"SaY": Technology & Storytelling
Alarming statistics about what technology is doing to our young people are a day-a-dozen at the moment.
Child literacy advocates, and bookish parents everywhere are worried — about their kids, and the future of storytelling — and you can see why.
There is plenty to be wary of in the ever-onward march of technology, but I think there is cause for optimism too. I suspect we (speaking as a late/not-quite millennial) will be the damned generation — too familiar, not familiar enough, awed by the grandeur and unable to master the glitches — like drivers full of rage who’ve yet to create the rules of the road.
And as the founder of a tech platform for kids — Spin A Yarn (a free site which helps kids create and share their stories) — I am deeply committed to making technology work for our good, even as we set it in balance. And balance is, for me, the key.
Balance Not Binary
When printing presses first got rolling I’ve no doubt there were curmudgeonly grumblings about the danger of slothful four-eyed kids. Of course modern screens, and the addictiveness of their content, are a different order of concern, but surely it has to be about balance. You wouldn’t want a kid to do nothing but sit and read all day either. And even if we decided to raise sheltered luddites, technology is here to stay, so the sooner we can get a healthy relationship with it, the better.
I think the problem is more with the content, and our use of it, than the technology.
Kid tech swings between ‘edutainment’ that’s about as appealing as chocolate-covered broccoli (with a heavy side of patronising) and crack-hamburgers (in the form of zombie-making online games).
We need more space for children’s voices, places to invite their full creativity, and not just their interaction. We’ve spent too long creating platforms for adults to share their ‘content’ when kids are the real content-creating ninjas. Too long putting adults at the helm who fundamentally distrust, or forget, the artistry of children. The result is that most tech-enabled storytelling products are overworked — deadening slot machines for engineering stories.
Stories At Play
As I’ve researched I’ve been heartened by the ways kids have found to create digital blank pages of their own — writing stories a line at a time in the comments sections of social media posts, collaborating over google docs. Working with young people on Spin A Yarn India I’ve seen that the real draw of the digital is not flashing widgets, it’s the opportunity to feel heard. To be ‘published’ with all the respect that implies.
Technology can also enable a type of creativity harder to achieve with print.
By dissolving some of the barrier between writer and reader it allows more interactivity. Quicker feedback loops, the ability for even more people to share, the opportunity to nurture creative communities — it lets inspiration and engagement flow.
It can all become a bit more inclusive and playful, and that’s actually much closer to how children naturally see stories and storytelling. They instinctively want to take part, to listen out for stories in all their forms and weave them into their own imaginations.
Children are more open to osmosis between stories told to them and stories told by them. And they don’t come with our snobbery about form — they are story first and format second, creating tales of Barbie mashed up with Harry Potter and Paw Patrol. Kids have been using the world as their virtual platform long before deep tech came around, they live in Augmented Reality all the time — it’s called Make Believe.
An Invitation To Create
For me, this is where it gets interesting. When I look at tech and storytelling I don’t see a challenge, I see an invitation. An invitation to let our stories free — to question received notions of authorship and rights to contribution.
Seen from that vantage, technology could actually help us return to the earliest roots of storytelling, before the Victorians got us all stiff with categories and permissions.
Traditional storytelling was a wild beautiful beast — epics spawned on Grandparents’ knees, passed to neighbours, gifted down generations.
Folktales with countless variations, owned and authored by no one and everyone all at once. So I am optimistic. Let’s welcome back that beast, work together to tame the more worrying wildlands of our digital world, and usher in a new/old age of storytelling.
Your Voice. Their Imagination.