Digital stories are short personal stories, written and narrated by the person who experienced them, and told with photos, sometimes video, and a soundtrack. They can be shared on streaming platforms like YouTube or Vimeo. You can find a number of digital stories on this blog.
Locative digital stories add another dimension. They are site-specific stories which can only be accessed on one’s smartphone or tablet while the viewer is within 100 feet or less of the place where the story took place.
It provides for a different kind of connection. Reading a story can “transport” you away from the physical space in which you inhabit. Last September, I was on an airport bus heading from Wisconsin to Chicago, reading a novel that took place in wintry Maine. A noise startled me, and when I looked outside, I was surprised that there was no snow on the ground.
In contrast, instead of transporting you away, a locative story can make you feel more connected to where you are. Locative stories can reveal the “invisible landscape” of a place, not apparent on its surface, or on a map, or in a history book. They reveal a personal history of the space, a sense of experiencing it through someone else’s eyes at another time.
In 2017, I developed five locative digital stories in the small city in which I live, Whitewater, Wisconsin. The project was funded by the First Citizens State Bank of Whitewater and made possible through the StriveOn app (available free through the Apple App Store or Play Store). StriveOn allows users to access uploaded videos, photos and other information when at specific GPS coordinates. Choton Basu, the developer of the StriveOn app, states: “Our belief is every place has a story. We’re working with communities to tell their stories (www.striveon.io).”
One way to view the five digital stories is by walking on a 2.3-mile loop in Whitewater that goes past all the sites. The stories include a millennial talking about the scary stories he heard as a child of a “haunted” water tower in a city park, a mother telling about how the community rallied to build a state of the art youth baseball field to honor her young son who was killed by a drunken driver, a late middle-age woman recounting how meaningful were the trips she took as a child to the public library, and a bank president proudly describing the role of the bank throughout the city’s history. Perhaps my favorite is titled Mastodon Bone in Whitewater, a long-time resident about my age telling a story that was told to him when he was young by his father, about the origins of a giant bone that was found during a construction project. I smile as I remember the story every time I drive by that spot. Here it is:
Storying the Human Experience
Yes, it's a grandiose title. But, as Flannery O'Connor once said, "A story is a way to say something that can't be said any other way."