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The Power of Stories

It’s midterms week! Despite all the work, writing, studying, stress, and yes, procrastination, I made time tonight to go see the Holloway Lecture, an annual lecture sponsored by the McDaniel English Department. (A generous offering of extra credit from one of my professors also coaxed me out of my room this evening.)

This year’s speaker was Cynthia L. Selfe, Ph.D., who spoke about stories and narratives in digital contexts, particularly in social media. Dr. Selfe said that even in our digital age, stories are still quite powerful and speak to us deeply. Personal narratives, the stories we tell about ourselves, shape not only our identities of ourselves but also what we identify with. As a result, we cannot separate our existence from our stories.

Selfe talked about how with social media, such as Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn, form our stories for us by looking at them through statistics–how many followers we have, how many things we ‘like’ and what we ‘like’ and more. While we use social media to memorialize aspects of ourselves, online data collection software such as Klout creates vastly different narratives of ourselves from the information we provide over social media, narratives modified so that virtually all context is removed from them. Such data collection services can even gather information about us based on predicted shared characteristics we have with others we are ‘friends’ online with, even if we never post such information about ourselves.

It is important, according to Selfe, that we reclaim our narratives online by telling our own stories on our own terms. One such way she advocates doing this is to tell our literacy narratives on a website called the Digital Archives of Literacy Narratives (DALN), a project that Selfe has worked on for a number of years that collects stories about people’s literacy experiences through written narratives, videos, and audio recordings. The website serves as a tool for people to tell powerful narratives about all sorts of things, from coming to America and learning English for the first time to overcoming addiction and struggling to find creativity again–stories that are much more deep than something you would glean from a Facebook profile.

The stories we tell about ourselves are multitudinous and never complete, nor are they ever searingly honest. However, stories are important because they don’t reflect reality; they create it.

I found Selfe’s lecture very interesting because it made me think about how I share my own stories, especially online. I had the chance to talk to Selfe very briefly after her question and answer session, and she said that blogging is one great way to tell personal narratives and stories, which is something that I do and love doing. Listening to this lecture made me feel fortunate that I not only have the internet as my storytelling canvas but that I also have an outlet through this blog to share some of my stories. This blog gives me the chance to not only tell you about what McDaniel College is like, what goes on here, and how wonderful the College is (which I try to make the ultimate focus of my posts), but it also gives me personally the chance to share some of my stories as they relate to my experiences here and consider, as I write them, how they shape me..

So thank you, not only for taking the time to read this blog but also for listening to my stories. It makes me happy to be able to share them and McDaniel College with you.

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