data wife
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Storytelling:

art, industry, weapon

Once upon a time, we all were little kids. Neither of us remembers the first story told to us. It’s highly likely a lullaby or other song our parents or guardian angels used to put a toddler asleep. We get used to various types of stories in the course of our lives.

1. Imaginary stories, mainly tales or dreams, can appear in all fiction genres and we really enjoy most of them;

2. Real-life stories like chronicles or documentaries, are widely presented in non-fiction. These stories could be either

  • true, i.e. contain information or
  • false, hence feeding us with disinformation or misinformation. Which one, is highly dependent on the intention and the purpose of the storyteller and in any way is favorable to them.

Time-wise stories could be ephemeral (lasting a short time while being told) or recorded. By their nature ephemeral stories are adjustable. They could evolve or diminish through time and even completely fade out in case a collective memory of, say, a tribe died out.

Stories media, however, is somewhat unique. Although they could come to us in the form of pictures, text, or video, their primordial carrier container was a narration stream, i.e. non-instrumental audio. It makes them captivating and thought-provoking: when you listen to a storyteller, there’s no way to scroll the book down to the last page or fast forward it. The only way is to take a journey and share the road with your fellow listeners. This ‘secretive’ characteristic of storytelling has been exploited in many ways, both noble and not so much. All conspiracy theories bloom and prosper solely on the art of storytelling. Only the chosen one let inside a circle of particular story listeners or makers.

The entire life is a story. It could be an individual story of or about a person or an object either animated or not, a collective story of multiple people or objects, a story of an event, and so on. A sequence of collective stories is how history comes to play.

Stories reflect the past … or the future but never the present. However, they always have a reason to be around us right now in the present time. They have many purposes like servants of many masters: entertainment, education, history, sociology, politics, to name a few. They are everywhere. The significance of the concept proves the popularity of the word.

The Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) has frequencies for all words in the English language and ‘story’ ranked number 224 out of all and 39 out of nouns. The word ‘story’ occurs on the web (Google) more than 4,450,000,000 times. According to the Merriam-Webster thesaurus, it has more than a hundred synonyms.

Stories vs facts/information.

What is that in stories that make them so appealing? We proclaim that we’re seeking facts while in fact, we always fall into the trapping pit of stories instead. We crave them. Stories work with our feeling brain rather than the logical thinking brain. They deal with our overwhelming emotions, desires, and senses. Naked facts or information needs interpretation. In other words, it requires analysis, which is work. Stories, on the contrary, give us ‘approved’ recipes with all ingredients selected and combined like a cooking mix or instant 3-in-1 coffee. ‘Just add water’ sounds so effortless in contrast to the meticulous work of putting together and comparing individual facts and pieces of information, weighting each ingredient, and coming up with your own recipe every time you need to make a decision.

‘Just add water’, — and we turn on TVs and consume pre-cooked stories that pre-program our reaction. With predictable mass reactions, we are easy to manipulate. We are becoming marionettes in the capable hands of the storytellers.

Are they just storytellers that aren’t aware of the effects?

Otherwise, who are they?

Story agents

Every story has its own story. It starts from the first person who tells it. Let’s call them original story makers, i.e. creators. Everyone who tells a never-told-before story for the first time or puts it down on paper or any media for that matter is a creator. Then a story makes its way to a storyteller (who can be a creator himself) followed by a story-listener. When storytelling becomes an industry we start seeing the transformation of roles: storytellers turn into story-sellers while story-listeners have been converted into story-consumers. The commercial ecosystem gave birth to story-providers and story-aggregators while libraries and information science institutions were assigned roles of story-savers and story-educators.

New agents like conquerors arrived fully equipped with a whole lot of ammunition for their mission. Not only have they built an entirely new environment to support their significant Internet presence but also developed modern tools and instruments. It would be either a very ambitious or a very ludicrous task to list even the most popular or the most powerful of them. Although I would outline two prospective categories: let’s call them frivolously dip and strip.

Software in the first category is similar to diving in the sea. You can’t see a big area under water. The narrowing view gives you the best zooming options. Revealing the smallest details that otherwise would have remained unnoticed these tools work like a chain of little lights in the darkness. You don’t need a lot of objects for such stories, even one could be enough for a great story.

The means of second category software is, on the contrary, to look from above at a very big picture. Imagine climbing the mountain on a very sunny day. The hotter it is, the fewer clothes you need. The higher you climb, the more you see. It’s not only about broadening the horizon but stripping the wrap off the objects revealing the consistency and regularity of patterns, otherwise impossible to be seen. Rearranging multiple objects, shaking and mixing them brings brand new characters, ideas, and scenarios.

The storytelling industry produces fresh software every day. For the sake of not sounding outdated, I’d refrain from giving out the names of my personal top-5. There’s no better or worse software for the job. Whatever helps you to find logic or magic in objects making their way through time and become a story, will work. One can tell an amazing story without any tools. The story is all that matters.

What is a story after all?

It seems like the right time for a definition. Let me start with those already in use. National Storytelling Network defines storytelling as ‘the interactive art of using words and actions to reveal the elements and images of a story while encouraging the listener’s imagination.’

Cambridge dictionary suggests ‘the process the activity of writing, telling, or reading stories.’

Wikipedia and Wiktionary offer a slightly different point of view:

  • storytelling is the social and cultural activity of sharing stories, sometimes with improvisation, theatrics or embellishment
  • storytelling the act and skills of presenting stories and tales,

and Freebase’s definition is very close to that of Wikipedia:

Storytelling is the conveying of events in words, and images, often by improvisation or embellishment.

Finally here’s mine:

storytelling is a process of communicating the enriched quintessence of interlinked time-framed information presented in a format optimized for a target audience to fulfill a certain mission.

Sometimes a certain mission turns into a hidden agenda. I suspect, for that particular reason Merriam-Webster dictionary passes on defining storytelling but gives us a very impressive list of synonyms for ‘storyteller

Usage and benefits of storytelling

Stories give us their hands with closing generation gaps and building new skill sets, re-organizing chaotic data, and making presumably right decisions. Starting as a form of art that prospers in many ways (e.g. Audible), storytelling became a powerful handler for any presentation-related activities. Dirty hands though can turn the art into a weapon but I’ve already mentioned it above.

Stories could be deal-makers or deal-breakers, they make us burst into tears or out laughing. Stories are us and we’ll be remembered for how we tell them.

The article was inspired by:

Europeana Digital Storytelling Festival 2022

and

DARIAH /European Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities/ annual event 2022: Storytelling

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