Our stories are embedded in our culture. Digital technology tools make them more accessible than ever, in various forms ranging from social media apps on smartphones to the internet streaming on screens of various size. Ever watch a reality show, YouTube, or the news? Use Facebook or Instagram? Keep digital or print photo albums? Listen to podcasts? Read biographies/autobiographies or see movies based on a true story?
Today, we have all sorts of real people and real stories in our midst, to consume as observers or to experience as participants. Whether you tuned into the Jerry Springer Show or The Real World in the dawn of reality TV or are currently hooked on The Real Housewives of Orange County or The Bachelor, the lines have blurred between audience and star, between truth and fabrication, between entertainment and exploitation.
The technology and tools that enable us to connect with the click of a button can be used for positive or ill gain, can be helpful or harmful, or somewhere in between. Some of the shadow side of our culture has been exposed through these means. People in positions of influence and power have been caught on video doing abusive or harmful acts and these stories have gone viral. Others have used these tools as a venue for their addiction; for instance, to porn or a particular game. When we unconsciously tune into the shadow side, it often feels yucky inside, like eating a junk food meal. No nourishment there – just a guilty pleasure with some immediate gratification attached. And like junk food, it can lead to cravings and addiction because it ultimately takes us farther away from balance and the best of who we are as beings.
People addicted to gaming or porn or texting are not the problem. The technology and broadcast media tools we’ve come to both loathe and rely upon — and the industries that develop and profit from them — are not the problem, either, but a red herring.
The real issue and true yearning is this: people desire connection at a deeper level. In our perfectly imperfect human condition, we often flounder around — experimenting, grabbing the carrot that is dangled, going for convenience, questioning, criticizing, and seeking. Some find religion, others a spiritual path, and still others delve into social media, reality TV, interactive gaming, or texting galore. More often, a mix of these things claim our attention, some more satisfying than others.
The deeply fulfilling connection is one that feels good inside; for some, experienced when walking in the woods, waiting to ride the next ocean wave, seeing a rainbow, having a heartfelt conversation, holding hands, or viewing art. This type of connection brings us closer to our true self, our essential nature.
Storytelling and digital technology are being used creatively for good ~ to capture our narratives, build community, and create goodwill. StoryCorps provides physical spaces in various cities throughout the USA where anyone may record their story; and then includes the stories in a national audio archive and broadcasts some on National Public Radio. The Moth celebrates the art of storytelling with a podcast produced from true stories told live in events held around the USA. StoryCenter offers digital storytelling workshops around the world to give voice to personal narratives and build community. The smartphone app, Outpour, offers a forum for expressing appreciation toward others.
Connecting at a deeper level comes down to that inner feeling of spiritual nourishment, of experiencing authenticity. The documentary film, Buck imparts and invites this deeper level connection with the audience. An ordinary man, Buck Brannaman (the real life Horse Whisperer), is living life doing what he loves, and in doing so, is leading an extraordinary life. Watching the film reminds us of the best qualities in our shared humanity; it allows us to pause and take note, to be inspired, and yes, to feel connected. In this way, storytelling becomes sacred. It brings us back to our core; reminds us that truth and beauty are all around us. We have simply to tune in, pay attention, and savor it when we find it.