It’s the story behind the story that always intrigues me. In this way Joe Lambert (2013) tells how the Center for Digital Storytelling came to be. I liked how he started with his parents’ ideology inspiring him and ended with their continued guiding inspiration: “The hands of each of my parents sit lightly on my shoulders” (p. 36). Lambert begins chronicling this journey through his roots in the theatrical medium, one I am very familiar with, his social focus a guiding theme throughout. He then moves on to describe the influence of one man, Dana Atchley, who helped to mold the course to what we now realize as the modern global movement of Digital Storytelling.
Atchley was a visionary who seemed to be striving for something— something he couldn’t name, like some new genre of music trying to burst out of the old. A jazz voice singing out from a classical score. His voice not only wove throughout the narrative, but drove it. First he gives up corporate ties so that he could struggle to create an interactive story of his own. Seeing that process unfolded was fascinating. He started with immersing himself in the American experience for years. Then he spent a good amount of time developing and writing the “notebook” of stories compilations, like he had a sense that our nation was in some sort of historic growing pains and he was going to capture it before it disappeared. His project started out with only a projector, screen and slides, then the most important ancient element: oral tradition. Through this process we watch Next Exit develop into a multi-media video for the digital platform. To this day Dana Atchley is considered the father of digital storytelling.
One of my favorite parts of this chapter is where Lambert talks about the bardic tradition of folk songs and how digital storytelling is rooted in the “notion of a democratized culture that was the hallmark of the folk music, reclaimed folk culture, and cultural activist traditions of the 1960s” (p. 26). It captured my heart and made perfect sense to me, this new iteration of digital storytelling through voices capturing normal, beautiful, everyday life. Lambert makes the truthful contrast between that the mainstream glitzy culture of jet-setting Hollywood, and the folk tradition to “celebrate the ordinary, the common person, and their daily battles to survive and overcome” (p.27). I absolutely love this!
Another fascinating insight happened in this backstory when, as CDS was well on its way to fulfilling its purpose as a collaborative effort for the local community, Lambert had come full circle in his understanding of digital storytelling as a social tool for learning; an idea that began with his theater ventures. His workshop trainings intermingled with the corporate world successfully but still left him feeling like “the last sucker at the poker game. . .” (p.34), somewhat daft as to how to make money with his knowledge and skills in new media. You could sense deep down he was a teacher at heart and really cared about helping others express themselves through storytelling. So the alliance that came about with UC Berkeley made sense. I had a great feeling of relief when he arrived at this place as it seemed to be totally in sync with his philosophy and motivations:
“The fuel for our journey was never material, or celebrity, we run on
that wonderful feeling that comes over you when you hear someone surprised by their own voice.” (p.36)
The process from oral traditions to new digital media compilations was a rapid evolution – only a 20-year period when you mark the beginning formation of CDS from Atchley’s and Lambert’s meeting in 1986 to the finality of this chapter in 2006. Lambert speaks about the whirlwind the tech boom brought and how it kept them running from one project to the next. But the sensibilities, the social compass, and visionary focus they had was buried inside them from the beginning and carried them through many changes.
Now the Center for Digital Storytelling, renamed the StoryCenter in 2015, has grown to a successful international movement. Why? Because stories are transformative. There is something magical and transcendent when people tell their stories. And I’m glad for this and for people like Joe Lambert and Dana Atchley who worked tirelessly to bring digital storytelling to the forefront and “overcome silence.”
For in the end I think this makes us all feel brave to tell our own stories.