes and behavior. Individual organisms haveawareness and they interact, communicate, move, reproduce, and die while living in certainconditions and environments. Depending on these interactions the fitness – the extent towhich an organism is adapted to cope in the particular environment – is determined.Adaptability is the extent how much a system (organism, population, species) is fit to theenvironment where it functions and it is measured with its ability to stay alive and reproduce.Individual organisms are self-directed – they operate for their own benefit or profit. Theycompete with other organisms from this or from other species for limited resources.We may consider several types of “digital organisms” in narrative ecosystems such as digitalmedia contents, digital tools and services for narrative production, and the produsers. Theproduser term is associated with the ‘produsage’ concept introduced by Bruns (2008).‘Produsage’ concept combines users’ production and consumption as inseparable of eachother in the surrounding environment. Digitally we can limit the produsers to these users whohave created accounts for produsage in new media environments, since only they can interactwith the described hybrid ecosystem. Each element of the narrative created/used by produsermay be considered as a specimen of the symbiotic “digital organism”, consisting of aproduser-created media element and some produser-activated services of digital tools. Forexample, a produser has visited a location from the “story”, taken a picture with Instagram,added the geotag and the hashtags of the “story” and some other personally meaningfulhashtags as well, pushed this image to Twitter with a tweet (see Fig. 1, left), or embedded itto his Tumblr blog story and Tweeted about it (see Fig. 1, right).
  3. 3. Figure 1. The story elements from Twitter represent symbiotic produser-activated organismsfrom „the Embodied Place“ and „the Creation“ species, which are composed of contents andservices that give the variability to these organisms withn the species.These “digital organisms” have variability in characteristics and behavior due to theprodusers’ intentions, perceptions and cultural belonging. They may have some awareness ofother narrative story elements for example by tags, hashtag; by geotags and web address; theyare inhabiting certain geographical and virtual locations; they may interact with othernarrative story elements in these locations of the habitat, for example by embed and mashservices; they may migrate from one location to another for example by push and pullservices; in different locations they may have different ability to reproduce, and be modifieddepending of the software platform possibilities and user habits in the communities; they mayhave a different life-span in these environments, for example at Twitter wall the “digitalorganisms” might die sooner than in Tumblr, since the use of hashtagging habit that allowsfiltering and reuse is culturally weaker. The variability is associated with different fitness ofthose narrative story elements in different surroundings of the hybrid narrative system.One communication-based phenomenon described by behavioral ecology is swarming(Bonabeau, Dorigo & Theraulaz, 1999) that is a self-organized behavior where localinteractions between decentralized organisms of some species can create complex organizedbehavior. Individuals in swarms have ecological relations to the collective. They maintaintheir individuality and viability in case if the collective swarm intelligence and viabilityemerges (Sauter, Matthews, Parunak, van Dyke & Brueckner, 2005). In a swarm everyindividual organism is only responsible for its individual actions, but the actions all togethercause shared intelligence to emerge. Swarming is based on mutual awareness andcommunicative acts between organisms, either on direct real-time signals or on the signalsthat are offloaded to the environment using it as a shared memory. Reading swarm signalsfrom the environment and directly from the swarm members enables organisms to maintainindividual wellbeing and accommodate themselves to be fit. Such swarming systems canaccomplish global tasks and form complex patterns through simple local interactions ofautonomous organisms.For example in hybrid narrative systems we may consider communicative interactionsbetween active produsers such as requesting, informing and sharing (Tomasello, 2008)narrative story elements to be used for initiating the swarming of narrative story elements.Each narrative story element, created and activated by produsers as part of their narrative
  4. 4. activities around the “story”, can stay tuned to the local and global surroundings and the othernarrative story elements currently alive in the hybrid narrative system (for example bycommunicative signals of tags and hash- and geotags), and this may cause swarmingphenomena to appear in meaningful places of the virtual or geographical locations.For instance, if a narrative element associated with the “story” is tagged, hash- or geotaggedin Tumblr or Instagram, these may be accumulated and found by many produsers using tagsas signals inspiring the other produsers to create similar elements. The swarm signaling byaccumulated tags in the hybrid narrative system is a self-organized process, in which sometags will perish since they are rarely used and others may survive since being frequentlyadded by many produsers. The swarming that appears due to real time awareness of narrativeelements may be found more in the environments that use the flow, such as Twitter.Figure 2. The variations of “ the Quote” species from Instagram, Tumbrl and Twitter habitats.Population ecology deals with the populations of organisms of species. It focuses on thedependence of individual organisms on the other organisms in the population of species, aswell as on their dependence on the informational connections between individual organismsin the populations. Population