The Eyes Never Lie

It’s been almost 30 years since I sold my first freelance story to a now-defunct publication called the Berkeley Barb, but I remember handing the article to the editor and then watching his eyes as he read it — until my staring irked him and he chased me away. Well, now a new software tool promises to give web publishers the ability to track how browsers scan a page, record this in a sort of movie, and analyze large numbers of these tracking records to detect patterns.

The software, called ClickTale, is still in beta development according to Tech Crunch reviewer Ouriel Ohayon. In his review Ohayon wrote that Click Tale offers “any website or blog owner the possibility of viewing in a movie individual browsing sessions” and “the statistics tools to draw conclusions from all that rich data.”

The Click Tale blog notes that many of the comments about its software on leading websites “are most concerned with privacy issues … Obviously this is something that we are concerned with too.”

Death of the narrative? A Poynter commentary extracts a few thoughts from an hourlong podcast that originated at a blogger conference where Jay ( PressThink) Rosen led a discussion of the ideas encapsualted in his recent posting, Users Know More Than We Do Journalism.

Poynter’s Amy Gahran included this thought from Terry( PomoBlog) Heaton:

“Story is a narrative, it’s the way we’ve passed information along for many years. But it presupposes that the storyteller has information that everyone else doesn’t. If you turn the pyramid upside down and assume that everyone’s got more knowledge than [you] do, then you’ve got a problem telling a story. I think whatever we come up with …will be much more rejecting of narratives. …The filtering process will take place at the individual level, not at the storyteller level.”

I disagree. Humans have been telling stories since they had language. Are there “amateurs” who can tell stories as well as, if not better than, most so-called professionals? Of course. I stand in awe of Lewis Thomas, a doctor and medical administrator whose essays on science and microbiology stands as examples of style, clarity and substance. New media tools distribute the potential for creativity more broadly and create the possibility for many more amateurs to deligiht and amaze. But the story, the narrator, the central organizer of material — what the movie industry calls the director — will remain the central feature of communication because these arise from the expectations of our human nature.