The big thing in marketing, politics, knowledge management – and of course social networking – is conversations and stories rather than boring old documents and data. Well, of course we need those too – but the way to communicate is to tell a story. That’s good isn’t it? Well, not necessarily.
Today at an RSA event the French writer and researcher Christian Salmon gave us the core narrative of his book: Storytelling – Bewitching the Modern Mind. With a few stories thrown in.
Christian main point was that over the past 20 years politicians and corporations have become adept at developing sound bite stories, and offering us images, that increasingly frame the way we see and talk about the world. Spin is inviting us to become part of their story. As Christian’s publishers put:
Ever since its emergence, humanity has cultivated the art of telling stories, an art that is everywhere at the heart of the social bond. But since the 1990s, first in the US and then in Europe, this art has been colonized by the domain of public relations and triumphant capitalism, and relabelled with the anodyne name of “storytelling.” This has become a weapon in the hands of marketing, management and political gurus, so as to better format the minds of consumers and citizens. Behind the advertising campaigns, but also in the shadows of victorious electoral campaigns from Bush to Sarkozy and Obama hide sophisticated “storytelling management” or “digital storytelling” technicians.
There’s a good summary here from Christian of how George Bush and the Pentagon operated, complete with Hollywood designed settings. One powerful story used to justify war with the Taliban – repeated by a number of politicians says Christian – was that they threated to pull out women’s finger nails if they had used nail varnish. It was, he maintains, promoted on both sides of the Atlantic by political advisers … but his research showed only an account in a 1996 Amnesty report of a single instance that was not fully substantiated. It was what people might wish to believe, particularly when told by Laura Bush. (That’s not to dismiss other Taliban codes)
Towards the end of Christian’s presentation, very ably translated by Michael Wells, Christian referred to a request from Gogol, when exiled in Rome, for friends back home in Russia to send him everyday stories of peasants and bureaucrats, civil servants and money lenders … “give me your naive stories of the world” he begged.
That’s a nice line, I thought. Maybe one role for social reporters is to tell – and help others tell – naïve and honest stories in what has been called dismissively, by the spinners, “the reality-based community”.
After the lecture I asked Christian about the potential for naïve storytelling, and also picked up another point he made about the way that social networks encourage storytelling … but may lend their own distortions. I’m not sure we connected completely, despite Michael’s best efforts, and Christian’s willingness to pick up on the idea. It needs a longer discussion. Meanwhile I have a fascinating book to read about the inherent dangers of storytelling, with an inscription encouraging social reporters in the art of naïve storytelling.