01: The tradition of storytelling.
- May 8, 2016 -
As a writer, I often find myself thinking about the practice of storytelling. Although so much about how we share stories has changed over the years, what’s remarkable to me is just how much has stayed the same.
In the earliest days of human civilization, there was a direct relationship between the person who was telling the story and the people who were listening to that story. Gathered around a campfire, they would come together to form an interconnected group: those who were listening were simultaneously affecting the story and being affected by it while the storyteller, able to see the immediate reactions of the audience, could adjust the story as she went along, creating something that was tailor-made to the experience.
Back then, the telling of a story was an experience which was both created and sustained by the immediate, physical presence of everyone involved. Stories were shared through a fluid, ever-changing, and experiential process, dependent entirely upon the relationship that was created during that magical moment between the teller and the listener. The only record of that story, of that experience, existed in the minds of those who were present for the telling; if someone else wanted to hear that story, the version of it which they received would be slightly different from the version that was originally told. Each telling was different, but they all had one thing in common: they all relied upon the power of this person-to-person connection.
Fast-forward to today, of course, and things are now a little different. Because we are now digitally connected to one another, the practice of storytelling no longer requires the physical presence of those involved. And yet, although technology has enabled us to become more readily connected, it’s rare that these digital connections lead to any tangible feelings of connection. Is it possible for a like on Facebook or a conversation on iMessage to convey the warmth of an in-person tête-à-tête?
At the same time, though, perhaps technology is also bringing us closer to those early origins of storytelling. It’s easy to lay the blame on social media as the culprit of our connection-deprived society — but social media is simply a tool, and tools are only as useful as we allow them to be. Yes, social media has made it so that we are often inundated with what can feel like an overwhelming amount of information. But social media has also made it possible for storytellers to connect directly with their audiences, and, in turn, it has made it possible for us to connect directly with storytellers.
What I like so much about email is that it takes this possibility for connection a step further. With email, every individual listener receives the story privately, in his or her inbox, allowing them freedom of their own personal experience. Listeners have the opportunity to further their connection directly with the storyteller simply by hitting ‘reply,’ initiating a one-on-one conversation which mirrors that original symbiotic relationship between teller and listener. Unlike the public medium of social media, email is both a personal and a private space in which the message is shared only between the teller and the listener, making it an ideal forum for a meaningful exchange of stories.
This, to me, is a return to the person-to-person connectivity of those early storytelling experiences; it is a return, perhaps, to the intimacy of the campfire discussion.