ecology uses the concepts of variability, abundance, densityand the distribution of individual organisms within one population and within one species incertain habitats. Species is an abstraction for the class of organisms, having some commonqualities, characteristics and behavior and ability to give offspring. Species exists in time as arange of qualities, characteristics and behaviors inherited or learned from those individualorganisms that were fit to the living conditions.For instance, in hybrid narrative systems tags and hashtags may describe the qualities of thenarrative story elements; the services, which are used for sharing these story elements allowcertain behaviors for the story elements; and produsers’ interaction with these contents allowsthem to be multiplied and modified in different new media environments. In The Shadow ofthe Wind ecosystem the following species could be empirically found by labelling the themesthat reappeared in different media environments: “the Book”, “the Reader”, “the Author”,“the Illustration” (see Figure 1), “the Quote” (see Figure 2), “the Caption”, “the EmbodiedPlace” (see Figures 1 and 3) and “the Embodied Action”.In narrative ecosystems the species may be discovered either by inductive or deductive way.In the inductive analysis the emergent content categories may be disovered as memes orpatterns and labelled as species as was done in this paper. In the deductive analysis one mayalso look for certain pre-defined expected species that are related with the initial story. Thatmay be useful, if one is interested in investigating how a certain narrative or transmedianarrative with its complex characters, roles, activities, visuals, language, concepts etc. mightinfluence the produsers. For example the character of Julian Carax and the Father’s BookShop (it was classified and generalised as „the Place“ species) seemed to be inspiring theprodusers in the Shadow of the Wind ecosystem. However, in this paper it was not aimed todemonstrate what characteristics of the original book might have evoked the produsers tocontribute to The Shadow of The Wind ecosystem. To see how the original book, hasinvolved different produsers to create „the Quote“ species an interested reader might for
  5. 5. example compare the frequencies of most popular quotes, such as “Books are mirrors: youonly see in them what you already have inside you.” appearing in Twitter, Tumbrl andInstagram, or see the quote’s qualitative transmutations as Figure 2 demonstrated and positwhich of these organisms of the same species might survive longer (be liked and shared byother produsers) in the narrative ecosystem.Figure 3. The examples of “the Embodied Place” species from Twitter (left) and Tumbrl(right) habitats.Each species uses a particular niche – this concept denotes the abstract range of biotic andabiotic conditions that enable the fitness of the organisms of this species. The niche may bevisualized as a n-dimensional space (Hutchinson, 1957). While niche is an abstractconceptualization what the species would need for fitness, a habitat is a distinct part of thereal environment, a place where an organism or a biological population normally lives oroccurs and can be most likely to be found.For example, the “story” images with different hashtags in Instagram can create an abstractmeaning-space, an ontospace defined by their basic categories of being – this may beconsidered the niche for the “story” image species (see Fig. 6), whereas different geotagsallow marking the geographic range, which is virtually enriched with Instagram “story”images and all together forms the hybrid space of the habitat (see Fig. 4).Figure 4. A hybrid location The Calle de la Princesa in the The Shadow of the Windecosystem.Population is a group of individuals from the species occupying a certain habitat in a certainarea. Populations have the ability for homeostasis that is keeping the population density
  6. 6. within certain ranges independent of environmental disturbances in this area. For example,the population of “story” images from “the Quote” species may inhabit Instagram, Tumbrland Twitter, but the distribution and density of these populations is different – in Twitter it isthe lowest since it is a habitat that favors the compressed tweets by default and only theaddress of the image appears in the initial tweet, also migrating the images (pushing fromInstagram) requires an extra effort. The textual quotes are more competitive (take less effortto create and remix) than those that are illustrated with the image of the quote. The organismsin a population that are physically situated close-by can influence each other more frequently,intensively and many-sided ways. For example, when a produser is sorting the narrativeelements into feeds by tags and hashtags, the similar contents are mashed and appear closeby(see Figure 5), and it becomes possible noticing different species of that story and the internalvariety.Figure 5. Filtering the “story” images species community in the narrative ecosystem with thehashtag #carlosruizsafon enables the produser to: grasp the most catching aspects of “TheShadow of The Wind”; see the variability within different story-species for inspiration;deduce the fitness of story element species in this ecosystem by their frequence of usage;evoke to contribute either an innovative way or by adding some similar content that in turnmight fuel swarming.Populations are unable to reproduce themselves if the density of organisms in this area staysbelow the critical level. To keep optimal density populations use different strategies, such asthe formation of various aggregations. The Instagram habitat allows the critical mass of the“story” images for their wellbeing. Since the “story” images are distributed by hashtags intodifferent sub-niches in the meaning-space the co-existence of different viewpoints to the“story” – in the same habitat might become possible (see Fig. 6).
