Two points have really stuck in my mind recently: first it is estimated that a week’s worth of The Times contains more information than someone living in the eighteenth century would come across in a lifetime.
The second is that in times before the written word, Britons used poetry as a social record, a story of what has passed: poetry developed because it was a way of making information memorable.
I find this absolutely fascinating, amazing even, if you look at this in the context of the growing importance of storytelling today.
Today we’ve come to a situation where information is everywhere, you just can’t get away from it. It’s not just the written word, there’s video content, the spoken word, graphs, graphics, images all there throwing information at us 24/7.
People don’t need to remember things anymore
The situation is analogous to when poetry was used like a USB stick, when you couldn’t write information down to remember it. Information is so easy to access now, it feels like there is no need to remember anything – it is all out there in the open, ready to be accessed.
The problem is you turn into a squirrel burying information everywhere, only to completely forget where it is the next day. Because you think you know where interesting information is, you no longer need to remember it. Information is no longer memorable.
What does this mean…
…when you need people to remember something? Simply put, the information needs to be contained within an engaging story. Rhymes and all the academic structures around constructing a poem are there to make the content memorable – it is the art of storytelling at it’s essence. This is something that (as we all know) is much, much more important now than before we got to the position where media became so fragmented.
What elements make a story?
Authenticity is key. Authenticity is a ridiculous word when you think about it. The only real way of working out whether something is authentic is by asking whether it is not authentic: looking at the negative spaces around it. Think about the Three Bears. Miss Goldie Locks didn’t eat Cherios. It would be ridiculous if she did, mainly because it would be an unnecessary diversion from the core narrative of the story and out of keeping, fake. Think Habitat and Iran Elections – an uncalled for interruption.
Structure is another: intro-development-climax-resolution-close. Then you’ve got theme, characters, visualisation and performance to name a few. Creating touchpoints in the mind. Before you know it you’re a regular commerical Shakespeare.