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52 weeks, 52 things

I’m tired, this will make more sense tomorrow

One of the side effects (I’d call it a benefit, but I’m not convinced it is..) of being imprisoned in my own home is that I get to read the papers more carefully than I might otherwise do. On Sunday, for example, the Observer carried one piece backing up claims I make annually in a lecture (although I disagree with the opinion voiced in the final paragraph – the mouse is going nowhere), an op-ed piece about MIT, and surprisingly, a small excerpt of a larger item in their New York Times supplement.

I say surprisingly, because if you read the two pieces together, it’s clear where one of them is getting its material from. Robert McCrum takes an ill-planned hatchet to MIT’s Centre for Future Storytelling, apparently conflating it with a combined Academe – BBC – Daily Mail – Nokia-and-all-damn-newfangleddevices plot to devalue the world of books once and for all, and consign them to the scrapheap. It’s a spirited defence, but, had McCrum read anything from the CfFS itself, it would have become apparent that its also pretty redundant. From MIT:

Storytelling is at the very root of what makes us uniquely human,” said Frank Moss, Media Lab director and holder of the Jerome Wiesner Professorship of Media Arts and Sciences. “It is how we share our experiences, learn from our past, and imagine our future. But how we tell our stories depends on another uniquely human characteristic — our ability to invent and harness technology. From the printing press to the Internet, technology has given people new ways to tell their stories, allowing them to reach new levels of creativity and personal fulfillment. The shared vision of the MIT Media Lab and Plymouth Rock Studios allows us to take the next quantum leap in storytelling, empowering ordinary people to connect in extraordinary ways.

Other than the usual gaffe about quantum leaps (which, I believe, are leaps so small that they cannot actually be measured), that’s pretty sound stuff. If you’re going to pretend, as McCrum seems intent on doing, that the art of storytelling hasn’t been influenced by technology, then fine, but you ought to do so from a box at Speaker’s Corner with your hair flapping in the wind, rather than in print, as print is, er, a technology harnessed in order to tells stories.

I’m not going to dwell on the end of McCrum’s rant, any more to suggest that analysing how and why something works isn’t a dirty, craven task, it’s actually quite illuminating. And you know what? It demonstrates how close in theme and structure Jaws and Beowulf actually are.

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