This week I wanted to touch on something that’s been bouncing around in my brain for a while: How we communicate.
It comes up on a regular basis, and maybe I am becoming older and more ornery, or else what’s actually happening is that in this world of connectivity we are communicating less authentically.
I look around a restaurant, or a movie theater before the movie starts, or anywhere really and I see people staring at screens, I would say maybe 90% of the time. And I admit, I do it too. I love playing games and checking in on social media. I like having a reason to not make eye contact with strangers that may or may not turn out to be creepy.
But this is all to our detriment don’t you think? I remember the days when I had nothing to do when away from my home except smile at people, make eye contact, maybe start a conversation. I didn’t stare at a screen.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t say any of this to say that I don’t enjoy the advances that technology has made. I love having easy access to my documents and information right at my fingertips 24/7, but I also kind of dislike it as well.
*Illustration by Frankie B. Washington
It’s odd because according to communication theory, we as humans love telling and hearing stories — so what has happened that we seem to enjoy it more on a screen than face-to-face?
Stories and the Narrative Paradigm
Everyone loves a good story.
As humans we are hardwired to want to tell and hear stories. Stories about the mail person delivering the wrong mail to our front door, stories about our trip to the grocery store, to the gas station, to another country. Stories about sex, about life, about everything.
There is a communication theory called The Narrative Paradigm that was developed by Walter Fisher.
The narrative paradigm basically, in the most simple way states that, “All meaningful communication is in the form of storytelling. Peoples past experiences influence our need for communication and also base our behaviour.”
As a storyteller, I love making up worlds and sharing them with others. Just recently I was at Plastic City Comic Con, and I still, even after all these years, get ridiculously excited when people buy my books and are about to engage with and enter my worlds.
But storytelling isn’t reserved to just reading and writing. It’s oral traditions, when I listen to my fiancé tell a story about his childhood it always makes me smile, even if it’s the millionth time I’ve heard it, why? Because it’s a good story, and we as humans love a good story.
But stories are more than just entertainment. They are a way for us to share experiences, to foster community and collaboration, to make connections. It’s a way for us to relate to one another on different levels.
We all love stories – how many of us have taken shelfies to share on social media of our libraries?
One of the biggest revelations of my life was realizing that I was not alone in feeling depressed or anxious. That people who seemed to have it all were just as confused, scared, or worried about their lives and their futures.
Stories make us feel less alone because they can often create a shared experience. We can get out of our heads and instead engage with another person who has or is living through a similar experience to ourselves.
That is extremely powerful. I cannot state that emphatically enough.
Are our stories being lost in social media? I worry about that.
Our Need For Connection
As humans, or at least, in my experience as a human woman, connection has always been my goal in any relationship I’ve had. It doesn’t matter if it was a friendship, romantic relationship, or work relationship. I wanted to connect with people, to feel accepted in some way.
Side Note: It’s funny how weird I feel when I type the above sentence. When I was a teenager I tried to put up this facade of not caring if I was accepted or not. I would dress weird or act weird, and hope that other weirdos found me and accepted me — they did of course.
Now as an adult (sort of anyway) I realize that it’s perfectly okay to want to be accepted by others. It’s normal and it’s human. It’s also why we tell stories.
I might tell a story to a friend about getting the marriage license with my fiancé, and she, having done that already, understands how excited I am, how big of a deal that is. We have shared a moment that many people may have already shared, but for us, it’s a sharing that leads to a deeper understanding between us. A closer bond.
The simplest stories can lead to the biggest bonds.
The End Result
So what does this all mean?
It means that we like to tell stories because they help us connect, and connection is something that most of us crave. Loneliness is a powerful tool of fear. Don’t ever underestimate the decisions you make and their power when you are making those decisions based in loneliness or fear. As hard as it may be, seek out others who you trust who can help you.
Honestly, I am hopeful that by writing this blog I can connect with people I haven’t met yet, that we can join our like (or even unlike) minds and have a fun discourse about storytelling, about connection and about life in general.
Tell me your stories.
Storytelling is about connection, something most of us are striving for.
(Photo by JL Metcalf)