While I’m convinced that humanity’s love and need for stories has not diminished, there is no arguing that storytelling and story “hearing” has changed dramatically over time. If we go back to the early days, I’m talking millennia, stories were passed along from generation to generation verbally… around campfires. (I’m sure stories were shared in other places, but our modern minds have an easier time imaging our ancient ancestors sitting around a campfire telling stories.) They told stories for many of the same reasons we do: to explain where we came from, to pass along important information necessary for survival, and to entertain.
Written language was a breakthrough and allowed for stories to be recorded and preserved. However, since most people couldn’t read or write – and transcribing stories was a slow and arduous process – storytelling remained a public discipline, told or read aloud in public spaces.
Technology changed everything. The printing press, and later radio, motion pictures, and the internet, brought a seismic shift in how we consume stories. In ancient times storytelling required at least two people. Today story “hearing” is mostly an individual practice.
Sure, grandpas all over the world still tell “when I was a kid” stories but in today’s world Papa’s stories face tough competition. The proliferation of personalized stories delivered to the palm of our hand via Facebook, Netflix, and Amazon have completed a communication transformation: Mankind now consumes the majority of its stories without eye contact.
Movies at a local cinema and live theater still provide the opportunity for the public consumption of story, but I think most people now consider these occasions special events.
This past week I went to a Moth StorySLAM here in Los Angeles. StorySLAMs are an open mic storytelling competition open to anyone with a 5-minute story to tell based on the theme of the night. The theme this week was Back to School. Storytellers submit their name and then ten names are drawn at random. There are usually more names submitted than slots available, so not everyone gets a chance to share. (I submitted my name to tell a story, but my name was not selected.) Nonetheless, it is an entertaining evening for both storytellers and the audience.
I am grateful for organizations like The Moth, which elevate the art and practice of live storytelling – storytelling that requires eye-contact. The stories are not vetted so everyone in the room is hearing the stories for the first time. Some stories are funny; some are heartfelt. They all carried a tone of honesty and vulnerability. Here is an example of a story told at a StorySLAM in 2015. The theme for the night was “Blame.” May it serve as a reminder of the importance and power of live storytelling.
A WRITER AND TRAVELER KEEPING THE FAITH IN LOS ANGELES