If I were to play a words association game, and the word in play was “storytelling,” I’d respond with “oral history.” For generations, many civilizations have passed on their cultural material and traditions through oral lore. Some of these oral lore have been lost over time; others have morphed into what we now consider as superstitions, science fiction, children’s fairy tales, and ghost stories. I’ve been as fascinated with storytelling as I have with history. Storytelling is a way for me to learn something new and for me to retain that information. Storytelling provides a more robust background that enriches the information being imparted. It provides a context to the information and while I may not always connect with the information emotionally, I can connect with it intellectually. In the TED video titled “The clues to a great story,” Andrew Stanton mentioned that a story should make the recipient care by connecting with the recipient intellectually or emotionally. A story does not stick with me if I cannot connect to it. It will be nothing more than just background noise. Ira Glass imparts a similar tip: the story should lead the recipient to a moment of reflection.
These moments of reflection deepen the connection with the story.
Digital storytelling expands the reach of storytelling. I often wonder how many lessons our modern world has missed out on, because certain stories are no longer being told or believed in. As society continues to “progress,” elements of the traditional world no longer become relevant or deemed valid. In this digital age, where technology permeates many parts of our lives, digital storytelling enables storytelling to remain relevant. Younger generations who are more apt to connect with media and graphics rather than written text could still be open to stories. Digital storytelling enables stories to be distributed to a broader audience (spanning cultures, national origins, physical abilities, etc.); translated in multiple languages; and appeal to many generations. Further, digital storytelling allows stories from oral traditions to be archived and accessible by future generations, instead of being lost forever when the traditional storyteller passes on. One example of such is the digitalizing of Mongolia’s oral history: University of Cambridge launched the Mongolian life stories database online. The project collected stories from over 600 interviews with Mongolians about events and periods of the 20th century. A video and audio collection of this oral history is archived by the University of Cambridge Department of Social Anthropology. While these digital storytelling avenues can never replace the unique experience of being in a yurt and listening to the tribal storyteller tell stories over a cup of yak milk (assuming one understands the local Mongol dialect), they certainly are a nice alternative.