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Storytelling is Changing

The technology of storytelling is changing. Why? History shows us shifts in communication technology from hieroglyphs to the oral tradition, from print to digital. At first glance, the shift seems mere happenstance, a matter of scientific discovery coupled with the chicken or the egg quandary. My linguistics professor used to say it isn’t our job to figure out why language and the technology that delivers it changes, we just need to understand that it does and not get upset about it.

But a closer look at these changes reveals something different: a history of communication driven by what us homosapiens need to live. We need to be able to defend ourselves, preserve our way of living and we need love.

Sounds kinda sappy, right? Here’s a quick run-down of what technology shifts have happened over the last 3,000 years.

  • c. 400 BC Cleisthenes: is coined father of democracy instigating the birth of rhetoric. Rhetoric gave the polis opportunity to advocate for themselves and gave power to the spoken word and the art of the oral tradition.
  • 1440 Gutenberg: leaps from movable type to a full on printing press, allowing the masses access to the Bible (and more importantly, their own spirituality).
  • 1889 Tesla: sparked the coil that would send radio waves across the sea, connecting spouses and loved ones during the World Wars, an age of atrocity.
  • 1973 The Internet: a web of interconnected computers satisfied the need to reduce waste brought on by the age of industrialism. As the century has progressed, Gen X and Gen Y (fondly, the Millenials) seek solutions to simplify content overload issues and set into practice sustainability trends.

Why the heck does this matter? Well if you work in communications, it can help you figure out what’s important to your audience and how to better shape your message to their immediate values.

The current shift in technology shows us that people hate content overload, processed foods and things that hurt the environment – as seen by the wave of slow food practices, fuel efficient cars, recycled paper and the Kindle. Lingo itself reflects this change utilizing abbreviated text, symbols and images.

That means you can write “R U Type A? Rd nu MVIS blog about brwl @ IAD this am…http://bit.ly/cC7Bup” on your company Twitter feed and you don’t have to worry your readers won’t understand you (well, maybe). People have this idea that if you write in abbreviated txt, or in symbols, you’re somehow less intelligent or not professional.

There’s this notion that writing lengthy prose with 100s of adjectives – like haughty scholars and authors – makes you better. Ahem, Joyce.

It doesn’t.

In fact, some of the most brilliant works of rhetoric are written with a colloquial pen – think Mark Twain, Shakespeare, or Langston Hughes.

Using ridiculously obscure adjectives to describe simple concepts, using prepositional phrase after prepositional phrase, or using demonstrative adjectives (i.e. stringing “that” between every subject, do or io) is not necessary and does not mean you’re smart.

Look-it, do you think cavemen were dumb just because they used symbols to communicate? Um, they invented fire. Nuff said. (Check out C.S. Lewis’ ‘The Problem of Pain’ argument on evolution.)

So how does this help you? Well, it doesn’t really. It just means texting isn’t going away. Books aren’t coming back (at least not in paper form). And people want to be happy and have a simple life. So get your blogs under 600 words (500 preferably), don’t tweet 10mil/day and be cool with new lingo. Your digital and social presence will be a heckuva lot more effective.
About Bethany Bengtson

Bethany Bengtson is a ballerina turned rhetorician. Upon graduation, she took it upon herself to launch her first business helping clients implement social strategies based on starting conversations and building life-long relationships. Her thoughts on life, love and work have been published in skirt! Magazine, PINK Magazine and Atlanta’s Finest Dining Magazine. Bethany currently lives in NYC, works in marketing and regularly gets in arguments with people who think they “know grammar.”

(Image Credit: Hieroglyphs by tiny_packages)

Bethany Bengtson is a ballerina turned rhetorician. Upon graduation, she took it upon herself to launch her first business helping clients implement social strategies based on starting conversations and building life-long relationships. Her thoughts on life, love and work have been published in skirt! Magazine, PINK Magazine and Atlanta’s Finest Dining Magazine. Bethany currently lives in NYC, works in marketing and regularly gets in arguments with people who think they “know grammar.”

  • http://www.zacharyadamcohen.com Zachary Adam COhen

    Beth

    lovely piece, this is an example of a nearly worthless comment

    Cheers!

    Z

  • http://www.socialstrata.com Rosemary ONeill

    I definitely agree with the intent and theme of your blog, but when it comes to corporate tweets that use “R U coming 2MORo” and abbreviations like that, I have to respectfully disagree. Yes, Twitter limits you as to characters, but that sort of abbreviation is just lazy unless you’re Crazy Eddie and you’re selling used cars. If I have to spend more than 2 seconds deciphering what you’ve tweeted, you’ve already lost me.

    • http://www.myvoiceisstrong.com Bethany

      Rosemary,
      I totally agree. It probably takes most of us more than 2 (even 10 sec) to decipher abbreviated txt in Tweet feeds. At least for the next 50 years. Trends in language (at least in the English language) show that language is coming full circle to incorporate much more symbols than full words. So by the time the txting generation gets to the corporate world (not just entry level, I mean mid-manager) they will most likely have integrated the 2MORos and R Us into what ever corporate communication they have. Especially, if they’re targeting the generation after that, which, who knows how they are going to be changing language.
      Side note, I’m not sure I follow you on abbreviations being indicative of laziness. As a Tweeter (and a writer/editor), it takes a lot of thought and care to write an engaging Tweet with abbreviations. But I would be happy to discuss your other thoughts or arguments about why abbreviated txt should not be incorporated into company Tweet feeds.

      Thanks for reading :)

      • http://www.socialstrata.com Rosemary ONeill

        LOL, looking back at my original response I feel curmudgeonly :) I do see that over time, the abbreviations that come from texting will start to surface in other aspects of conversation. In fact, my 6 year old son came to me yesterday and said, “Mommy, what does OMG mean?” Apparently he has a boy in his class who says OMG all the time! To which I reply, “OMG!”

        Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

        • http://www.myvoiceisstrong.com Bethany

          Haha! That’s hilarious. I love that your son knows what OMG means! My dad (who is 70) actually started using it regularly in emails. I wonder who the first person was to use OMG. I mean, their etymology resume reads: OMG — most often used initialism used in txts, emails and spoken language from 2005 – 20025.

          Thank you for your thoughtful feedback!

  • http://dianekrose.com/ Diane K. Rose

    What hasn’t changed is that stories work when we communicate, no matter what the technology.

    • http://www.myvoiceisstrong.com Bethany

      Exactly. It’s the same reason why ballets, operas and fine arts can still communicate a deep concept or a moving feeling, even if the medium changes (ex: change paint color or consistency; change the pitch or how many voices are singing a single note; or even make a ballet into a trip-hop dance).