"Chance Favors The Connected Mind:" Why Technologists Need Storytellers and Storytellers Need Technologists and Educators Are Failing To Teach For The 21st Century
I'm a storyteller. I've made movies all my life and - as I grow older - I often find myself telling instructive stories to young people about how they too can make movies and use the new technologies to help them to make and spread their stories.
Perhaps I'm overeager, but it seems as if, in the New World of mobile devices and connectivity, the storytellers and technologists have - for the most part - yet to discover how they might work together.
Too many film educators are unfamiliar with the new tools.
And too many technologists and the teachers of technologists seem incapable of understanding the culture of storytelling.
It's as if the collision of technology and storytelling (that I see predicted in Steven Johnson's video above) has yet to happen. But isn't the collision of technology and storytelling going to be a dominant narrative of 21st century culture?
It seems to me that far too many educators and leaders in the Old World of movies are still intent on resisting the (inevitable) changes that mobile devices and wireless connectivity are bringing to the the ancient arts of storytelling.
(A couple of years ago a grizzled film teaching colleague at an annual film educators' conference angrily waved a pen at me shouting "They still have to learn to use this!" in response to my defense of YouTube as a viable tool for teaching filmmaking.)
Yes, there are pioneers trying to use story to harness the new technologies into useful new forms, but the great clash of ideas has yet to play out. And (from where I sit) it seems most Old World storytellers and far too many New World technologists are content to remain apart.
There are problems in the world that storytellers and technologists could be addressing together, but for a variety of reasons, the channels for communication between them are not working well and potential innovations are stalled. And educators can take a part of the blame.
The potential for collaboration between technologists and storytellers was expressed in a March 28th, 2013 post by marketing strategist David Hawksworth who argued that technologies need stories to spread and that tomorrow's stories will need to adapt to the new technologies: "Stories are the very things that allow change and innovation in human culture... For me, this understanding helps explain what’s required today to create the kind of positive change we need to see tomorrow. Yes, we need great stories, but it’s the actual vehicles of those stories that are most subject to innovation — and therefore have the greatest potential for scalable change... The mechanics for making this happen are changing all the time... It’s a pretty well-established truth that scientists working on climate change have rarely, if ever, managed to turn their story into one that popular media can embed or adopt. Likewise, world development and poverty issues are often in the news but struggle to get real cut-through with Western audiences. Neither of these problems is based on a lack of stories; it’s based on an inability to bring them to life in a way that fixes them in people’s minds. Of course, the old adage, ‘it’s the way you tell 'em’ springs to mind. Or for a more thoughtful account, Marshall McLuhan’s ‘the medium is the message’ line describes the idea that a ‘medium itself, not the content it carries, should be the focus of study.’"
So why aren't more technologists (with expertise in the devices that share information online) working with storytellers? If David Hawksworth is correct and "[a] good story can align every employee in a company and every citizen in a country... [s]tories can inspire us, unite or divide us, and can therefore ultimately change the world," why aren't more filmmakers working with technologists?
In my experience two of the prime reasons that story and technology don't come together more frequently is that the economic incentives aren't in place and that educators are teaching for an economic model that doesn't reward collaboration.
Technologists are too busy with paying work that compartmentalizes their efforts into commercial activities that never require them to address the bigger stories they could be telling.
And how many film educators still teach as if the optimal model for indie film distribution is a festival campaign leading to acquisition by a third party distributor for a theatrical run and then physical media sales - without any clue about revenue models that include niche marketing via social media and streaming (not to mention apps and games)?
The structures aren't in place for technologists and storytellers to collaborate - especially in the early stages of their careers.
Yes... technologists need storytellers to package their ideas into discoverable and spreadable units that have a bigger impact... but first there needs to be an educational system that supports that collaboration and then events that galvanize their joint activities. And there need to be jobs that reward cross-disciplinary innovators.
The employers I've heard from say that that they need workers who can cross disciplines and innovate - not coding drones. But are employers doing enough to communicate to educators, students, politicians and their own employees just how important the skills of technology AND story will be as their businesses evolve?
Coders and storytellers (and the educators who teach them and the employers who will clothe, feed and house them) must find ways to come together to confront the challenges of storytelling with technology in ways that traditionally have not been a part of the educations or cultures of these disciplines.
The message has to spread in educational circles that it isn't enough to be a good technologist or coder.
And employers need to reward technologists who understand the aesthetics, theories and tools of storytelling. You need to be able to shape your ideas and code into something that conveys a message that users will embrace and share. You need a good story.
In my experience, far too many educators are being asked to focus more narrowly on their disciplines. But the role of technolgy in the 21st century requires educators who are capable of building bridges between previously unconnected disciplines. And lack of curiousity about (or respect for) technologists or the art of storytelling is a fatal mistake that far too many educators and politicians are making.
If (as Steven Johnson argues) chance favors the connected mind... and I am correct that we stand at the threshold of a new era of creativity (with hundreds of millions of new connections via mobile devices in places like China and India)... we need to find ways to bring the worlds of technology and storytelling together.
Millions of newly-connected users need stories to organize their activities into productive efforts. The great unifying narratives of the 21st century - around which innovation can occur - will require educators who create the opportunities for ideas to collide. We need to foster a culture that rewards technologists who dip their toes into story and storytellers who respect and appreciate the potential of technology to spread their stories.