And now, boldly into storytelling’s third paradigm…
“Anything one man can imagine, other men can make real.” –Jules Verne
There is an astoundingly elegant and powerful virtuous cycle of creation that exists between storytelling and reality. If one looks back in history, one can observe three distinct paradigms of storytelling in service to this:
1. Storytelling as relaying the past
2. Storytelling as reflecting the now
3. Storytelling as creating the future
While none of the three have ever existed entirely without the other two, there is a distinct chronology in how they have evolved as subsequent waves over the history of humanity, and how the emerging technologies of the time were fundamentally causal to how storytelling could serve the creation of reality in each age.
In its beginnings, storytelling created reality by passing on the knowledge, wisdom, and mythology of the past. This enabled us to maintain a consistent form of reality — both physically in what we made, and psychologically in what we believed — from generation to generation. The technology that arrived on the scene to make that possible was language, with its initial applications by the elder in such scenarios as around the communal fire and in the field toward passing on the craft and design of tools and skills. The technology of language eventually evolved into the written word, which became glyphs, manuscripts, books, and eventually the printing press, whereby the relaying of the past to benefit reality was no longer in need of the memory of a living human being to occur.
In its next phase, storytelling became a tool to not just relay the past, but to reflect the now. The technologies that enabled this to happen were those that could actually capture events and quickly display them back to culture –photography, film, video, and the mediums of radio and television — the new communal fires — which could simultaneously broadcast that reflection across much of the human family. The advent of these technologies was timely in that the speed of society’s evolution had begun to become parabolic, and with that, the reflection of the now enormously important for all to collectively keep a common understanding of our current condition, day to day, and even moment to moment. And when that condition was ailing, to illuminate the ailment on a global scale. Here, the virtuous cycle between storytelling and the creation of reality generated even more speed as for the first time, people could learn, if they so chose, from the experiences and stories of those on the other side of the world.
Which brings us to the third, most exciting, and perhaps final phase of the relationship between storytelling and reality: creating tomorrow. In the last century we’ve seen our stories seed and initiate the innovations of our time. These examples have been described by the Smithsonian:
Simon Lake building the first submarine after reading Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”, and Igor Sikorsky inventing the helicopter after reading Jules Verne’s “Clipper in the Clouds”.
Robert Goddard building the first liquid-filled rocket after being inspired by H.G Wells, “War of the Worlds”. And it grows from there — another Wells novel, “The World Set Free” which imagined atomic energy, propelled Leo Szilard to develop the modeling to create the first atomic chain reaction and register the first patent for nuclear reactors with Enrico Fermi.
The Star Trek “communicator” was the seed that inspired Martin Cooper, then director of R&D for Motorola, to design the first cell phone. And when Apple scientist Steve Perlman saw a “Star Trek: The Next Generation” episode where a computer was playing multiple music tracks, the idea of QuickTime was born.
It was Neal Stephenson’s 1993 novel, “Snow Crash” and it’s depiction of the “Metaverse” that inspired Philip Rosedale to first create Second Life, and now his VR start-up, High Fidelity, to create immersive VR worlds where people can don avatars and collaborate in real time.
As exciting as these technological advancements are, at Enso we see storytelling bringing about new tomorrows in an even more meaningful way. That way is by envisioning worlds with enlightened social norms beyond the prejudices, limiting beliefs, archaic tribal constructs, and the cultural conditioning of today. The idea being that when scaled groups of people are exposed to these kinds of stories, more light gets let in, and we’re more apt to let go of our conditioning and play a role in society evolving. Films like “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and “Philadelphia” both boldly portrayed what were at the time deemed culturally unacceptable human relationships, and played a major role in normalizing those relationships for the good of all. When “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” was being filmed, 17 states had laws against interracial marriage — as it was being debuted, the Supreme Court struck down those laws.
Today we see brave brands using storytelling to similarly craft tomorrows with new, more conscious, social norms. We see Google spotlight a transgender teen and his transition from woman to man in one of their business videos. We see Dove help bring about a less superficial and healthier beauty paradigm by using storytelling to reflect our own judgments back to us. We see VR now creating more united tomorrows by eliminating the illusion of separateness through facilitating amplified human empathy — enabling people to walk in each other’s shoes and see how “the other” is experiencing the very real challenges of their worlds. VR films like Vrse’s “Clouds over Sidri”, and RYOT’s “The Nepal Quake Project” illustrate this profoundly.
As we boldly go into storytelling’s third paradigm — creating the future, we see that there’s never been a more exciting time to be a storyteller. But with that excitement comes also a heightened sense of responsibility. Knowing that the stories we make can do more than fill space — that they can indeed create new space — more beautiful, more healthy, more kind, more unified, and more loving space, what stories will we choose to tell?