narrative versus database

New media and cultural form: narrative versus database
Ilana Snyder – Monash University

in: A. Adams & S. Brindley (eds) (2004), Teaching English with ICT. London: Open University Press & McGraw Hill.

So what is a database? Like narrative, it also represents a basic way of organising human experience. A database can be a library, a museum, in fact, any large collection of cultural data. In the age of the Internet, a database is a structured collection of data organised to maximise fast search and retrieval by a computer. It represents a potentially powerful categorisation system as it provides a range of options for sorting and viewing sets of data. Somewhat loosely, but also generatively, Manovich (2001) uses the word as a metaphor to denote how a collection of digital data can be searched, navigated and viewed in a variety of ways (Walton in press). Unlike a narrative, which creates a cause-and-effect trajectory of seemingly unordered items or events, a database appears to users as a collection of items to view, navigate and search, no matter how it is organised. As a cultural form – a general way used by the culture to represent human experience, the world and human existence in the world – the database represents life as a list of items and does not presume to order the list. This explains why the experience of using such a collection of information is different from reading a story or watching a film. According to Manovich (2001), these two contrasting cultural forms now dominate the landscape of new media.


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