Today I came across this talk from Andrew Losowsky, which discusses how the context within which a story is presented is incredibly important to the way in which it is experienced.
Context is something that is often underestimated when it comes to presentation in our world, not only with media products. As Losowsky demonstrates with the simple example of an A4 handout, the way in which information is presented is crucial to the way in which it is digested.

In simple terms, seeing a picture of a beautiful car, for example, is a completely different experience to that of seeing one in real life. Within what Losowsky calls 'the likely space', our reaction and experience is tied to the context of when you see the image of the car. In a picture this could be in a car magazine, where, within the likely space, it is pretty likely that you are going to see an image of a car that you like the look of. However to see it in real life, seeing this car may more likely belong in the possibility space than the likely space. You may see the car in a shopping mall, or an airport for example – where you may consider it relatively unlikely to see a car. Your brain engages with the story differently. The boundaries of what you are expecting to see are pushed, and your emotional response to that narrative is ultimately different.
"Everyone and everything is a story from the moment that it is perceived. To put it another way, your brain is a machine which turns atoms into stories."
Therefore, the point which Losowsky makes is that everything in life is a story. The way we perceive everything is a story, which is then organised in our brains in a way that makes us learn. Things which are likely within an environment are unlikely to cause us much concern, or to make us pay attention. These are perhaps the mundane, expected experiences of everyday life. When walking alongside a road, it is pretty likely that you will see a Renault Clio or a Ford Focus – and even if you had an unexpected emotional response the first time you saw the car, as you become more used to seeing it on a regular basis over time, it becomes the ordinary. Replace that Clio with a Bugatti Veyron, and it becomes something unexpected, it is outwith the likely space, it makes you pay attention, perhaps stop and stare, drool...

Seeing this other type of car, something you haven't seen in the flesh before, breaks the likely space. It is like someone pulling a gun out of their pocket while talking to them (albeit less extreme). It is going to have an emotional effect. Losowsky puts this down to the breaking of barriers of what is expected in the world, which causes dopamine to make us pay attention, take in this new 'reality', pay more attention to what is happening, and learn from it. Our brains create the story, digest the narrative – and that narrative is unique to us at that exact moment, in that exact place, at that exact time. The context, the medium of the story, and the narrative created all create a dopamine buzz, and the further the boundaries of the likely space are being pushed, the greater the buzz will be, and the more attention we will pay to the story that our brain is telling us.

Now perhaps the example of a car, in this context, is slightly out of keeping. It may even push the boundaries of what is in your likely space, and has perhaps made you think differently about it. You came to a blog from a publishing company, expecting to read something about the 'expressive potential of media', and thus probably thought my discussion would be limited to books. And now that I have acknowledged this, we are much more likely to move back into the likely space, where I will discuss books, briefly.

Of course, the narrative provided by an eBook is completely different to that provided by a physical book. One simple example people often cite as a reason for not liking eBooks is not having a real sense of how far they are through a chapter, or indeed through the whole book. With a physical book you can flip through the pages to find the end of the chapter, and keep your place with a finger. The weight of the book, the thickness of the pages, the number of pages left, all contribute to your sense of how much of the book is left.

The look, the feel, the presence of a book, the location in which you read the book, what has happened on the day that you are reading the book. All of these things contribute to the context of the story. They provide a different narrative, a different experience. A different level of engagement, and many opportunities to challenge what is within your likely space. 
"Everything gives a story. Everything contains stories. The medium isn't the message, content isn't King, both of them are true, and both of them are not true. Everything makes up the stories that we understand. The medium is a part of it, the audience is a part of it, the space, the context. Everything that you can control, some things that you can't control."
Whilst pushing the boundaries too often can be overwhelming, I would argue that print publishing provides many more opportunities to affect a reader, and provide a deeper narrative, than an eBook would. Some may argue with this, citing interactivity with sound, video, etc., that are made possible in digital files. However I feel that because a print book is so finite, because it has a set of experiences attached to it through our memories, it has such an almost defined commonly held 'likely space', that the opportunities presented by print cannot be overlooked. Understanding the ways in which people become interested, and how it is possible to reshape the possible and likely spaces, could provide the greatest opportunity of them all. The opportunity to make everyone pay attention.

Andrew Losowsky is Senior Books Editor at The Huffington Post | @twitsplosion on Twitter.
The video was recorded at the Business Innovation Factory 'BIF-7 Summit'. Full information here.
 





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