“Technology is the campfire around which we tell our stories.”
― Laurie Anderson
As human beings we are students of story. We are enthralled by them just as we are enthralled by the flames of a campfire, fascinated by their twists and turns and always want to know how they end. We feel cheated if we can't get that closure.
Stories affect us because we can relate to them, understand them at some subconscious level beyond words on a page, beyond rational thought. We feel them, imagine ourselves within them, and live through them.
Some make us laugh, others make us cry but all good stories have one thing in common: they affect us, make us react, and in this they have power.
All writing is storytelling of a sort.
Instructions tell the story of how to achieve a desired result; ingredients tell the story of a product; a sign tells a story, be it information or a warning, and has an implied back story full of potential outcomes should we ignore its message.
Pause and affect
I originally wrote this having just finished watching the film "Her" and then, as now, I was dumbstruck by its power. I couldn't recall when I had been so affected by a story.
A lot has been written about it from the technological point of view, about possibilities and vagaries of the future, our relationship to it and the "creepy line" but this is not its purpose.
There is a line in the film that says:
"The past is just a story we tell ourselves "
It is our story, true, but a story nonetheless, perhaps written with a degree of artistic licence. We write it day by day, chapter by chapter but can place more importance on the telling than on actually writing it, living it, existing in the moment rather than reflecting on the past.
We are more connected than ever but often, as individuals and as a society, somehow more distant.
Our lives are becoming ever more digitalised. With machines, gadgets, and the web, so much of what we used to do has been outsourced. What made us the people we were slowly being removed, eroded.
We have reached a stage in our evolution where the story has changed. Some are uncomfortable with where the plot seems to be taking us. Maybe, we are now using technology to revert to a more familiar course, to recreate some of our humanity, to replace some of what has been lost.
Perhaps the old story was wrong and we needed a change. Perhaps we are overcompensating.
It's hard to say.
Before it's too late?
Biz Stone's recent post "The Future Is Simple" inspired me to revisit this. He wrote that he hopes the future of technology "somehow amplifies the best qualities of humanity" but in a way it's kind of sad - sad that it takes technology to make us realise who we are, what we could be, and perhaps even how we are... failing.
Maybe it reminds us how society is changing, how we are changing, and that we might not like what we become. Maybe it makes us question if this is the right campfire.
That people are having these discussions, people in positions of influence, is a positive sign. Still, the rest of us shouldn't wait. We should take our own steps without waiting to see what future technology awaits us.
For, what if the tech doesn't work?
Original version posted 18th November 2014 as part of the #Write365 Project, now deleted