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Defining Terms

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I have mentioned the terms scalar, vector, and flow. When using these, I want to stress that they are conceptual or visual metaphors which are borrowed from mathematical terms to describe narrative structure, transmission of narrative, and social trends within large sets of transmissions/narratives. Structure is represented by the scalar, or formal quality; here I use it to represent how narratives from modern literature to hypertexts arise from spatial form. In spatial form, narrative becomes a single point in time, its events to be accessed in no particular order.

The vector, or movement of the scalar, represents communication, or the transmission of the narrative through a medium. But there are different modes of transmission of narratives, different directions/intents, and magnitudes that represent the scope of the media, and how they are transmitted over time. This could be as simple as considering the size of the audience of a narrative work and how the narrative reaches it, or the singular or episodic nature of an email to a list versus the communicative function of a blog. Lastly, flow — the metaphor of acceleration — represents a larger concept, or the rate of change of information represented as social trends in an online community.

One example of tracking these trends or “flows” is Twitter’s (microblog) “trending” statistics, which determine dominant conversational topics within the community by tracking key words and phrases. Techniques like trending, tagging, and indexing allow us to try to infer relationships within large sets of data, or in large sets of interactions that might seem overwhelmingly complex. Artistic visualizations and analytics can reveal insights about these trends, or flows, within a set of interactions or community.

The ideas of scalar, vector and flow are then analogous to that of narrative structure, its transmission, and the mass movement of narratives and their respective transmissions within an online milieu.

Previous: Introduction | Next: Joseph Frank and the Collapse of Narrative Flow

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