Technological Change & Storytelling

I’ve signed on to take a new free MOOC (Massively Open Online Course) called The Future of Storytelling. My interest in this MOOC is two-fold:

  • It covers storytelling, including an upcoming module on transmedia storytelling
  • It is a MOOC — a truly massive one at that with an estimated 50,000 people enrolled — and I have been involved in the design and teaching of my own MOOC

We’re only a week into the course, but it has already provoked some discussions and certainly has gotten me thinking about storytelling.

One of the questions that the MOOC prompted was about technological change and its impact on storytelling. It is an important question that storytellers need to address. Each step from oral tales told around a campfire tens of thousands of years ago to today’s story presented using the latest augmented reality software has seen the structure of stories evolve. This technological change will continue.

That means storytellers will have to continue to evolve their techniques, but it also means retaining a strong understanding of the fundamentals of much older techniques. The principles of oral storytelling, for example, are largely the same for those sitting around a campfire ten thousand years ago and a group around a fire at a summer camp today. The principles of novel writing for a book published on paper versus one published on the Kindle e-book reader also remain the same.

What is important to recognize is that technology doesn’t close off the older approaches to storytelling. Rather, technology increases the options we as storytellers have available to use for crafting and presenting our stories.

What I find really interesting from a storytelling perspective is how we might deal with a future in which advanced implantable technologies that augment human senses and thought processes are used to create experiences. While this sounds like the stuff of science fiction, technologies like Google Glass and Samsung’s Galaxy Gear (computer and cell phone in a wristwatch) were also considered science fiction at one time. It will be decades or more before we see such technologies in widespread use. However, the drive to create immersive experiences is strong. Everything from amusement park rides to IMAX to 3D movies/TV to transmedia stories to virtual reality to augmented reality aims to create an experience that engages all human senses.

The technologies for storytelling will continue to change. The key question for us as storytellers is whether that will change how we tell stories. While the techniques we use are probably going to change, the underlying structures of narrative are likely to remain the same. Understanding the structure of many different types of narratives is essential if we are to continue the evolution of storytelling.

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