Social Media and the Art of Storytelling, Reader Responses

20 Apr

This is the customary follow-up piece written by someone who didn’t consider all of the lovely ideas that the commenters brought to the table while she was writing her original article.  Unfortunately, a lot of times writers of these pieces seem to miss the bigger issues that the commenters brought up and instead focus on a few straw men that they can tear down to bolster their argument.  Of course, I wasn’t really making an argument, so hopefully I won’t fall into this trap.  (But, let me know if I do!)

Thanks to being featured on Freshly Pressed, Social Media and the Art of Storytelling has become my most viewed post.  After reading the comments (and responding to as many of them as I could), I realize that I left some lose ends in that post.

One thing that was pointed out time and again was that online communication cannot fully replace face to face interactions.  I think broadsideblog said it best:

There is something much more powerful about telling one another our stories face to face, not pixel by pixel. We need to know the effect on one another of our stories, whether tears or laughter, sighs or gasps…. I want to hear the voice, see their eyes, and when I am story-telling I need to see and hear what’s compelling — and what’s not.

Of course, that’s totally correct and applies not only to storytelling, but to communication in general.  You don’t comfort a grieving friend through chat and you don’t celebrate your child’s 5th birthday with an e-card.  It’s just not the same.  Some things do require physical presence, eye contact, and touch.

But, the medium through which we communicate is changing and we’re losing these elements in many of our day-to-day interactions.  (Earlier this year, I did a Facebook poll of my siblings and cousins to see how they wanted to celebrate Christmas…)  That’s happening and we can’t stop it.  So, really, the question is, how can we make sure that changes to the medium don’t affect changes to the message?  (Yes, yes, I know – “The medium is the message.”)  As commenter Jaime Greening said:

the medium of the story matters, but it neither stops nor starts the story. the story originates in the storyteller and germinates until it finds an audience. human beings must tell stories, and we will use what is available–twitter, fb, blog or cave walls.

Perfectly said.  Now can someone please make an evolutionary chart that shows the progression of storytelling mediums from cave paintings to twitter?  Information is Beautiful, maybe?

Another thing that came up a lot was people wondering how all of these stories that we’re creating and posting online could be preserved.  Listener commented:

And to think, for millenia the vast majority of people existed with no record of their existence other than their DNA. I suppose we are lucky.?! This should be motivation to make use of the new-found ease with with we can create.

At what point will historians, museums, or historical societies start to preserve and catalogue the virtual world? It seems quite a daunting task to take a snapshot of the entire web. Since things online are always changing, you’d need to somehow capture everything at once if you wanted a representative view of the web of 2011, for example.

I do have real answers to this one, not just the meandering thoughts that I’ve had to the previous two.  (But, don’t worry, I have meandering thoughts on this, too.)  We as bloggers aren’t alone in recognizing the need to capture our stories, our culture, and our communications and to save them for the future.  The Library of Congress does, too.  Last year, they began archiving tweets.  They’ll be searchable for scholars in the future.  To learn more about the archive, read How Tweet It Is!: Library Acquires  Entire Twitter Archive.  Imagine if historians had similar data from different periods.  What if a civil war scholar could get data about opinion and chatter on any given day in the lead up to the war.  What if a WWII scholar could look into the social networks of Germans leading up to the war and see how densely Jews were tied into larger social networks and at what point those ties broke?  (Have I mentioned that I’m a history nerd?)  Also, the Internet Archive, is working to catalog the Internet and its growth and changes for future scholars.  (Who knows, your blog may appear in a book 100 years from now!)  Their project, the Wayback Machine, allows you to see to internet site at different points in the past and view their development over time.  So cool!

I did have one commenter, Alecia, who kind of stumped me.  (Unfortunately Alecia didn’t link to her blog, so no pingbacks for her.) She asked:

Why is storytelling so important in relation to digital social media?

When I first heard about the importance of storytelling in today’s tech world, I was a little confused. Storytelling doesn’t seem that important to me. But Guy Kawasaki and other ‘connected’ people I’ve read about stress storytelling’s importance.

Why do you think digital storytelling is important?

I think I may have failed a bit on my response:

Hmmm. For me, I guess I’ve never questioned that story telling is important. I think of it as a basic way that we interact with and connect with each other. It bonds people together and forges shared experiences.

