Storytelling: How we make sense of the past, present and future

Storytelling is the foundation of human culture, meaning it plays an important, indelible role in the everyday life of every individual and community.

Our parents use stories to teach us the rules and morals we must follow in our community; in school we learn stories from history to understand how our society was formed; as adults, we use stories to help others understand what is important to us and explore our social and cultural identities; and we use analogical stories to create empathy and understanding of complex concepts. As a society, stories are our entertainment as well as a tool to empower, teach, motivate and unite us.

Considering this, it comes as no surprise that the historical and current power of stories is recognised in academia, pop culture and industry alike. Through this blog series I will address the future of storytelling and the role it plays in the theories and forecasts of future thinkers.


What is storytelling?

In its most simple sense, storytelling is the social and cultural activity of sharing stories. This is done, and has been done throughout human history, using a variety of means. Oral storytelling, written storytelling and visual storytelling through art have allowed history, religion, morals and cultural tradition to be passed on throughout the ages.

The Epic of Gilgamesh is considered to be the oldest written story, with its creation dated at the third millennia BC. The Epic follows a classic hero’s tale as Gilgamesh, described as two-thirds God and one-third man, searches for the key to immortality. However, when we take into account visual storytelling, we can see the use of illustrations to tell stories of hunting, rituals and communal beliefs as long as 40,000 years ago by Aboriginal societies in Australia.

oldest aboriginal arat
Aboriginal art from the Kimberley region in Western Australia, believed to be amongst the oldest art in the world

Following this, stories began to be used for persuasive purposes. For example, the stories and myths of religions grew the belief systems that shape so many aspects of our society, as stories help us to empathise and contextualise morals and values into our everyday life.

In the modern day, storytelling takes place in the media we consume for entertainment and education. Storytelling has even come to be considered a commodity and an important tool in marketing, with companies being formed specifically dedicated to providing storytelling insights to businesses. For example, Share More Stories, founded by James Warren in 2014, assert in their mission statement that:

‘We use stories to help brands and organizations grow through human-led experiences, insights and ideas. SMS’ proprietary methodology combines the authentic, human connection of shared storytelling and the power of machine learning, to deliver culture growth and brand relevance.’

It is clear that storytelling represents an overarching concept of how important communication is in human society and it is clear that there is great value in studying the role it plays in future studies. My following posts will explore the way the future is represented in the stories we tell today, as well as how storytelling will develop in the near future as a result of technological development. Throughout this exploration I hope to identify the connection between storytelling and future studies as well as the importance of working towards a future where the value and integrity of storytelling is protected.


Image source:

David Damrosch, The buried book: the loss and rediscovery of the great Epic of Gilgamesh (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2007)

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