Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Stories are what make us human. We need to create new containers to tell the stories...

"Stories are what make us human. We need to create new containers to tell the stories." This was said by Dr Ramesh Raskar, a researcher at MIT's Center for Future Story Telling to Stephen Fry in Fry's Planet Word, broadcast in the UK exactly one year ago today as I type this. Dr Raskar was working on a sensory suit that would allow someone to experience the electronically captured movement of another person. Wearing the suit someone would be able to 'relive' the saved experiences of a long-gone grandparent for example - perhaps a relative you never actually knew. So the suit was the new container able to tell someones story to the wearer.

The quote about new containers to tell stories struck me a year ago when I watched the programme and I  have been periodically mulling it over since then. If a sensory suit is a new container, then what forms do the old containers take. Are they redundant and is that why we 'need' new ones?

I suppose that containers could be the oral storytelling tradition around the fire or the written word that replaced it, except that it didn't really replace it. The oral tradition is alive and well. My own city of Oxford is home to the developing Story Museum which focuses on performances, exhibitions and activities to support children's learning through stories. What is teh phenonmenal TED if not stories performed?

Likewise stories in the container of the printed word or books are still being published and sold. My husband alone keeps several bookstores in business.

Husband's book buying habits are out of control

Secondhand sellers now have access to international customers thanks to the Internet. New containers for books could be e-readers, like Kindle, but again they haven't replaced books or magazines yet.

I keep reading on social media that digital storytelling is replacing linear narrative. I'm reading Frank Rose's excellent book The Art of Immersion - how the digital generation is remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the way we tell stories. The term immersion describes the way that audiences can become individually and collectively participatory in a narrative using different media, and able to shape and transform the story in a manner that is uniquely afforded by the Internet. For me,  the books sort of builds on Janet Murray's Hamlet on the Holodeck - the Future of Narrative in Cyberspace, which amazingly was published way back in 1997. Are these (ironically) books both describing new containers for stories - ones that are digital?

I also really like Frank Rose's blog Deep Media - on narrative in the digital age. Deep media is opposite of mass media. Rose has just written his account of a recent New York conference Future of Storytelling - reinventing the way stories are told (clip about FOST below).

In his review of the conference Rose describes an  initiative where data dumps, such as real estate or sports statistics, are automatically transformed into stories by software apps (or bots). The stories render the data much more understandable to readers trying to comprehend performance and trends. So maybe our stories are destined to come from bots and not brains via books in the near future. Strange to think that the quote at the beginning 'stories are what makes us human' can lead to a scenario where ro(bots) are creating the stories.

Finally, I am looking forward to reading Jonathan Gottschall's book - The Storytelling Animal - How Stories Make Us Human which seeks to explain how stories change our behaviour.