…we don’t need roads.
With all of the talk of narratives, timelines, and unconventional storyboards in this week’s diverse set of readings, I couldn’t help but think about one of my favourite film series: Back to the Future. If you have never seen the films,
you must have been living under a rock for the past 30 years it’s the story of the young Marty McFly who, through the help of friend and scientist, Emmett “Doc” Brown ends up back in 1955 from the year 1985. In the second installment Marty returns to 1985 after visiting 2015, but his timeline has altered due to the meddling of villain Biff Tannen. In the last film, Marty seeks to rescue the Doc back in 1885 after being struck by lightning in his Delorean time machine. Long story short, the series ends right back in 1985 on the very same day as the first film began.
Back to the Future serves as a perfect example of how narratives and “timelines” can be jostled around throughout a story. But it prompts questioning of a different sort. What about shared authority? If Marty had asked his parents about how they met and fell in love, Marty himself would not necessarily have authority in the narrative. However, we can use Marty as an example of someone interacting with history in a different way; one which permits them to access their own kind of authority in the process. By actually travelling back in time, Marty was able to experience 1955 in a new way, becoming his own actor in the historical past.
If we apply this same logic to digital history and digital stories, we can see how the user, reader, or player can draw their own conclusions and experience history as they act alongside or within the story itself. This becomes problematic, however, as historical accuracy and credibility may be lost by the “whiz-bang” effect of games, and other mediums.
Problems aside, I am astounded by the multitude of ways the standard ‘timeline’ can be distorted and transformed while producing entertaining, comprehensible material. One example of this kind of digital history that comes to mind is one I encountered while in St. John’s last October. The St. John’s Storytelling Festival promoted their Inside Outside Battery “Sonic Experience” which involved simply downloading an app, putting on headphones, and exploring the Battery beneath Signal Hill to hear the voices of locals of all ages telling stories about their lives, or the geology of the land, or even tall tales. The period about which they spoke only became evident as you listened; some were merely sounds—children playing, ships passing—all to surround you with the sounds of the harbour.
There exist numerous ways from which we can approach the narrative of our Air Canada project. Our best ideas will probably come from our round-table discussion in class tomorrow; I must admit I find it rather difficult to brainstorm distortions of timelines all by my lonesome. But the Tapestry app is an interesting concept. We might approach our narrative through pod-like stories (tapestries), each with an interactive element that brings the user into the history. The user can progress through the story capsules in a posted order, or may choose to select them at random. As for the narrative, the group seemed to latch onto the idea of Expo ’67, yet many uniforms and other items pre-dated event in Montreal. Our pod-stories could each focus on different aspects of the collection—iconography, style/fashion, technological development, etc—while culminating with a final pod featuring a discussion of the Air Canada pavilion at Expo ’67. This design suggests to the user that we can follow a plotted course (reading the stories in succession), or, as with air travel, we can go anywhere we choose (selecting stories at random).
Whatever the final product, I have no doubt in my mind that we will take the Delorean of historical narrative and transform it into something new, unconventional, and completely unburdened by the necessity of roads.
…Roads is a metaphor for timelines.