The Evolution of Storytelling 2 - We are all storytellers now…
“The medium is the message.” ― Marshall McLuhan, “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man.”
“We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.” ― Father John Culkin: “A schoolman’s guide to Marshall McLuhan.”
We are all storytellers. Narrative provides the framework for our society and our culture, and our personal stories define who we are as a person. History is narrative and shared stories are the bedrock of our collective identity. But a number of trends are changing our relationship to storytelling and narrative.
People have always been storytellers but the difference is that in the past public and private narratives were largely separated. Professional storytellers told their stories in public – poets, movie makers, novelists, documentary makers, etc. Individuals communicated with (shared stories with...) the people around them. That separation is largely gone. Pewdiepie may have 66 million followers (at last count) on Youtube, but is he a professional? Old time media pros would say his content is not professional, but he earns millions from it so, by definition, he must be professional. What about the person who makes thousands from a funny cat video gone viral? It is less clear… And the teenager using Instagram Stories to tell her friends about what she did last night is definitely not a professional. But in terms of content, all 3 of these examples probably have more in common with each other than with a BBC documentary or a Netflix Originals movie. And for years now, it has been completely normal for 10 or 12-year olds to upload videos to Youtube. Currently the highest earner on Youtube for 2018 is 7 years old! (Of course, it’s really his parents, but still…).
Just as important as the move to prosumer culture is the changes in the way stories are being told and consumed - personalized content with lesser or greater levels of interactivity, with supporting or related content on multiple platforms and channels. Simultaneous multiple media prosumption (consumption+production) is now the norm. We tweet, scan reddit, look up something on IMDB, interact with our social media of choice, all while watching the latest Netflix or Prime offering. (Note: does the fact that we no longer concentrate on one task mean we are smarter or more stupid than before?) And speaking of Netflix, they have just released Bandersnatch, a truly interactive “film” for adults – live action interactive movies are now officially mainstream! (See the first blog of this 3 part series). And in February 2019 Afterlife will come out, an interactive movie specifically designed for VR.
In the coming years, many aspects that are currently unclear will need to be worked out. A short list would include:
- User agency versus the author’s control of the narrative?
- Stories versus experiences? 360 video, for example, is almost completely about experiences and only indirectly about telling a story. The same is true for most games.
- Implicit versus explicit interactivity. Most people want personalization, but how much control does the user want to feel they have and how much effort do they want to expend?
- Privacy issues around data generated by users will only become more acute and it is not entirely clear how much access to social media data the new storytellers will have. How comfortable will people be with the use of their actions and choices in building up the psychological profile for advertizing (and other uses)?
- And as always, monetization…
For the media industry these trends strike to the core. One can easily imagine the heads of Hollywood movie studios literally exploding when they hear about the ARPU of almost $100 for Fortnite, the hottest game of the moment. Location based VR (LBVR – a site where you go and pay to use high end VR kit) are becoming more common, especially in Asia. The various SKAMs (SKAM Norway, Austin, Italia, etc.) with their highly developed, extremely interactive and personalized social media presence, was the TV show of the season for teenagers in many countries. As previously stated, interactive movies, specifically made for VR headsets, will be coming out in 2019.
But this isn’t just about the media industry and social media. Media is at the forefront and creates new mindsets, but it will have much farther reaching effects across society and business. Ways of working, education, and training, are all being deeply altered by these changes.
Not too long ago, if we wanted to impress a prospective client, we would send them a deep brainy report. Nowadays, while still useful, it would be seen as something, probably secondary, to accompany other activities. To catch client attention now, we use videos, blogs or interactive, collaborative, sometimes gamified, workshops – all of which are modern forms of storytelling! This is true as well internally within organizations – videos, webinars and interactive training are standard. When is the last time anyone actually read a handbook or instruction manual? And VR and AR are becoming commonplace for certain types of physical training.
We are just at the beginning. People who are now in their 20’s and 30’s expect other aspects of their lives to catch up with their digital and media-based lives such as through the use of corporate social networks for business communication such as Slack. Their younger siblings will also want to be able to interact and be informed at work like they do outside of work. For the generation coming of age with Instagram Stories, self-generated video and interactivity will be default modes of communication.
Narrative and communication forms popular now in the media and social media industries can be a guide to how business will work a few years from now.