Book Review: The Art of Immersion, by Frank Rose

A decade ago, the tools of communications belonged to a chosen few. Editorial control over newspapers, television and radio was in the hands of those professionals tasked with selecting content deemed worthy of the front page, the headline, the news bulletin. National newspapers and mass media channels were scarce resources. The stories they carried were linear and sequential. The 10 o’clock news was broadcast for an hour each evening at the same time. Important news was on the front page, above the fold.

That was then, this is now.

Immersive storytelling

The Art of Immersion Today’s world is nonlinear, filled with always-on devices giving anywhere, any time access to media generated by those of us with a WordPress blog and a point of view. Storytelling has come full circle from the logical inevitability of the printed page to the random, emotionally binding, infinitely looping immersive stories of this fragmented age where anyone can create and re-purpose content, as did the bards of pre-literate eras.

The implications of the transition from top-down to user-generated content is explored in detail by Frank Rose in his book The Art of Immersion.

Rose identifies the roots of non-linear storytelling in the popular serials Charles Dickens published in the 1830’s. But it was the creation of the hyper-links of the World Wide Web that blew the lid off linear narrative:

Links change our relationship to information. They empower individuals and destroy hierarchies.

Cinema directors such as Quentin Tarantino, Jean-Luc Goddard and David Lynch create immersive, non-linear forms of film.

The unexpected juxtapositions, the startling elisions, the scenes out of sequence–asleep or awake, this is how we think, in a fast-dissipating vapor.

The implication is that we live in a multiverse, where events occur simultaneously. As the Western-born Spiritual Adept Adi Da Samraj has written about photography:

The human individual in the midst of Reality is like a camera in a room—perceiving everything from a fixed “point of view”. But what does the room Really look like? The room can be viewed from every possible “point of view” in space-time—not merely from any particular “point of view”, or even a finite collection of “points of view”. Therefore, no “point of view” can reveal the room, or Reality Itself, because every “point of view” is limited and essentially self-referring.

Frank Rose explores the art of immersive storytelling and the emerging transmedia methods that the best practitioners are developing in video games, advertising, movies, social media, television and more.

Frank Rose Interview

In August 2012 I met Frank at a Churchill Club event in Silicon Valley and took the opportunity to ask him about the implications of immersive storytelling for professional speakers and corporate communications professionals. To hear what he told me, click on the podcast icon below.

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