Storytelling has been with us from time immemorial – all cultures have their great sagas and myths – handed down from generation to generation – having their foundations in the simple verbal traditions of campfire stories and tales. In some cultures, storytelling is still a vibrant and living thing, whilst in much of today’s society such things have been relegated to the unimportant and quaint.
Yet these stories contain our cultural and social DNA – without them our past becomes an obscure and distant place and our present lacks context. On a social level, the need to associate and share with others is diminished, as is the opportunity for collaboration, discussion and debate. Much of this is the outcome of our changing societal structures and a consequence of mass media and modern information systems – storytelling, in its purest form, is in danger of becoming a lost art, and personally, i think that’s a very bad thing.
Maybe that’s not actually an inevitability though – storytelling is an enduring thing: it has survived centuries of change, of the most radical and far-reaching kind… it is resilient and accommodating and, no matter how the world may alter and society change, there is every reason to suggest that storytelling will continue in some form or other.
So, who are the storytellers of today? Where are our modern-day traditions and sagas being forged, and where do we find the 21st Century equivalents of the camp fire, puppet show and cave paintings? Perhaps it’s not too big a leap of faith to suggest that virtual worlds, like sl, and those things that share many of their attributes, might well fill that particular niche?
Let’s stick with sl for the moment – it is, after all, the concept with which i’m most familiar – and consider those elements it has in common with the storytelling tradition. To begin with, it is somewhat ephemeral and transitory; it is a shared, creative space – the cohesive and cumulative result of a collaborative, and shared, experience. Much of sl is based upon we, ‘the listener’, interpreting and appreciating the message that others communicate to us through the way in which use sl to ‘speak’ to us. SL reflects the culture and diversity of the real world and the possibilities and intrigue of the imagined world. We model complex ideas using simple virtual tools – just as stories weave complexities through only the simplest and most basic of mediums – voice, movement and imagination. In the virtual world, as in the storyteller’s yarns, the imaginary and the fantastic meld with the worldly and mundane. Our moral values are challenged, our humanity is tested, our minds are stretched, and every sight, sound and experience are a message that can only be grasped and understood when we take the time to hear, see and experience it.
Is sl perhaps one example of a whole new generation of storytelling for a world that, in so many ways, eschews the value of tradition? Are we substituting the shamanic rites, the fairytales and myths of our forebears with a new and very different method of passing on acquired generational knowledge, wisdom and understanding?
i hope so.
You see, much as i grieve the passing of the old ways, i accept that times change – as does the way in which we interpret and understand the world around us and how we live our lives – if we were to lose that perspective in its entirety, then what is left? We may think we are the go-getters, the future of humanity, and that we are entirely the product of our own actions and decisions; but we are not, and so long as we have a means of passing that message on to our children, our children’s children and generations to come, then we have a firm foundation to continue to develop and grow as a species, without it humanity becomes a sterile, self-gratifying and shallow thing – a pale and disappointing ghost of what it could be. It is life… but not as we know it.
The story of our humanity – however we have received it, and in whatever form, faith or dogma assumes for us personally, is what makes the here and now such a rich, fertile and satisfying experience, and whilst we may no longer believe in dragons, demons, fairies and folklore, life would be a dismal and dreary thing if they had never been – even if only in tribal imaginings and collective memories.
We: those who build and create, those who play and sing, those who dream and tinker, those who weave words and worlds; we, who see gardens, cities, light and shadow in the form of a simple plywood cube… we are the storytellers for the digital generation. We, for whom the commonplace is fantastic, and the fantastic is commonplace, have in our grasp all the threads of that same story that has its roots in the very beginnings of our collective consciousness….
So, what will your chapter say?
Reach the stars
Fly a fantasy…
Dream a dream
And what you see will be…
Limahl – Neverending Story