On science, society, philosophy and literature by George Zarkadakis
Monday, April 27, 2009
The New Narrative
I need to define what I mean by the word “Narrative”. Since the Lacroix cave paintings - or even earlier perhaps - humanity has felt the compelling need to record itself. Human social evolution has thus been intricately related to descriptions of events, personalities and, most importantly, ideas. These descriptions are narratives by definition, i.e. they follow a specific structure which reflects the way human minds understand the world. Although narratives can be both explicit and implicit, their structure is always relational: ideas, events and personalities are always related to one another and to their time. Even when referring to things past or prophesize things of the future, narratives are always interpreted in the present; this is a very important point which explains why different eras interpret the same narratives in a different way. Narratives are stored in Libraries. By this term I am generalizing on the concept of narrative storage, which takes place in a variety of media. Media are the storages of narratives and every society uses technology to improve on the media. Thus a Library can be made up from a collection of media, such as stone or clay tablets, papyri, scrolls, books, museums, architecture, etc. Narratives are not just for show. Their role is not decorative. Narratives, once born, define society. They are the steam engine of societal progress, or regress. Because they are the cumulative repositories of ideas narratives are the drivers of change. Whenever great civilizations fell, it was because they somehow lost their Libraries. I mean this in the literal as well as the metaphorical sense. Forgetfulness is the loss of narrative, and this is true not only in various well-documented amnesias but also in the case of societies and cultures at large. Examples abound throughout history, but I will only mention here the case of the Mayan civilization which collapsed as soon as the greater part of its narrative was lost. Having established the definition of Narrative, Library and Media, let us now turn our attention to the definition of the “New Narrative”. I will claim that the New Narrative was born out of the Internet revolution (complemented by cable TV and satellite communications) in the 1990s and that it differs from all previous narratives of the past because its Libraries are interconnected. The New Narrative by virtue of its genesis created a New Hyper-Library where every other narrative that has survived the test of time is stored somewhere there, as a node within a vast network of interconnectedness enabled by contemporary technology. Our society, like the societies of the past, is also defined by its narrative; in our case our New Narrative of networked media. The most prominent example of how the New Narrative affects societal evolution is advertising. Advertising is a spontaneous synthesis of ideas derived from media archives, the synthesis providing an extension of the New Narrative. A television ad reflects what we believe for ourselves, or what we think that we believe. It compels us to consume because the New Narrative can only survive through the constant maintenance and expansion of its Library; and this can only safely occur in a liberal, free-market world. But one needs to return to the interconnectedness of the New Narrative to liberal politics.