Isn't it amazing that there's always exactly 60 minutes' worth of news everyday, and that, when transcribed, it fills exactly one newspaper?
Have you ever stopped to think how utterly fortuitous it is that every televisual story worth telling can be neatly broken into segments of exactly 22 minutes (plus commercials) or 48 minutes (ditto)? That every story that makes a good subject for a film takes somewhere between 90 minutes and two hours to tell? That all albums fit conveniently on one or sometimes two CDs, except for best-of compilations? That all books are exactly long enough to bind within a single set of covers and not so short as to allow those covers to touch in the middle?
These are all technological norms that represent technological hangovers: We now assume that certain distributors will carry a particular sort of carton, and its contents will go onto a certain kind of shelf; 10-foot-tall photography books don't fit in those cartons, and the trucks are already fitted for those cartons, and the shelves have been screwed into the walls of the bookstores.
The soul of wisdom is in knowing that all laws are local, that the universal truths you imbibed with your first milk are not universal at all, but rather created. There are stories that take 15 hours to tell, books that stand taller than a man.
Enter the Internet. YouTube Inc. shows us that there's a gigantic market for "shows" that last between 10 seconds and 10 minutes. Blogging tools have conquered all notions of column-inches as understood by magazines and newspapers. Twitter has upset what we thought we knew about blogging, reducing the minimum length of a compelling message to a few characters and increasing the maximum frequency of a communique from a couple an hour to several per minute.
But YouTube and Twitter don't do the same stuff their predecessors did. The kind of storytelling that goes into a YouTube clip has a different rhythm and a different aesthetic appeal than 22-minute sitcoms. Some of this is down to the relative maturity of the media: Twenty-two-minute sitcoms are highly evolved creatures, as formally bounded as a sonnet. Their highly paid practitioners have an arcane vocabulary and procedure to describe the system by which they are assembled to achieve maximal effect; we, the audience for these shows, have imbibed so many of them that we unconsciously expect the twists and turns the storytellers are delivering, even if we lack a conscious understanding of the formal structure and the specialist jargon needed to describe it.
By contrast, the short Internet video isn't a single genre -- it's more like cosmic narrative dust hurtling through space, clumping together here and there into larger conglomerates, then splitting apart before stabilizing. There's no formal structure to the eight-minute teenage-ramble-from-the-bedroom -- both the creator and the audience are winging it.
But there's another reason that these new media tell stories in different ways from their old media predecessors: They're telling different stories. TV sitcoms, novels, feature films, and other traditional forms are cages as well as frames. The reason that every sitcom lasts 22 minutes is that no one tries to make sitcoms about stories that take five minutes to tell. The reason movies last 90 minutes is that no one tries to make feature films about subjects that take 30 seconds to elucidate -- or 30 days.
The critics of new media often point to its failure to live up to the standards of old media. Some scientists and science journalists wring their hands at the idea that the Mars landers and the Large Hadron Collider emanate information in the form of anthropomorphized Twitter messages, arguing that these messages lack the formal virtues of science reporting and papers.
It's true. They do. They don't succeed at being better in-depth science articles than the science articles. They succeed at being better Twitter messages than science articles; they succeed at producing and sustaining a different kind of interest and understanding than a long article in the weekend paper.
The low cost of deploying new media online is revealing a heretofore unsuspected appetite for stories in different boxes than we've heretofore used -- and a universe of stories waiting to be told.
— Cory Doctorow, Internet activist, blogger, co-editor of Boing Boing