Narrative vs database

I found the Manovich reading a little confusing, particularly in his distinction between database and narrative. He begins by differentiating between databases and narrative, explaining that a shift towards the former has occurred in the age of new media. Even by the opening paragraphs I was feeling a little miffed. He used the CD-ROM and DVD titles as examples of databases and information storage units. Although I agree that yes, DVDs are used to store information, their primary feature (or key association most people have with them) is their ability to store a narrative, i.e. a film that is on DVD. I understand there is a difference between content and format, but this seemed like a strange example as a DVD in particular lends itself so clearly to narrative. I guess technically you could view each scene or shot as a separate piece of information that is being stored on the DVD, but it can only be watched in one order (even with scene selection we can only watch the film forwards). We need to access the information chronologically for the narrative to make sense, and the DVD only allows us to watch it chronologically – is this still a “database”? Later on, Manovich says DVDs and CD-ROMs privilege database, but I just don’t see how this is the case when often their whole existence is dependent on narrative. Sometimes I feel like he is just being controversial for the sake of it. For example, when he says “In the world of new media, the word “narrative” is often used as an all-inclusive term to cover up the fact that we have not yet developed a language to describe these new strange objects”, I feel like he is having a going at society, at the users of technology. It infers we are primitive when it comes to understanding narrative vs database, but in my mind he is overcomplicating the issue and creating a problem that doesn’t exist. If it is such a huge dilemma that I am “misusing” the word narrative (which has been around a hell of a lot longer than he has), maybe he needs to invent that new word himself!


Another example I thought of is the niki, which is a form of multimedia encyclopedia (which Manovich cites as an “obvious example” of the dominance of the database form). I found it interesting to note how many people prefer to make their niki entry a narrative rather than random pieces of information. The pages I have worked on have always involved a narrative element, does this mean I, and the rest of the networked media cohort, are atypical of the “new media age”? When describing narrative’s relationship to database, Manovich says it is but a method of accessing information, in the way one might file information numerically or chronologically. This made me think of Facebook, which is an information database. But without narrative, the information we are able to access doesn’t always amount to much. If I am doing a sneaky FB stalk and see a photo of the person with an awful haircut, it doesn’t mean a lot without context. But as soon as the narrative around it builds, say when it was done, why it was done, what the person’s reaction to it was, and whether or not it has been rectified or not, all allow me to make sense of the information. Without this narrative the photo is relatively useless, for all I know it could be photoshopped or a wig if I don’t know the narrative/context behind it. This brought me back to a symposium a few weeks back when Adrian said context was irrelevant. Bullshit!

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