  7. 7. Figure 6. The meaning niche of The Shadow of the Wind composed by plotting the ofInstagram hashtags as the multi-dimensional space differentiates the more popular attractionareas in the meaning niche. “The Embodied Place”, “the Book”, “the Caption” and “theQuote” species in narrative ecosystem may be considered as the spatial story prototypes.We may also say that different habitats of Instagram, Twitter and Tumbrl contain somesimilar niche dimensions that allow the “story” images to inhabit these spaces (for examplethe hastags #carlosruiszafon; #theshadowofthewind). Populations grow rapidly only if thereare many resources available and their growth decreases when the resources become scare.Resources are part of the abiotic elements in ecosystems and I will discuss what might be theabiotic parts in hybrid narrative ecosystems further on.Different species use different population strategies: a) the opportunistic (r-strategy)populations prevail in changing environmental conditions that allow rapid population growth,short and one-time lifecycles and no care for offspring. In this sense Twitter as the produser-awareness based storytelling environment favors the r-strategy for narrative contents: thecontents have a viral ability to spread, but they disappear quickly from the flow and they arenot taken care of (e.g. edited). The stabile (k-strategy) populations invest more energy ontheir few offspring. For example, Tumbrl and Instagram enable k-strategy populations ofstory elements, in which the contents are well edited and annotated with tags and hashtags,which allows better sharing, reuse and multiplication.A recent literature in evolutionary theory emphasizes the idea of niche construction as anecological factor (Odling-Smee, Laland & Feldman, 2003) stressing the two legacies thatorganisms inherit from their ancestors, genes and a modified environment (an ecologicalinheritance) with its associated selection pressures. They argue, that organisms have aprofound effect on the very environment as a feedback loop, which must persist for longenough, and with enough local consistency, to be able to have an evolutionary effect.As an analogy, for any narrative story element the niche as its meaning-space is determinedby all the specimen that the produsers activated and tagged. Specimen of the narrative storyelements need to adapt to the niche, but also create and modify this niche and the species’conceptualization of that kind of narrative story elements. In hybrid narrative systems the tag-based information of the meanings of the produser-activated narrative story elements can beaccumulated as an ecological inheritance into the meaning niche for a story, which may beused for the narrative swarming.
