The Evolution of Storytelling
by Melissa Mendoza | published May. 1st, 2015
It is in our nature to tell stories and inform others of our life events. Storytelling, whether factual or fictional, is an intrinsic human characteristic. However, the way we communicate with others has changed drastically over time. Storytelling originated with visual stories, such as cave drawings, and then shifted to oral traditions, in which stories were passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth. There was then a shift to words formed into narratives, including written, printed and typed stories.
Due to the use of advancing technologies such as the printing press, the camera and the internet and its social media platforms, the way we tell others stories and keep ourselves informed about current topics has shifted to a more all-encompassing experience. Technology has allowed humans to utilize all forms of storytelling through the years: visual stories in photographs, spoken stories in videos and recordings and written words on blogs and statuses.
Drawings: Cavemen and Hieroglyphics
It is estimated that the Chauvet cave in France has drawings that date back 30,000 years. These drawings detail animals, such as deer and bison, as well as themes of survival, according to Nature Index. It has been shown that humans in all societies, even dating back to cavemen, have an inclination toward visual representations. Chauvet cave drawings were not just casual doodles, but rather art that displayed the talents of skilled craftsmen at the time. They reflected a universal language by which all could understand and appreciate the stories told with a stick, in mud or in clay.
Another common form of drawing used to communicate stories is the use of hieroglyphs in ancient Egypt. This form of writing utilized pictographic characters as symbols and sounds. The hieroglyphic language dates back about 5,000 years and is recognized as one of the world's earliest writing systems. It was not only used for religious documents, but also to line tombs and temples with messages to future inhabitants. Since we are visual individuals, drawings have always been an effective way to tell others stories about survival and life.
Storytelling through oral tradition dates back to different points in history, depending on the culture. These traditions use song, chant and epic poetry to tell stories that had been handed down from generation to generation and eventually written and published. Myths were also first passed on through word of mouth. For example, oral myths in the United States are most common among Native American cultures. The Cherokee tribe continues to recount their creation story, although it is sometimes skewed, depending on the person telling it. Traditional storytelling by word of mouth still takes place whenever a group of people get together to socialize, and it has helped to shape current studies in the field of communications.
There is evidence of written symbols that date back to about 9,000 years ago. The first written stories were manually transcribed, whether on paper, stone or clay. As described above, writing began as drawings, but over time changed into script. The current alphabets were derived from older forms of writing, such as the Phoenician alphabet.
The transition from oral to written culture overlapped, but is predominantly accounted for in ancient Greece, where the earliest inscriptions date from 770 to 750 B.C. Scholars suggest that "The Iliad" by Homer is the oldest surviving work in the Greek language that originated from oral tradition, according to History of Information. Unfortunately, not all populations were literate, so only the educated class was able to read and write stories. This era also brought about the use of plays to tell stories.
The next great milestone in communications history is the introduction of mass printing that would make news and other information more readily available to all. Printing helped increase literacy among lay people. Johannes Gutenberg is considered the inventor of the printing press in the 15th century; however, 600 years before Gutenberg, Chinese monks created a block printing mechanism that set ink to paper using wooden blocks.
Technology and Media
The use of technology has shaped the way that we interact with others and how we tell stories. Starting from around the year 1800, technology has contributed to the creation of photography, motion pictures, telephones, radio, TV, digital media, mobile media and social media; the current most influential form of communication is social media.
Media platforms such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have grown in popularity in the 21st century. All of these platforms allow users to express their thoughts in a public manner with everyone on the Internet or to choose with whom to share their information. Twitter and Facebook allow users to post statuses, photos and videos of memories and personal stories. Instagram, a photographic-based platform, enables users to share only photos or videos.
This is intriguing because technology has given us the ability to practice our intrinsic nature as visual individuals.
Technology has given us the ability to practice our intrinsic nature as visual individuals.
"The use of tools like Instagram is a way to tell a story quickly," fourth year Photographic Technology student Yasmeena Azer said. "Some people still love reading more than anything else, but pictures have their own way of grabbing an audience's attention."
Photography has the power to tell an entire story through the capture of just a moment in time. Newspaper photography, for example, attempts to capture the entire essence of a news article in one shot. A photograph has the ability to communicate stories through emotion, mood, narrative, ideas and messages, according to the Digital Photography School.
Mev McMahon, a third year Photojournalism student, commented on how photography has changed the way we tell stories.
"Photographs evoke emotion and empathy," McMahon said. "They are a different form that allow us to tell stories that words might not be able to justify."
Unfortunately, there are shortcomings to the use of social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to tell stories; now we are always unsure of what is true. Social media has given its users the power to write freely and express personal opinions. The nature of this interface has allowed for storytellers to remain anonymous, which can be best represented through the use of blogging. Technology has allowed us to return to a form of visual representations that tell our stories.