Matt Staggs has a provocative post up on Enter the Octopus called “The death of traditional advertising and the birth of a new storytelling age,” (link) which reads (in full)
See, here’s the way I see it:
Thanks to the internet connecting all of the great social tribes together we’re re-entering a “storytelling age,” where authenticity, experience and the ability to communicate ideas in a compelling manner matter more than the authoritarian mono-culture sponsored by corporate America. Those of us who can adapt to this new world – the creatives, the visionaries, we who would have been Skalds, Bards and Troubadours a few centuries ago – will thrive, assuming our place by the fire and our rightful position of importance in the new global tribe.
Matt seems to be setting up three eras:
1. Pre-Mass (Including pictorial, oral, written transmission of stories, say 25000 BCE – 1800 CE.)
2. Mass (We could date this several different ways (Little Nell? Captain Midnight?) but let’s say 1800-2000.)
3. Post-Mass (2000-)
I want to point out a key difference between pre-mass and post-mass storytelling, based on the relative levels of coercion and choice (the seemingly-negative and seemingly-positive faces of a single phenemenon) in each era. Here’s a matrix:
In the pre-mass era, culture was heterogeneous but extremely coercive on individuals within a given tribe. You were born to virtually everything; you chose virtually nothing. Advertising was approximately moot. (Lots of interesting exceptions but the rule holds.) You did not choose your stories; you were born to them. A storyteller could tell a story and be close to dead certain that listeners would know the entire context for the story: Prosaic details would seem prosaic to everyone; exotic details would seem the correct degree of exotic; everyone would laugh in all the right places…
In the mass era, culture was closer to homogeneous (boo) less coercive (yay) but (for most people most of the time) the amount of apparent choice was low (booyay?). You could choose among a handful of major brands plus a house brand; you could choose among a handful of networks plus cable access… Advertising worked extremely well in this environment. It was easy to get people’s attention, and it was easy to get them to form brand loyalties. Similarly for stories: The sheer number of subcultures was fairly low; a storyteller could tell a story and stand a decent chance of finding an enthusiastic and comprehending reader; a listener could look for a story and stand a decent chance of finding a compelling and comprehensible storyteller.
In the post-mass era, culture is extremely heterogeneous (w00t) even less coercive (ditt00t) but there is such an explosion of choice that (in its limit state) it threatens to produce cultures-of-one, in which advertising is again moot (because of signal-to-noise and the Paradox of Choice described by Barry Schwartz). The consequence for storytelling in the post-mass era is also potentially dire: A storyteller stands some risk either of being a cultural island (or last living speaker) or of being buried in noise, and a listener stands some risk of tuning into sferics or the Tower of Babel.
The consequence of all this is that the entire project of storytelling (or, ironically, advertising) in the post-mass era depends absolutely upon the success of community-building. The new global storytelling depends upon new global tribes.