Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The demise of the great story never told

Every year I get a phone call from my mom at the crack of dawn (6:35 AM) who reminds me that she was, at this time, X years ago, awake and in pain. I like the story, and I like hearing it. When my girls were young, they used to ask me to tell them their stories. We don't do this as a rule I find. Tell the story of our lives.

Telling stories is a way to building and maintaining culture. They tell of lessons learned. I am afraid that an entire way of life is being lost because we don't value the telling of stories so much. We are hooked on immediacy. We short form everything now. We text or email. And now the new version of hyphenated living is "sexting." We are, I believe, becoming functionally and socially illiterate with every LOL, BFF, LMAO.

They say genius is simplicity. The perfect phrase that speaks to all of humanity. "I have a dream . . . " - Martin Luther King's great vision yet to be realized, perhaps never to be realized. Those who espouse short and succint phrasiology do not acknowledge that this vision came from a well of pain, thought and a deep desire for a better world.

No, there is a difference between MLK's crystal clear vision and pithy public relations based - advertising like - slogan driven dogma. "Just do it." Is it genius or is it memorable? If it's memorable, is it meaningful?

With the advent to cell phones over the past few years, we are shortening our communication even still. BFF. LOL. LMAO. I fear we are losing touch with who we are as human beings. Has technology finally won? Has the access to technology and the point in time immediate communication driven us to a point of absolute illiteracy? And we are hooked on it. We do everything while we text. We drive. We eat. We have conversations. We . . . sext? And now there are laws against driving and texting; there are company commuication policies against texting in meetings; there are legal charges being laid for sexting when it is construed as inappropriate, harrassing or threatening.

So when did we become so digitized, what does this mean for our culture. My theory is we are losing our ability to express full ideas, in a respectful and meaningful manner.

If I could guess, having no scientific data to back it up, I would say that we are increasingly moving toward being functionally iliterate as a society. I would guess this is impacting the younger part of our society (12 - 35 year olds who are really part of the digital revolution). Are we are losing the ability to interact as human beings or are we just communicating on a higher level? Will this fade away like transistors did, or is this here to stay. We think nothing of a drive by email. A shot in the dark. We think. We type. We push send. Done.

I spend most of my time thinking about how to get messages across. How to tell a story. How to get others to tell a story. And I have to say, I am so disappointed because we are cutting ourselves short on two fronts: we are not good at telling a story, and we are not good at listening. So we are functionally and socially illiterate.

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a journalist - to be able to tell stories about important things. So I did. I told great stories about an exodus from Rwanda, and the impact of the wall in Germany and about a woman who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. I wrote about quilting bees, which are stories of another kind. And I wrote about school closures in Rural Saskatchewan and the impact on communities. And then I went to "the dark side" (the Corporate Communications side) to write about business matters, telling people where how the money is made and where it goes. This is all worthy and worthwhile.

But I am deeply disappointed by what I see on TV and read in the paper and the short cuts that we take to telling important stories. Journalists are supposed to be story tellers of our time, just like great writers and story tellers like Jonathon Swift, Shakespeare and John Ruskin were the story tellers and life recorders of those times. Literature tells the story of civilizations past.

Today's literature is becoming more and more abbreviated into text messages, sound bites and pithy but meaningless news casts. Today, for example, an important story about feeding hungry families at Christmas was badly told. But the next story about how electronics were the hot sellers this Christmas season was given more air time, had high sound quality and higher visual quality.

As a former journalism professor of mine used to say, that sucks. A good story told in a bad way - with bad quality and poor production - becomes a bad story because the message is lost in the medium.

The last bastion of hope in regaining our human literacy is the song writer and the musician. We seem to take the time to listen to music. So that gives me hope. As long as we will listen, and as long as song writers are telling real stories of our time, we might have a recording of this time on earth.

I hope that we come to our senses and start taking the time to talk to each nmore and listen more. We are so impatient. The time we have is rare and not all stories are equal. In my book, feeding hungry families will always trump electronic sales. Real words said out loud have more meaning than an insensitive email. And sexting? LMAO.

1 comment:

Windnsnow said...

Contemporary journalism has fooled us into looking to it for the truth, for the reflection of a world that we can comprehend and decipher.

Journalists, like the bloggers that are already replacing them, are just a minuscule part of a long line of oracles purporting to tell us what was, what is and what will be.

In the western world, Jonathan Swift and Tolstoy and Homer and Moses and Hemingway and George Elliot and Sapho and Marshal Mcluhan and Milan Kundera. Satirists, storytellers, commentators and conveyors of information. They too had the franchise of their contemporary medias.

Opine not for the lack of verisimilitude in the news media or in contemporary art. Rather, take the cue from those that live in the soundbite world and begin to see that reality is simply synthesis.

Think of Picasso and how not one perspective is complete, or Roy Lichtenstein whose paintings turn into meaningless dots the more closely you examine them.

L'enfer c'est les autres, but so too is life and experience and growth.

Be critical and question everything, yes. But assimilate and absorb and synthesize everything around you.

This "morphmosis" is what will sustain you and inseminate in you and your peers with what will germinate as history and understanding and meaning deep into vacuous future that we can never fathom.