“Designing Stories” is a rather vague title, being one of the classic examples of an event label that have little to no relation to the topic actually discussed. What I attended, was in fact a discussion of blogging – highlighting its merits, including a short reading of a number of blog entries. These were presented by Professor Mike Press, Holly Scanlan (a personal blogger and hairstylist) and three other bloggers who, despite contributing rather interesting points, didn’t quite make it to the Literary Festival guide. These three were Linda Isles, Lauren Currie and Jennifer Jones. Although, it is quite possible that due to the lack of reference material, I have completely butchered the spelling of their names.
Each guest in turn read a short extract from their blog and then answered questions, which ranged from why they felt the practice was generally important to how an individual new to the world of blogging could proceed. Video presentations were integrated seamlessly without appearing forced, but whilst offering interesting insights into the work of Currie and Jones, they didn’t add much else of note. The rest of this review will focus mainly on Press, Scanlan and Isles. These three all read well, yet their chosen extracts and more general discussion of their work revealed a disjunction between the different speakers’ material. Press read a well-structured story about his childhood that gave the impression of time having being put in, and multiple drafts having been written. This is perhaps unsurprising as his usual material is of an academic nature, discussing aspects of current movements in art and design. Scanlan and Isles’ extracts, however, were far more spontaneous, almost in the form of diary entries that, while providing a certain amount of energy, made their work also appear somewhat unpolished. While I am sure the intention of these two very different writing styles was to show the variety of voice and options open to a blogger, I felt it made the event seem somewhat unfocused. This continued into the general discussion where Scanlan’s personal and emotional approach to her work seemed very out of place with the more academic points being brought up by Press, with Isles’ comments alternating between the two standpoints. The mistake, at least in my eyes, was to have Press as both a member of the panel and the moderator, which meant his points overpowered those of the other speakers somewhat.
More generally, the problem seems to have been a lack of direction to the discussion. While each speaker had interesting points to make about their own work, these never seemed to build towards any sort of conclusion, which at moments gave the impression of the event simply being a chance for the guests to advertise their blogs. Deeper questions about the nature of the medium were brought up but were quickly glossed over. These included the worry that blogging is the ultimate expression of narcissism, and whether it created a “cult of amateur”.
Perhaps I am being too harsh in judgement. It was a “Lunchbox Talk” and perhaps its aim was simply to entertain an audience over a lunch hour, which it, of course, did perfectly adequately, always staying enjoyable and never becoming dull. Yet I feel that the subject matter of the talk was worthy of a little more intellectual probing and thus I left the event somewhat unsatisfied.