  8. 8. The community ecology focuses on the coexisting communities of species (note that theconcept is different from what is a community of people), their composition, interactions,organization and succession, as well as, on the trophic flows from autotrohic to heterotrophicspecies. A community is a temporary coalition of naturally occurring group of populationsfrom different species that live together in the same habitat interacting with each other andwith the environment. For example we may describe a trophic flow analogy of pushing the“story” images from Instagram to Tumbrl or Twitter (see Fig 1, right). In this case the initialimage created in Instagram may be seen as an autotrophic organism, whereas the blog-post ortweet with the image from Instagram is like the heterotophic organism that needs the trophicflow from Instagram. However, the blog-posts and tweets without images in Twitter andTumbrl may be considered autotrohic organisms, and are situated at the beginning of thefood-chains.Important characteristics of the sustainable community are the diversity of species within thecommunity, their connectedness and aggregation, the resource-sharing interactions betweenspecies such as antagonism (the existence of one species excludes the existence of otherspecies), competition (mediated suppression between species), and mutualisms that areassociated with energy and matter exchanges (including parasitism, symbiosis,commensalism) as well as communicative interactions between species. Competition hasbeen viewed as one of the strongest and most pervasive forces in community ecology,responsible for the evolution of many characteristics of organisms. The results of between-species competition are mutualisms (symbiosis, parasitism). Previously I have described thewithin-species competition in Twitter among the textual and illustrated „the Quote“ species.Within-species competition causes territorial or aggregated distribution that in one handstrengthens competition and induces hierarchies but on the other hand it also increases communication, learning from each other, and may promote the suitable microclimate for narrators.Different species of The Shadow of the Wind ecosystem seem to have different frequency,which may be associated with general storytelling habits associated with book-narratives –there are many organisms that belong to „the Quote“ or to „the Book“ species, however „theEmbodied Place“ and „Embodied Action“ appear rarely. Therefore, it may be predicted thatprodusers in the hybrid narrative „story“ ecosystem cannot be easily engaged to embodiedaction in geographical locations unless the density of such offloaded story pierces increases.The ecosystem ecology deals with the trophic relations – the energy and matter flow inecosystem. The transformations of matter and energy are mediated through the functions andbehaviors of living organisms and abiotic components. The basic principle of ecology is thatin natural systems the resources are limited by abiotic factors and biotic species’ role is tocompose, exchange, accumulate and decompose energy and matter. In order to understandbetter the abiotic resource-based interactions between narrative species at least two abioticfactors should be determined: the energy and the matter. In hybrid narrative ecosystems it ispossible to use attention of produsers as one of the analogues of energy, and the createdmeanings, emotions and actions may be suitable for the analogy of matter. Different narrativespecies need the use produser-attention to stay alive, reproduce and participate in thecomposition, exchange, accumulation and decomposition of the “story” meanings, evokingthe produsers’ emotions and actions in the hybrid narrative ecosystem.Ecosystem ecology assumes that trophic relations between species within ecosystem allowthe one-directional flow of energy and matter through the ecosystem. The direction of theflow along the trophic chains is directed from lower autotrophic organism levels (that areable to assemble energy into the energy rich products) towards heterotrophic organisms (thatneed energy-rich products to exist) to those that dissemble matter and free the energy. The
  9. 9. temporal deposition of energy-rich products may also remove them from the ecosystem flowsfor some time periods. The permeability of a natural ecosystem to flow energy and materialswill depend on the nature of the architecture of the components of the system, theconnections in the trophic chains and the side-paths and hubs in the trophic web andcharacteristics of individual species. Secondly, the individuals within one species andbetween the species interact with each other and these interactions impact on the energy flow.Productivity is the ability of systems (such as populations, ecosystems) to accumulate energyin matter in time, and this concept may be used for comparing the systems.The different produser-activated narrative story elements may have variety of tag, hashtagand geotag-based connections between them as well as there are connections betweenprodusers and between narrative habitats that are made by mashing, embedding, pulling andpushing services. All these connections provide the connectivity for narrative ecosystem. Theproduser attention (=energy) allows transforming provided information at separate narrativeelements (=matter) into meanings, emotions and actions (=matter). The narrative flow iscreated around the “story” which is fuelled by producers’ attention and which has