If you want to learn storytelling keep away from the internet

By Limor Shiponi

The above claim isn’t only about the loads of misleading information, irrelevant and damaging applications the web is stuffed with; my deeper claim is that you can learn about storytelling on the net, but you can’t learn storytelling. The medium, together with the devices we use to facilitate it, aren’t fit for the purpose.

The internet disrupts our sense of time

Past, present and future mix in weird ways; on facebook the dead can suddenly appear among the living; we are told the only time is now – an endless present, an overwhelming thought that brings along fear driven behaviors; we lose sense of time and find it difficult to plan ahead or even think in timeframes longer than seconds or minutes.

One of the deepest sources for the healing effect storytelling can elicit, has to do with the order of time; time which is the right time, order which is the right order – right for humans, for our exchanges and calls of nature. Healing requires time and patience, hope and compassion for the time it takes to get somewhere; the ability to consider the time needed for all present and for the fact we have other things to do too.

The internet creates un-humane expectations

There are storytelling performances with 2,000 people in the audience. That’s already a number that shifts proper storytelling performance towards ‘show like’ and ‘theatrical’. You can’t tell any story for its true worth in such numbers. The internet promises ‘virality’ and huge numbers in ‘reach’, thus creating expectations we already know work against the true nature of a storytelling event.

Why should we be one in a crowd of thousands and more, if we can be one in a crowd of dozens – at a time we are hungry for human attention more than any other time in history?

Personal devices pull us apart

Smart phones have large screens and for the fear of damage, people sacrifice an arm and a hand to hold onto them most of the time; the larger they get the more hands are lost – for two hands thumb-typing. We walk around with private televisions, each watching our own program; we can’t even share the experience, for the ‘freedom of endless choices’ makes it almost impossible to be watching the same material; something we could later on share thoughts and talk about. That’s gone.

Storytelling brings us close together so we can hear properly and see the visual clues handled to us by the storyteller – the clues that will help us imagine the story in our minds. We listen to the same story and after it’s over we have common ground – to share our thoughts and feelings about, to recollect later on.

Immediate availability of information weakens our mind

We don’t need to remember anything anymore, and why should we if we live in lasting present? if we don’t need to plan for the future or learn past lessons, we don’t need to work our brain too much either. We don’t need to imagine or have a horizon to look at, if our visual fields are blocked. They aren’t only physically blocked with a device – our imaginations are being stuffed and bombarded with endless messages not trusting us to think about anything else besides what the creators of those messages want us to have on our minds. We phase out too often, our minds unable to take the pressure, we feel poisoned – which many of us dare not say.

‘What happened next?’ can be dying. More kids are driven by a hidden force to shout out “I know that story!” the minute you utter, “once upon a time there was a king…” they just have to prove they have the info handy.

The internet ruins the development of our natural sense for timing

Then they tell you timing is everything – but the robots will tell you what that time might be. If you want to know more – pay. That’s ridiculous. In the land of storytelling the clock should never rule our sense of time – time is set by people, the seasons, our body, light and darkness, the presence and absence of others, our emotions – not a machine.

It’s a Hydra not a storyteller

The internet allows for multi-channel appeal because we use many channels; so now you have multi-channel marketing and transmedia storytelling, content marketing done terribly wrong and promoted messages. Storytellers speak from one head and we speak one story at a time so you have the time – to imagine, to take to heart, or not, to make sense, to understand and learn. Not so the Hydra which feeds on the constant work of dozens and hundreds of content creators, aiming to orchestrate their work and launch it into the mass like old cannonballs shot from a precision launcher – inaccurate and damaging weapons under mass production; tearing through the delicate designs of human attention, careless.

The platforms ‘utilize’ relationships

Or to be more precise – exploit them. That’s not what friends and followers are for. People were never supposed to be a product owned by someone. Correct me if I’m wrong – slavery is illegal.

Storytellers need to earn trust every time we approach people – again and again. Sitting in a distance of an arm reach we know we can’t exploit no relationships – we are part of the exchange – what goes around comes around.

To hell with linear story forms

Stories are supposed to be linear, so we can understand cause and effect. In a world aiming at non-linear story forms (which don’t really exist but that’s another story), we lose the ability to understand what influences an outcome, we become irresponsible, demanding without caring for what it takes, we are impatient to anything but our immediate desire; society breaks apart as does civility.

The stories we choose to listen to we should care for

But not so on the internet. The desperate battle for attention and eyeballs-time makes all those Hydras bombard us at once. Being numb in front of yet another ad or post  -I wouldn’t mind; yet many of us are numb in front of content describing mass-murder, governments turning against their people, the sufferings of those hit by nature turning unnatural because of greed and carelessness, kids shooting other kids with us not doing much about it – the list of terrible things happening is long, yet we do so little because we are overwhelmed to the degree we can’t take it, thus discard the information.

Storytellers tell one story at a time and only one to several in one sitting. If you attend a session you couldn’t possibly be attending another, thus the stories told become the center of your attention and you care.

If you want to learn storytelling, close the device, leave it at home, go meet people, listen to their stories and when you feel the time is right – tell yours. Do it as much as possible and you’re on the right and only path to learn storytelling.

Bon voyage.

5 thoughts on “If you want to learn storytelling keep away from the internet”

  1. Ricardo Deleon

    Cristal Clear, Thanks. I understand that virtuality is the antidote against innocence and has some side effects: kills the sense of wonder and covertly suggests that wisdom is “at your fingertips”.

    1. Hi Ricardo, thank you too. I’m not sure virtuality is the antidote against innocence. Man made virtuality is something else. Some people think they can play God – and that happens on many levels.

      1. Ricardo Deleon

        Exactly, In the virtual world (where there is no real face to face) is easy to confuse innocence with ignorance. So we play God.
        (I mean here innocence In relation to knowledge)

  2. I have difficulty with this in that I understand and agree with where you are coming from, yet find myself responding via the internet. I once taught Stage Design and had to ban my pupils from using the internet (unsupervised) as they printed off ideas, concepts and designs which they did not understand and yet I would often supervise their research on the net to deepen their understanding of the subject. I read your posts and learn by them (sometimes privately take issue with them too) I communicate with storytellers around the world and dip into fantastic resources made available via the net. The internet is a tool and – like a chisel that can carve beautifully or cut chunks out of its wielder – people must be taught how to use it properly.

    1. Hi Stephen, I totally agree that people must be taught how to use this space and it’s possibilities properly, just like being taught how to use a library. You can gain a lot when you know how to work your way and have a good process; when you know where not to go or have the tools to make decisions. But even the greatest library and the best process are not all there is, they are not full reality and can’t save us from having to have some sort of experience; to see things eye-to-eye and risk ourselves through taking part and growing our own ideas. Otherwise we’ll never know who exactly we are and if what we do is taking us some place good.

      If knowing that wouldn’t be so important for people, I wouldn’t hear so many requests to tackle what’s right and what’s wrong. You don’t gain that knowledge fully in virtuality.

      A storyteller can gain from this space more than any other reader – because you’ve been there, you have the sensual experience of what I’m writing about – in the real world. If you don’t, you’ll gain less and you’ll be looking mainly for stuff about stories. That’s ok, but only about a third of the full picture.

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