I’ve always been really interested in the study of what myths and creation stories say about a culture. I think that you can tell a lot about a people and what they value from the stories that they tell. Are you familiar with the Horatio Alger stories? Stories are often shorthand for our hopes as fears.

My real interest in writing this is that we don’t lose storytelling’s place in our culture as we become a more physically disconnected society.

So, readers, commenters, I put it to you.  Why is storytelling important?  Can you help me articulate it any better?


MaggieCakes is a blog about culture, social media, and what’s new in the world of Internet culture. Every day (okay, I try for every day) I comb blogs and news outlets for the news about internet culture and social media to bring them to you (with my commentary, of course) here on MaggieCakes. MaggieCakes is hosted by WordPress and often draws upon Slate, Jezebel, The Hair Pin, and SocialTimes for links and inspiration. My post Social Media and the Art of Storytelling was featured on Freshly Pressed, bringing a while new readership to my blog. Find anything interesting in the worlds of culture or social media that you’d like to see a post on? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail at 2maggieotoole@gmail.com.

13 Responses to “Social Media and the Art of Storytelling, Reader Responses”

  1. Cynthia April 20, 2011 at 10:18 am #

    Storytellilng informs of our past (history), our present (news), and our future (outcomes of our actions and what to expect in life). Storytelling lets us know how we feel about our experiences. Knowing how we feel about our experiences is important because so many of our judgments and subsequent actions are based on what we feel rather than on facts. Storytelling also shows how we can change who we are, become wiser, stronger, more compassionate. The teller of stories shapes the world.

  2. The Water is Deep April 20, 2011 at 10:45 am #

    I love this Article because it correctly spells out how we have evolved in the Cummunication Arena.

    I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit to my complete dependence on my cell phone and computer. I actually have to make a choice to consciously turn it off so that I can interact with only the people Physically near me. Quite often I get lost in a Texting War and forget there are live breathing humans, in the room, who’d like to interact with me.

    Storytelling via Blog or other Social Media is a great way to document a Story, although I think it is completely impossible with Mediums such as facebook & twitter. For some of us it is just impossible to Storytell with such limited space. 🙂

    As well as, much is lost without the facial expressions and hand gestures of the ones telling the story and the ones hearing it.

    Laughter sitting alone at the computer or with your phone in your hand is not nearly so fun as in Person with a friend.

    The answer lies in using the Medium for what it was intended for and to not let it replace ‘the old fashioned real thing’.

  3. Gypsy Queen April 20, 2011 at 12:16 pm #

    Humans tell stories because we can’t help it. It’s how we define ourselves. The stories we tell ourselves shape us. We tell stories to present ourselves, our history and our future. It’s how we define what we do and why we do it. I think that story telling is in our blood and story tellers shape (and revise) history. We will tell stories. it’s what we do. And given that, we should start paying attention to the stories we tell… right?

  4. Tantrachick April 20, 2011 at 1:50 pm #

    I love this even deeper look at the art of story telling! Once again, thank you for your time and energy! Your passion and dedication truly shine through!

  5. Mike April 20, 2011 at 11:10 pm #

    Why is storytelling important?
    I think you’ve actually captured it quite nicely Maggie, as have your commentors, each in their own way. Storytelling is about connections, and certainly serves as a bridge between generations.
    Of course there’s a receiving side as well. We benefit from being open and receptive to the stories at play all around us. Consider the book Reading the Forested Landscape or the Native American saying, “the forest holds many voices, what has occurred and what has been spoken still lingers here.”
    There are many stories out there, some move slowly, some are carried on the wind, some never end, and some are a digital flash. I suppose I’m just saying that story receiving offers us just as much as all those goods associated with storytelling.

  6. actortim April 21, 2011 at 11:43 am #

    It’s an odd one, isn’t it? In my line of work, the “face to face” aspect of communicating your identity and your ability is absolutely essential. Problem is, its also very expensive and actors aren’t known for their deep pockets.

    This is why I’m trying my best to balance the two; meeting and greeting and telling people about myself in person as well as using social media, which has allowed me to network quicker and easier than ever (though this generally happens with people and companies I already know).

    Trying to gain interest from people I DON’T know is very tricky on social media alone, however.

