To begin to establish a coherent taxonomic proposal of the the intertactive documentary field, we must first study the process of convergence between two apparently seemingly very different areas of communication, namely the evolution of the documentary genre on one hand, and the emergence of digital media and their rapid expansion in various fields in recent decades, on the other.
While the history of the documentary begins half a century before that of the digital medium, the two processes have progressed towards to a very interesting point of convergence at the present time, and are reaching the concept of “technological singularity”. Technological singularity is a theory that predicts that there will come a point in the near future when computers will be able to design other computers better than humans can. The theory states that we will reach a point at which we will lose control and the ability
to understand how these new computers and complex systems develop. This is called “singularity” as an analogy to the singularity that physicists study. Within these singularities, the known laws of physics cease to be valid – such as the singularity inside black holes and the origin of the Big Bang – and it is impossible to engage in any speculation or prediction about what will happen afterwards. It is unknown territory. It is easier to understand the concept and what it entails by reading The singularity is near, by Raymond Kurzweil (2005).
The two genres have come together in a medium, the Internet, with infrastructure and technologies that enable greater accessibility than ever experienced, in terms of information and content, speed of navigation, high technical performance and interaction between different users. Manuel Castells, in The Age of Information (1997 and 1998) and The Internet Galaxy (2001), argues that the flat rate is a factor in the unlimited access to the Internet and its content, and the gradual increase in bandwidth has enabled faster and more efficient management, browsing and downloading of content. Ignasi Ribas, following Castells, says:
“As the bandwith of networks appoaches that of modern local devices, all the possible creative uses of interaction by means of multimedia elements must be able to be transferred seamlessly and without any problems to be enriched with the specific opportunities to update and relocate content and the opportunities for shared and immediate authorship or participation in networked interaction” (Ribas, 2000:9).
In recent years, the new participatory web has provided the opportunity for network users to generate their own content (the user is no longer a consumer and becomes a broadcaster or producer of content in a medium in which authorship is no longer individual but instead collective·collective and shared. This trend is is becoming significantly more marked in communication using mobile devices (Castells, 2006:388).
This has all led to the emergence of different formats and the creation of new genres, such as the interactive documentary. According to Sandra Gaudenzi (2009) in her research study Digital interactive documentary: from representing reality to co-creating reality, which relates interactive digital documentaries with the cybernetic systems described by Maturana and Varela (1980). When we refer to interactive documentaries we mean:
“a digital interactive documentary [that] not only uses a digital support (that could be anything from digital video to mobile phones or the web… but also demands some embodied interactivity from the user-participant (in other words a participation that is more than the mental act of interpretation). interactive digital documentaries that not only use a digital format which could be any existing medium, from digital video to mobile phones or the Internet, but also require a physical-corporal type of interaction by the user-participant, an involvement that goes beyond the mental action of interpretation … with the aim of identifying different logics of documentation of reality and new modes of subjectivity” (Gaudenzi, 2009:4).
In the late twentieth century, and especially in the early twenty-first century, the two stories developed along separate lines. They overcame challenges, survived in a changing environment and achieved a remarkable degree of maturity. After this first contact, each genre adopted a set of properties and characteristics belonging to the other. To a certain extent, a principle of fusion took place based a mutual attraction: the documentary genre brought its various modes of representing reality and the digital media, the new methods of navigation and interaction. These modes can be found in interactive applications, which use different supports to display and navigate: on one hand, the offline media; on the other, the online medium per excellence: the web or Internet. But we can not forget other types of supports such as mobile devices, instalations or optical media.
At this point in the narrative, the major question is when the climax of this story will occur, and whether the outcome will have the typical happy ending or whether we will witness a possible breakdown and separation, with irreconcilable differences. We are the onlookers of this interesting relationship that has been established between the audiovisual documentary and digital interactivity, and we have the window of opportunity to see and analyses whether the fusion will be complete and whether the new genre will become fully consolidated. The convergence between the audiovisual and digital components has already been studied by many authors, and the important question is how far it can progress and which new forms of representation, navigation and interaction will be the result.
It should be noted that this proposal is being reviewed in order to be presented as part of the theoretical framework on interactive documentary study, which may be subject to changes in the future (PhD defense:“The interactive documentary as a new audiovisual genre. Approach to proposed definition, taxonomy and analysis model for the evaluation, design and production”, UPF 2007-2012).
You can expand the information on the characterization of the interactive documentary reading some of my articles: “The Interactive Documentary. Definition Proposal and Basic Features of the Emerging Genre” and “The Interactive Documentary. Definition Proposal and Characterization of the New Emerging Genre” (2011).
Also available on these links some of my presentations and communications at events and conferences, as performed for the I-Docs Symposium (Bristol, 2011) and the McLuhan Galaxy Conference (Barcelona, 2011).
Arnau Gifreu Castells
Researcher, Professor and Producer
Universitat Ramón Llull / Universitat de Vic
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— (1998), La Era de la Información. Vol. II: El poder de la identidad.
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Castells, M.; Fernández-Ardèvol, M.; Linchuan Qiu, J.; Sey, A. (2006), Comunicación móvil y sociedad: una perspectiva global. Barcelona: Ariel, Fundación Telefónica.
Gaudenzi, Sandra (2009), Digital interactive documentary: from representing reality to co-creating reality [draft PhD Thesis]. Londres: University of London. Centre for Cultural Studies (CCS) of Goldsmiths.
Kurzweil, Raymond (2005), La singularidad está cerca. New York: Penguin Group.
Maturana H.R.; Varela F.J. (1980) Autopoiésis y Cognición. Dordrecht, Holand: D. Reidel.
Ribas, Joan I. (2000), Caracterització dels interactius multimèdia de difusió cultural. Aproximació a un tractament específic, els “assaigs interactius” [research work], Barcelona: Universitat Pompeu Fabra. Communication Faculty.
Gifreu, Arnau (2010), El documental multimèdia interactiu. Per un proposta de model d’anàlisi. [Treball de recerca]. Departament de Comunicació. Universitat Pompeu Fabra, pp 9-12.
Gifreu, Arnau (2010). The interactive multimedia documentary. A proposed model of analysis. [Research Pre PhD]. Department of Communication. Universitat Pompeu Fabra, pp 9-12.