several by-products, that may be accumulated to the hybrid narrative ecosystem and further used assignals for narrative activities (as was described in marrative swarming).4. Spatiality of narrative ecosystemsSpatiality is a key concept in hybrid narrative ecosystems. The unitedness of two spaces (theniche and habitat) into a hybrid narrative ecosystem – allows produsers‘ movement acrossvirtual-, geographical- and meaning-locations, initiating the redefinition of these locationsbased on storytelling (e.g. Barcelona as #thecityofshadows), and enables interaction andcommunication between the produsers and the story-elements that they create. Being in ageographical location (e.g. in old town of Barcelona) a produser can explore the meaningniche that augments it, discover different attractive areas in the meaning niche related withthat location by other narrators (e.g. #love, #erotic, #tragic, #time, #mysterious, #thrilling,#shadow), and view the story elements situated in the virtual locations, which try to competeor cooperate with each other in order to capture produsers‘ attention. The produser canassociate his new story element with one or many of these places in the meaning-niche,adding particular (hash)tags. When certain meanings are frequently used the story-elementsaccumulate, increasing the produser-attraction to certain meaning-places and shaping theniche, which in turn influences, which properties of the story elements may give advantagesfor survival. Any attractive meaning-dimension in the meaning-niche representation(#theshadowofthewind) may be used to discover other geographical or virtual locationsassociated with the same meaning, and it can direct produsers from one geographical location(e.g. La Rambla, Tibitabo in Barcelona at Fig. 6) or virtual location to another. Emotional oraction potentialities (see Fig. 3) may appear in the virtual or geographical locations of thenarrative ecosystem due to the meaning-niche tags. Discovering the similarly-minded peoplemay be promoted as well.Characteristic to the hybrid narrative ecosystem are the produser-created proactive story-elements – the extensions – with different characteristics and fitness that inhabit particularvirtual or real locations with suitable meaning-niches. Storytelling in spatial mode is creatingand revisiting meaningful places in the hybrid narrative ecosystem as a self-directed activityfor personal placement. The feedback-loop to and from the ecosystem is created by produser-participation in the composition and adaptation of the meaning-niches and habitats. Thestories appear as a result of accumulated swarming activities of many produsers and may bedescribed as abstract story-species, which are adapted to and fit to certain attraction areas inthe hybrid ecosystem space. For instance, one may conceptualize these story-species asmemes. These story-species have trophic and communicative connections with each other
  10. 10. that channel the narrative flows in hybrid ecosystem and cause the productivity of narrativeecosystems. An emergent narrative flow that crosses attractive story-places may becomedetectable only in time and may reveal the causal storylines as patterns of shared mind, whichappear due to self-regulated processes in the hybrid narrative ecosystem.5. ConclusionsThis paper discussed the possibilities of using ecology concepts for investigating narrativephenomena in new media environments. Particularly the hybrid narrative The Shadow of TheWind ecosystem was investigated with the focus of produser-created contents. The spacelimits of this paper inhibited to take an insight, which elements of the initial story in the bookwritten by Zafon, and in what way, might have influenced the produsers in developing certainstory-pierces in this ecosystem. It might be a subject of future studies how a novel or acomplex transmedia narrative as an ecosystem itself may function, and how it might beextended by produsers’ storytelling activities. This paper suggested that narrative ecosystemscould be studied at different ecosystem levels to reveal the spatiality of narratives and well asthe narrative flows in such ecosystems. Considering the spatiality of narratives enablesdesigning story elements that are fit to the transmedia ecosystem networks and may initiatefandom interactions with the stories for expanding the ecosystem.ReferencesBonabeau, E., Dorigo, M., & Theraulaz, G. (1999). Swarm Intelligence: From Natural to Artificial Systems, Oxford.Bruns, A. (2008). Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond: From Production to Produsage. Peter Lang, New York.Doyle, D., Kim, T. (2007). Embodied narrative: The virtual nomad and the meta dreamer. International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media, 3 (2), 209-223.Hutchinson, G.E. (1957). Concluding remarks. Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology, 22, 145–159.Jenkins, H. (2007). Transmedia storytelling 101. URL: http://henryjenkins.org/2007/03/transmedia_storytelling_101.htmlOdling-Smee, F.J., Laland, K.N., & Feldman, M.W. (2003). Niche Construction: The Neglected Process in Evolution. Monographs in Population Biology, 37, Princeton University Press.Sauter, J. A., Matthews, R., Parunak H. Van Dyke, & Brueckner, S. A. (2005). Performance of Digital Pheromones for Swarming Vehicle Control URL: http://www.newvectors.net/staff/parunakv/AAMAS05SwarmingDemo.pdfTomasello, M. (2008). The Origins of Human Communication. Cambridge, MA; London, England: MIT Press.