Think about this: all those stats about our overuse of media - TV, gaming, the internet - are presented to us as indicators of our laziness, our complacency, our obsession with all-things-Kardashian (or Game of Thrones, or World of Warcraft, or CNN political coverage, or, or, or...), right? But what if - WHAT IF - we were to reframe this, and see it rather more as our addiction to STORIES.
Most of us have heard the the tales of our ancestors sitting around the campfire, pioneers around candlelight, Victorians by gas lamp, all listening to (or telling) stories (and later reading) - ostensibly because there was nothing else to do at the end of a hard day of (typically) manual labour. Oh sure, a few games of cards might have been played, and even some needlepoint, but stories have long been were it's at. Elizabethans going to the Globe, lyres being carted by troubadours across the Continent, we are not new to story-obsession. The form of story conveyance might change, but the desire - one might even argue, the need - for stories has long been with us.
In this day and age, we frequently relegate the idea of stories and storytelling to children - bedtime stories, storybooks, going to watch a storyteller, these are all the province of children, right? Or is it more, as Jonathan Gottschall suggests in his 2014 TED talk, that we're handing over our deep and abiding need to tell and be told stories to others, primarily in the form of digitalized stories. He suggests we, as adults, don't ever grow out of our need for stories, don't ever really leave Neverland....we just migrate to the Provinces of Neverland (which may be Vine or Netflix, take your pick).
Like Uri Hassan discusses in his talk on neural entrainment (see my tweet on that, on the main page), our brains start to mirror the (effective) communications of others, but the research also shows that our neural reactions to stories show a pattern that is not spectator in form, but rather participant. It is like we're in the story with Harry, or Frodo, or (god forbid) Kim Kardashian (never thought you'd see all those names in one sentence together, did you?).
Gottschall furthers points out that research shows that consistent watching/participation in a story with a particular worldview moves us in the direction of that worldview. I haven't seen the research, but I'm willing to bet that this holds true no matter the medium, as long as the storytelling is good. The rest may feed our addiction for stories, but it never fulfils us as really good stories and storytellers do.
Gottschall has a moment when he speaks of "Storyteller * Wizard * Conductor", and I don't think I've ever heard a more apt description of a truly gifted storyteller. A storyteller wields enormous power - and historically, the only way to do so was with expressive hands, face and voice. While the modern incarnations of storyteller offer great promise (and power) to those that use them effectively, we also risk a great deal turning over the power of the storyteller to those that would abuse that power - and, frankly, abuse can be as basic as just really bad stories or storytelling (I'm sure you can name a few straight off the top of your head).
Further, if we, as Gottschall says, "helplessly need stories, in the best times and the worst times", hadn't we better make sure that we can tell the difference between the good and the bad - story and storyteller - alike?
After all, most of us were raised with the "Say No to Drugs" campaign "This is your brain on drugs" - what if we simply change it to "This is your brain...on stories."
Hello! My name is Donna, and Raconteur is my Studio. Words are my passion - especially beautiful, powerful words, beautifully and powerfully shared. I never planned to be a Spoken Arts instructor, but I was lucky enough to have fallen into the work 23+ years ago - and I have never really looked back.