The human species is amazingly resilient when it comes to communicating narratives. People seek out ways not only to communicate, but ways to expand both width and ease of communication. Though originally meant to transfer information, narrative became a form of escapism and entertainment. From campfire stories to Twitter postings, people have evolved mediums of communication, and the technology has evolved mankind.
Most information was originally transmitted orally. Not until the establishment of agrarian societies that needed to keep track of ownership and trade did written communication take root. Even after writing existed, illiteracy was the norm with the majority or communication still verbally based. Guttenberg’s printing press allowed wider dissemination of uniformed information (Isbouts, 2011).
Early narratives focused on establishing a protagonist who had to overcome obstacles or conflict to reach an outcome. From these stories grew myths and legends as stories were transmitted from one person to another, each adding their own interpretations and experiences. Orally transmitted stories were subject to the ideas and imagination of each speaker (Bartlett, 1920). Written communication decreased the likelihood of stories of changing. Aristotle, seeing how unwieldy narratives could become, proposed simple, narratives that allowed for easy communication and understanding (Wagoner).
Printed narratives allowed people experience information in a new way. The Bible, not surprisingly, was the first major narrative to be widely published. For centuries, most printed books were non-fiction. Fiction was mainly reserved for plays. One of the first works of fiction to be printed was Daniel Defoe’s The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe that fictional novels began to gain acceptance (Rose, 2012). In fact, Defoe originally declared it a work of nonfiction to get in published. Printing allowed books, newspaper and pamphlets to be used for communication.
Until the late 1800s, print or stage remained primary forms narrative communication (Isbouts, 2011). This period saw a relatively quick change in narrative communications. With electricity came a host of new communication forms. Radio created a new way to bring oral communication back as a way of disseminating information. What has been presented on stage, such as plays, opera and vaudeville, could now be done via radio. Narrative could be told using words, sounds and music (Isbouts, 2011).
Within decades, film was a popular new medium, eventually combining both visual and auditory narrative (Isbouts, 2011). These elements allowed people to change how stories were told. Moving pictures allowed communication in a way never before considered. Linear storytelling was no longer a necessity. Elements like lighting and film speed could be used to tell a narrative, and artists used these to their advantage (Isbouts, 2011). Changing technology allowed the audience to not only be consumers, but participants as well. Personal recording and/or playback devices allowed consumers to alter how the narrative was consumed—such as in part or out of intended sequence. Some media allowed users to alter the narrative such as books, games and movies that relied on consumers to determine what happened in the narrative. Though this worked out well for games, movies that attempted it did not find a sustainable audience (Rose, 2012).
The current state of technology has blurred the lines between narrator and audience. With today’s immersive media, almost everyone is a participant (Rose, 2012). Easy access to digital cameras and sources of dissemination, like Facebook and YouTube has allowed everyone who wants to express their narrative to a global audience. The creativity for presenting narrative is only limited to the imagination of the user (Rose, 2012).
Based on history, people will look for new ways to communicate their narrative. New technology will allow people to adapt and adopt to ways of expressing narrative. It’s difficult to know exactly how or when the next evolution will occur. Sometime understand how narrative has changed requires a look back rather than a look forward.
Bartlett, F. (1920). Some experiments on the reproduction of folks stories. Folk-Lore, 30-47.
Isbouts, J. O. (2011). From Aristotle to Augmented Reality. In K. Dill, The Oxford Handbook of Media Psychology. Oxford: Oxford Publishing.
Rose, F. (2012). The Art of Immersion. New York: Norton & Company.
Wagoner, B. (n.d.). Culture and mind in reconstruction: Bartlett’s analogy between individual and group processes.