Do We Still Need Stories?

In an article for The Guardian last month, Will Self asked if humans are evolving beyond the need to tell stories.

Self reflects on the effect of technology impacting upon traditional methods and approaches of readers. Pitting digitally-reared minds against ‘Gutenberg minds’, (or in this editor’s own term, ‘analogue heads’), the article explores the idea of “the novel [is] losing its cultural centrality due to the digitisation of print”.

Citing recent neuroscientific studies, Self is cautious of the damage done with ‘virtual’ reading: “[T}he suite of cognitive aptitudes needed to decipher text and turn it into living, breathing, visible and tangible worlds seem to wither away once we stop turning the pages and start goggling at virtual tales.”

However, he is also aware of how integrated into our lives technology is, and how this could be used to help buck the decline in people simply reading for pleasure. “It’s worrying that our young seem distracted and often depressed, and sad for those of us who have invested so much of our belief and our effort in print technology, that it – and the modes of being associated with it – appear to be in decline.”

One comment on the article took this stance: “The fall off in reading is most likely due too to the lame and low voltage quality of literature in the early 21st century, novels that simply do not engage effectively with the rapidly changing world that we live in.” While creatives explore new ways to bring stories to readers and viewers, there is a risk that writers are jumping to self-publishing, flash videos, interactive storyboards, video games, etc. without first of all learning and development the art of storytelling first. In the 21st Century there is a danger of the medium taking over from the message.

Susanne Stich of Reading Rooms: This article discusses a plethora of points about the power and importance of story, and reading in particular. Woven throughout are references to the latest scientific data and some perplexing observations regarding the benefits of reading over visual storytelling. The so-called visualisation hypothesis, for instance, ‘proposes that people – and children in particular – find it harder not only to remember film as against spoken or written narratives, but also to come up with novel responses to them, because the amount of information they’re given, together with its determinate nature, forecloses imaginative response.’ So here’s to another endorsement of the Reading Rooms programme. Nourishing our participants’ imaginative response is one of the key things we’re all about!”

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