“Stories are cognitive candy”
Human beings can travel to the moon, but they can´t see tomorrow. We may dodge space with binoculars, rockets or telephones, but we can´t cheat time, – not even with cloud-loads of yesterday´s photographs.
We neither can perceive nor shape the world in four dimensions, but we´re not blind enough to be unaware of our handicap. Eager to undo this misery, we want to affect the way time affects us. We want to change the way things change, – hoping to change ourselves along.
We may someday solve our time blindness with time traveling technologies, but for now, we only have an ancient crutch: storytelling.
Story tales & tools.
We can´t change the course of time in nature, but we can affect it in mind and culture. We can change the way we remember, archive and project past, present and future by changing the way we verbalize and visualize it. We´re calling this Storytelling, and there´s a lot of theories about it.
For some, it´s a cognitive device storing knowledge for generations to come, for others, a strategic instrument to manipulate the crowds, and for the last, a bag of psycho-tricks allowing us to rewrite our biographies.
Everyone, however, seems to agree that storytelling is persuasive. It is powerful.
It can do things, – all sorts of things: big and small, true and false, good and evil, ugly and beautiful. Stories can write past, present and future; – and now more than ever, they “do it” with images and sounds.
This is what we´re out to study here.
We´re approaching audiovisual storytelling as an exploratory device allowing us to picture time, agencies, roles, interactions and causality in potentially transformative ways. Every story we write, draw, shoot, edit and share is an occasion to reflect on the world and the way we translate it through language.
Storyelling is dangerous. As we proceed to adapt the world to our representational imperatives, we may reduce, decorate, accomodate, falsify, embellish, tarnish, exagerate, obliterate, reveal or conceal with a simple sentence or an editing point.
These micro-rethorical moves can have far reaching consequences for individuals and communities.
From the documentation of social realities to their allegorical translation in fictional works, from to the representation of past struggles to the planning of future worlds, storytelling is at the root of the economic, social and political dynamics shaping the environment in which we live mentally and physically. It can empower us to change our world by changing the way we picture change, changing and changers.
This “magical” ability, however, is changing as well.
The Biggest Picture of them all.
In times of profound technological change, it´s tempting to (re)present the present as a macro-historical plot point, – something like a turning point in the grand narrative of the tool-making ape.
Lost in the midst of a brutal digital transformation, we zoom out of here&now to investigate the human journey as a whole, – hoping a “big picture” will show us the way.
There´s a lot of strange , kitshy postcards in this big picture gallery. Here´s our take: We´re big-picturing monkeys.
This very very big picture may be simplistic, but it makes a clear assumption. We are self-reflecting narrative cartographers. We do not only make maps to orientate ourselves, but we make maps about making maps too. We do not only picture the world and “change” it with our images, but we picture imaging as well and debate its changing influence on our world-building (and bildung) habits.
This “meta-imaging” activity is what we intend to research here. We´re intending to explore how to make images with images about imaging. This is our attempt to model and understand how to make more persuasive pictures (and picturing processes) in a constantly evolving media landscape.
In the “broadcasting paradigm” of the past centuries, images were centrally produced and outwardly distributed. They were expensive to make, to show and to share. They had controled distribution radius and couldn´t be easily appropriated, recorded or transformed.
Their audiences were meant to “listen” without talking back. “Participation” was then nothing more than a private interpretation process, – mostly socialized below the radar.
Digital Media changed this mono-directional model. We´re living now in a highly dynamic “many to many” environment where everyone is invited (if not forced) to pitch.
This “new” media ecology is characterized by a paradoxical interplay between participation and exploitation, freedom and surveillance, openess and paranoia.
This context changed the impacting power of storytelling by making it available to everyone, everywhere, every time in ever new and paradoxical ways.
It has also spawn quantities of new formats on new sharing platforms, developing new narrative codes by pushing the boundaries of existing proportions, live reporting and micro-shorts. Meanwhile, more established forms of narrative expression ( film and Tv) remains the blueprint for many other new digital formats (youtubing, etc.)
” you gotta go to Instagram worthy places,
because your life is content”
The ubiquitous presence of smartphones turned every aspect of our life into potential content, – an ongoing, self-curated narrative stream flowing across a variety of online platforms and channels. Creating (our) images has become an everyday business. For a lot of us, making movies has become a more powerful and transformational experience than watching them.
The audiovisual dialects resulting from billions of online interactions are changing the cultural landscape, altering the images and the aesthetic referential in which they are produced, received and judged. This telluric change is challenging the established practices of communication industries, – disrupting the cultures and business practices of “old media” (film, television and print).
The current attention economy offers little mind space for storytellers to deliver their message and engage their audiences without a massive deployment on multiple channels. It ´s no longer possible to expect undivided attention from anybody any longer than a few minutes, – perhaps even seconds. Everyone is busy “contenting” either as producer or receiver, – and more often than not, both at the same time.
The “audience” is as busy producing their content as “showrunners”, politicians and corporates are busy trying to sell them theirs. What is strategic storytelling looking like in such circumstances?
This question can not be answered, – in fact, it can´t even be asked – without diving in the complex interactions between digital production and reception modalities.
Producing is no longer just about creating images, but about creating participative imaging processes as well,”narrative conversations” and, increasingly, “contenting environments”. Most of these take place on commercial social media platforms designed to let us create, share and comment according to well defined business models.
These “invisible models” are framing the user experience, conditioning the social implications of every click, every scroll, every like, share or forward. How shall we reveal their influence in the very environment they are inperceptibly ruling, and how shall we make use of them for strategic purposes, – if possible, for good?
After all, if storytelling took he homo sapiens that far, it may as well save it from himself.
If sharing platforms are conditioning our narrative activity, the precision of our meta-communication has never been more decisive. “Platforms” and algorithms are themselves peculiarly difficult to “narrate”. Once again, we must find new ways to “articulate what articulates”.
The challenge is however not only conceptual, it is also social and political, technological and aesthetic: the medium we use actually determines the scope in which the circulating contents can persuade. Without questioning its structure and influence, we can not conceive content strategically, – less even politically.
We are researching the interaction between stories (and story-making tools) and the environments in which they are produced, consumed, and built into cultural habits, positions and loyalties. We intend to develop new methods and tools to enrich the scope of “media-environmental” research and activism, and make them available for a variety of disciplines including social research, strategic communication, organizational design, and most particularily political activism.
After all, we are building the future through “bildung” too.