Chapter 1: Storytelling in Context

By Czarnecki, Kelly | Library Technology Reports, October 2009 | Go to article overview

Chapter 1: Storytelling in Context

Czarnecki, Kelly, Library Technology Reports


This chapter of "Digital Storytelling in Practice" puts the current state of storytelling, as well as its relationship to libraries, in context. By briefly examining both the distant and recent past of storytelling, we can see how it arrived in its current state. We examine how the basic principles of storytelling have remained the same and also look at how the rise of the Internet and digital technology has the potential to transform the process of storytelling and expand its audience.

Storytelling and Technology: The Past and the Recent Past

"If people aren't taught the language of sounds and images, shouldn't they be considered as illiterate as if they left college without being able to read or write?"

--George Lucas (1)

The concept of storytelling is older than human history itself. Before the invention of written language, wisdom, knowledge, and information were passed down orally, and often through what would today be considered stories. In one sense, storytelling has always utilized the latest available technology. Some have said that cave paintings and other ancient findings were sometimes used to tell stories. It may be hard to think about prehistoric drawings on a cave wall as a form of technology, but at the dawn of human civilization, they were just that. The video listed in the gray box provides a light-hearted look at one theory on the prehistoric origins of storytelling.

In the pre-Internet twentieth century, storytellers used the latest technology to share their stories with the world. Though vinyl, film, cassette tapes, videotapes, and eventually compact disks and DVDs, storytellers gained the ability to share with audiences of thousands or even millions, instead of hundreds, the wisdom, knowledge, and entertainment that comes with this age-old process.

Storytelling: Changing While Remaining the Same

With the emergence of widespread personal computing and the Internet, the relationship between storytelling and technology has transformed dramatically in a short period of time. Where technology was previously a tool that could be utilized to spread stories to a wider audience, it is now a tool that can become a deeply integrated part of the storytelling process and of the story itself. In this small amount of time, the concept of digital storytelling has created dramatic changes in what tellers can do and provided them with the ability not only to reach new audiences, but to reach those audiences in a new way.

In the summer of 2008, I enrolled in a digital storytelling camp that took place in the serene mountains of Colorado. People from all walks of life, including teachers, school librarians, and even ministers, attended. We learned about the technology tools one can use to create sounds and edit images. Each participant eventually produced a video that could be shared with other attendees. While technology historically has been something in which only "tech geeks" gain fluency, with modern digital tools, you don't have to be a computer genius to learn how to Photoshop images or create audio effects that can manipulate a viewer's emotions (both in ways the author intends and in ways that he or she may not have anticipated). What we found at the camp, however, was that the core of storytelling--simply telling a good story--hasn't changed much since its prehistoric origins.


Folklore scholar Eric Miller lists these twelve principles, which he considers to be essential to effective storytelling: (2)

* "A Storyteller Is Fully Present."

* "Storytelling Is Multi-track.... Although the spoken word is usually the primary means of communication, storytelling is synaesthesic activity, i.e., it may occur on one, many, or all sensory levels."

* "Visual Accompaniment Is Never Essential." (Note: Even when talking about digital storytelling, this point is still important. …

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Chapter 1: Storytelling in Context


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