Importance of storytelling: how it evolved, why it still matters


Photo courtesy of mn2s.com

By Olivia Capasso || Junior Editor

Since the beginning of time, humans have been practicing the art of storytelling.  Whether fictional or non-fictional, it is in our nature to communicate stories that are personally or culturally defining.  Families have taken great pride in passing down tales for generations that distinguish themselves from others in a unique way.  A common story told to millions of Americans is the journey that their ancestors had made to America years ago in search of a more fulfilling life.  For many of them, that or a similar story is significant and effective in connecting an individual with his or her sense of culture that may have become diluted over time.  Storytelling is a central tradition and form of socializing, education, and communication in American society. With the new dawn of technology, though, that exchange has become a bit interrupted.

Stories were first shared in the form of visual representations and hieroglyphs.  The first recorded drawings date back 30,000 years, and reflect a sort of “universal language” that was easily understood by all (reporter.rit.edu).  As time went on, stories were then shared by word of mouth in various forms, depending on the culture. Native American tribes are known for having traditionally told oral myths, while other groups were more fond of poetry or songs.  Most recently, stories have been recorded and told in the form of the written word. The first known indication of script, dating back to 9,000 years ago, was identified on surfaces such as stone, clay, and paper. Then came the printing press, first used in 1440, which came with the unique ability to share information quickly and widely. However, it limited the audience that was capable of digesting the information to just those who were literate.  All of these forms of storytelling are still used today and made more accessible and apparent with technology.

Social media and the internet have played instrumental roles in maintaining the prevalence of storytelling but have shifted the nature of it dramatically.  Photos on Instagram independently convey stories, as did the visual representations identified thousands of years ago in caves. Oral storytelling still plays a huge role in social scenes where humans are expected to share memories, among other accounts, and, of course, literature and social media posts provide ample space for individuals to convey messages through the written word.  The fundamental basis of storytelling is still very much present in social media; however, information is often manipulated to have an adverse effect on the audience absorbing the information presented.

The term “fake news” can be defined as individuals using the power of social media to spread harmful fictional information for personal gain.  Degrading photos and posts on Instagram can have a detrimental impact on the minds of youths and support a warped perception of gender roles, body image, and what an “ideal” life or relationship should look like.  Though social media no doubt serves an important role in connecting individuals, sharing information and stories quickly, and instituting societal change, it falls short by creating false ideals for the younger generations who are growing up with such technology.  Storytelling as practiced on social media is effective in that it combines groups of people; however, it is unclear as to whether or not the negative information outweighs the positives that are currently presented. I believe that a movement towards more constructive messages by powerful influencers must be initiated to improve the environment of social media and allow for the art and tradition of storytelling to thrive.

First-Year Olivia Capasso is a Junior Editor, her email is ocapsso@fandm.edu.

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