  7. Jon Mac April 21, 2011 at 8:06 pm #

    I love it! Lots of good comments 🙂

    Storytelling is important because it connects what we think with what we know and what we believe. After all that, we are left with what is.

    ha ha, that sounds lame now that I read it, but that’s my shot at it 🙂

  8. Jon Mac April 22, 2011 at 5:59 pm #

    Hi, I put together a little time line of the
    Evolution of the Story – Part 1
    All text, though. It’s a bit beyond my graphics capabilities right now 🙂

    I hope a comment like this is ok… If not, I’ll delete it!

    • Maggie April 22, 2011 at 7:24 pm #

      It’s totally okay. Your list is very well done. I look forward to Part 2!

  9. skippingstones April 24, 2011 at 3:48 pm #

    Hi Maggie!
    I was looking up your original blog because it had prompted some thoughts. Then I came across this response from you, and it’s given me even more to think about.

    As a person who loves stories, it’s hard for me to imagine someone not feeling that storytelling is important. But there were really two questions there. This is just my opinion:

    1. Why is storytelling important?
    Storytelling would have begun (and continues) for many reasons. One would be simply to share your experiences with others. We do this today – what my crazy uncle did at my cousin’s wedding, how my first car was a Yugo (so light I could lift it by hand to change a tire), or when I took on the bully and won. We share these stories to make people laugh, to get sympathy, to encourage someone else, to provide a real-life example, to feel closer to each other, or even to achieve power (or the perception of power), prestige or advantage over others. Imagine a pre-historic man describing to his cave-mates how he took down the biggest beast. “I did this – who wants to mess with me now?”

    Storytelling would have begun for purposes of safety. Cautionary tales abound in the nursery: Hansel and Gretel should have stayed at home, that kid shouldn’t have cried wolf (lies get you eaten!). Basically, it’s the medicine – listen to your parents and do what you’re told or harm will come to you – all wrapped up in a package your kid will swallow.

    Storytelling would have begun to pass on culture and history. Before there was writing, history was preserved in song or chants, folktales, or just memorized verse. Through storytelling, we are able to view, analyze and (hopefully) learn from the past.

    And storytelling would have been and still is a method of entertainment. It is escape from your stress, a catalyst for thought, a delightful scare, a vicarious adventure. It is a pure joy.

    I think all of these satisfactorily answer the question “Why is storytelling important?”

    2. Why do you think digital storytelling is important?
    For me, that is both easier and harder to answer.

    The easy answer is that digital is convenient. Convenience has been and always will be where the future is headed. You might just as well ask why the written word was important in comparison to the oral tradition. There are similar advantages. For example, it’s easier and faster to create and share the material. It’s quicker and easier to handwrite a history lesson than to memorize it (not to mention reading it over hearing it). In the digital age, we just type it up and hit “send”.

    An invaluable advantage is that the information is more accessible to the masses. It’s easier to get the information out there, while maintaining the integrity of the original message, in writing than by speech. Digital is even easier than print (you can do it all from home, sitting in your pajamas). In historical terms, convenience is important – to get your message, your story, out there – to reach the most people in the quickest possible way. You need only look at what is happening in the world right now to see the impact of digital media.

    The same argument applies to fiction or non-fiction digital storytelling. How many people would be reading this blog, or any of the self-published stories on the web, if self-publishing actually meant printing it up on paper?

    The harder thing for me to convey is why I personally think digital storytelling is important. For me, it is the autobiography of person, through blog, comment and post of every kind. We are sharing our lives in ways big and small. When the world was a larger place, in a time before the convenience of phone and automobile, lives were laid out in letters. It was not so different than what we do in a digital format today. But how many of those letters actually survived? And how many of those letters were made as public as we make our lives today? Facebook and Twitter, blogs and comments like this one not only will be more widely read, but they will stand a better chance of preservation (as you were talking about above).

    So, anyway…this is longer than I intended, but I’m going to send it anyway. That way, my thoughts will be digitally preserved for a while. And that’s important, if to no one else but me.

  10. bethanyd28594 July 28, 2012 at 4:23 pm #

    When the tech world has smellovision, look out. Thank you for your blog and posts.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Social Media and the Art of Storytelling « MaggieCakes - April 20, 2011

    […] Social Media and the Art of Storytelling, Reader Responses […]

  2. There are three things in life you can’t escape — death, Facebook, and taxes « MaggieCakes - June 8, 2011

    […] probably seen me gush on and on about social media’s implications for future historical research, but it’s not judge cold distant “future people”, that will have access to our […]

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