Who can resist sharing a really great story? Millions of stories are being posted and shared today by mobile device content creators, smartphone filmmakers, mobile journalists, vloggers and phoneographers who want to tell us something brilliant or profound, scandalous or funny. Our technology allows instant and infinite sharing but the impulse to tell a story is nothing new. Stories like Homer’s Odyssey have carried meaning across millennia. Whether we want to impart something significant or just share a laugh, great stories compel humans to tell them.
Storytellers understand the power of a story to engage audiences. Fables with images of unforgettable beauty and awe, like the flight of Icarus, can be understood in cultures and times far from their origin. The emotional impact of military triumphs and disasters can unite people in action or caution. How many times will the story of the three hundred Spartans at Thermopylae and the charge of the Light Brigade be told? Stories can cut through complex ideas and ambiguous situations by making abstractions seem real and tangible. In some communities in the past, the appointment of the leader was “based largely on their proficiency as a storyteller” (Parkin 1998). Is it really much different in our communities today?
The raw emotion and logical power of political narratives are compelling but stories can exercise the mind of the teller and the audience in more subtle, constructive ways. Case studies, stories from the real world where theoretical knowledge has been put to the test, are key components of modern curricula. Stories like this can structure large amounts of complex information in ways which make it easy to comprehend, recall or relate to a student’s own experience. The growing popularity of experiential learning may derive to some extent from the way storytellers develop memory and visualization skills to simplify complex issues, enhancing their accessibility and meaning (Egan, 1989).
Some stories, of course, get told for no other reason than the pleasure of telling and hearing them. Most embarrassing moment? Most people don’t want to share their own but would love to hear someone else’s. Homer’s images of the mysterious ‘wine-dark sea’ and the luminous ‘rosy-fingered dawn’ went viral two thousand years ago. Mobile device content creators, smartphone filmmakers, mobile journalists, vloggers and phoneographers belong to a venerable, vibrant tradition.
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Parker, M. (1998) Tales for Trainers. Kogan Page, London
Egan, K. (1989) Teaching as Story Telling: An Alternative Approach to Teaching and Curriculum in the Elementary School. University of Chicago Press, Chicago