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Seven interactive essays on digital nonlinear storytelling
edited by Matt Soar & Monika Gagnon

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If our objective is to understand the rhetorical complexity of present day digital technologies and their role in the humanities, one must ask then what happens to arguments in projects like Dayton Express. Furthermore, how can we use these tools and methods to intervene in a space where the lack of communication leads to a myriad of misconceptions about both past and present? And how can we measure if the project was successful in its aim? One answer is to look at the statistics on site visits and come up with meaningful data analyses, but that barely scratches the surface when it comes to the transformative ambitions of a project like this. My answer was to travel back to Bosnia and present the project to those who are directly affected by the political stalemate. This led to presentations, talks and screenings at different venues including railroad workers’ union halls, schools, film festivals and a variety of community meetings

Once again, it became clear to me: at the core of the divisions in Bosnia are the opposing interpretations of recent history. As Maurice Bloch has argued, communities engage with the past in fundamentally different ways, developing their own specific modus of ‘being in history,’ depending on their social make‐up, political position and historical experience. The ways Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks were encouraged or discouraged to remember and commemorate key episodes from their history influenced the processes of retrieval of war memories and their current sentiments towards opposing ethnic groups (see Duijzings). What I found to be most disconcerting is the apathy and disappointment in political parties in both entities. The distrust is very deep and widespread, causing alarmingly low election turnouts and a lack of participation in democratic processes. It is correct to assume that this may be a consequence of centuries of colonial rule and totalitarian regimes, which severely compromised people’s sense of political autonomy. As a result there is no real tradition of democracy in Bosnia, and the idea of self‐governing remains a strange concept to many. Unfortunately this also applies to younger generations, who appear extremely disillusioned and in many cases lack basic political education. Future prospects remain unclear, with the majority of citizens not knowing what to expect from possible integration into the EU. The interviews in The Future of the Past and Interentity sections clearly demonstrate such sentiments.

Perhaps the most interesting demographic are the post-war generations whose digital literacy is on a steady rise, but whose political power as a large constituent body remain largely undeveloped. The way they engaged with Dayton Express was of great interest to me. A great majority of them have email addresses, Facebook accounts and smart phones. Interestingly, they have gravitated toward Random Access History and The Future of the Past segments, repeatedly showing interest in explorative and archival functions of the project. At a presentation in the city of Banja Luka, several student attendees asked if I could make the paths more constricted and make the navigation more akin to game interfaces. They asked if they could rearrange the navigation paths, where stumbling upon a memory (image, sound, video, text…) would be considered a reward. Although their concepts of space were severely constricted by ubiquitous travel visa requirements, segregation politics, and a poor economy, Bosnian youngsters do know how to navigate digital space and express themselves within that space. What kind of discourse we collectively insert into that space is of great importance. 

When it comes to digital literacy, the generational gap was quite pronounced. I should note that a large number of senior railroad workers who were asked to interact with the project have never or very rarely used a computer, let alone owned one. An interesting trend emerged – they found it fascinating to hear and respond to the opinions of their railway counterparts in the opposing entity. They saw it as a platform for exchange. One of the workers, Husein Cavkic, suggested – perhaps a bit too optimistically – that now they can “be the media.” What appealed to them is the virtually infinite life of digital/web-based projects. Their memories, concerns and debates could remain public and accessible for a long time. 

I found it interesting that in the absence of adequate public forums (media outlets, particularly radio/tv/print, are almost entirely state controlled and ideologically driven), they are able to conceive of digital space as a new platform where their political voice can be heard and responded to. This notion changed the way I see and understand Dayton Express today, three years after the production. The need for an alternative outlet is obvious, and this can perhaps lead to an emergence of a new political subjectivity that can spill over into the democratic processes and subsequently influence policies.

Visit: Dayton Express

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