In a world of pithy tweets and ephemeral snapchats, where six-second attention spans face a proliferation of media so vast it seems only to stimulate their hunger for information rather than satisfy it, what real chance does a story have at being heard? Last Thursday and Friday, a motley assortment of professors, health practitioners, and industry professionals descended upon the CFA for a conference entitled “Narrative in the Age of Distraction” to examine the value of narrative and explore its technologically imposed limits. Their input, by turns reassuring and unsettling, rearticulated that all-too-frustratingly-apparent paradox of our time: the story is dead, long live the story.
The conference, co-sponsored by The Connection Institute for Innovative Practice and Wesleyan’s College of Letters, Writing Programs, and Science in Society Program, was divided into two “tracks,” each focusing on the role of narrative in a different field. The first, “Healing Letters,” addressed the uses of narrative in medicine, followed by “Narrative in the Age of Twitter,” a series of discussions about the future of long-form storytelling in the cyber-free-for-all it must both complement and transcend. The premise of the conference was that narrative, whether functioning as art or healing, is a crucial determinant of how we perceive the world, and yet it is threatened by the very media that support it.