NARBS: Narrative bits tell a story

Prof. Ananda Mitra

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Winston Salem – We all know the person who is constantly updating the status on every social media site available and constantly tweeting their life on microblogs. We now have a way of understanding and analyzing what they are really doing. They are narbing, which is the verb form of the word narb, which stands for “narrative bits (”

It is quite a simple idea that helps us all to think of the ways in which we tell the world about who we are through doing things like status updates on social media sites or producing tiny bits of pithy information using microblogging tools. I would say that every time we make statements about what we are doing, what we like, or where we are, we have created a tiny story or narrative about ourselves. Many such narbs could make up the story of our life and as we keep on narbing, the story gets bigger and detailed, producing a narrative profile of who a person is.

Not only is it the case that we are narbing, there are narbs being produced about us by others as well. For instance, when a friend with a smartphone takes a picture and places it on a social media site or a photo sharing site, a picture-narb has been created about the person whose picture was taken. It does not matter whether the person wants the picture to be there or not, the narb has been created and it is available for many to see. When all such narbs are collected together and analyzed, it is possible to create a pretty interesting narrative about an individual, which many would call a profile. It is this aspect of narbing, where a profile is produced and extracted, that has been a cause of concern.

Many are worried about the fact that there is a lot of information about us on numerous digital places, but there is little systematic thinking about how to manage the process of narbing or to understand the way in which narbs could become both useful and harmful to a person. We hear more about the harmful aspect and people lament the loss of privacy and how anyone can find out things about us. Popular media is full of stories about the ways in which people have lost jobs or how relationships have ended because of social media. Generally, such stories do not offer any systematic way of thinking of the processes that lead to unfortunate events.

The idea of narbs allows for a more careful analysis of such events. Unfortunately, most people, including the popular media, miss the point that when you use the perspective of narbs, it is possible to think of social media in a more systematic manner, where it’s possible to manage narbs to create a digital presence which is both authentic and beneficial. To do this, of course, one has to be more mindful about the act of narbing and not put up things willy-nilly and then sit back and say, “Oops, I should not have said that” on a social media site. Being mindful is our responsibility, and like many other things in life, as we tap our way through life using all those nifty tools I mentioned earlier, we now also need to be mindful of the way we narb.

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