More of my Q&A on the power of storytelling from Dr. Kathy Hansen’s A Storied Career blog.
Q: The storytelling movement seems to be growing explosively. Why now? What is it about this moment in human history and culture that makes storytelling so resonant with so many people right now?
A: When was the last time you heard a really funny joke? When was the last time you took the time to practice and tell a terrific yarn at a party? The Internet is full of them, but like the world economy, our storytelling talents have been in recession.
When you see a cave painting created by the ancients of a person on horseback following a large beast with a spear in its side, what story are they telling? Why would they take the time to build the fire, burn the charcoal, and memorialize their victory on a dark and damp cave wall? Because story, no matter how it is told, is essential to bringing meaning and expression to life.
As the noise of advertising, media, and politics has increased over the past 50 years, our attention spans, and therefore our message delivery, has grown dramatically shorter. We have become experts at “low-resolution” communications: The sound bite, 30-second commercial, PowerPoint slides, Twitter’s 140-character character, thumbs-up liking, speed dating, and texts that replace whole words with single letters. The pendulum has swung so far in the direction of burping information like bullets out of a Thompson machine gun, that people are beginning to realize something is missing.
Storytelling is making a resurgence because the social animal in all humans craves context, depth and content in our interaction. A story that involves us as the protagonists, or at least presents a hero we can identify with, that has to overcome great odds to achieve their desires, absolutely parallels the quests in each of our lives. It is an elemental depiction of our most basic instincts and fight for survival.
We have all been in such a hurry to be heard that the dots and dashes in our high tech telegraph communication are losing resonance. We communicate in binary form like the computers we type on. I believe the pendulum is swinging back to what people are starting to long for again: Slowing down and being part of a greater story.
at 11:25 pm
The Whole Story
Little Johnny watched his daddy’s car pass by the
school playground and go into the woods. Curious, he
followed the car and saw Daddy and Aunt Jane in a
passionate embrace. Little Johnny found this so
exciting that he could not contain himself as he ran
home and started to tell his mother, \Mommy, I was at
the playground and I saw Daddy’s car go into the woods
with Aunt Jane. I went back to look and he was giving
Aunt Jane a big kiss, then he helped her take off her
shirt. Then Aunt Jane helped Daddy take his pants off,
then Aunt Jane……..\ At this point Mommy cut him
off and said, \Johnny, this is such an interesting
story, suppose you save the rest of it for supper
time. I want to see the look on Daddy’s face when you
tell it tonight.\ At the dinner table, Mommy asked
little Johnny to tell his story. Johnny started his
story, \I was at the playground and I saw Daddy’s car
go into the woods with Aunt Jane. I went back to look
and he was giving Aunt Jane a big kiss, then he helped
her take off her shirt. Then Aunt Jane helped Daddy
take his pants off, then Aunt Jane and Daddy started
doing the same thing that Mommy and Uncle Bill used to
do when Daddy was in the Army.\
Moral: Sometimes you need to listen to the whole
story before you interrupt.