Storytelling: Stories of the future, and the future of stories

How is storytelling represented in media, especially that about the future?

When we examine popular culture, we see many meta references to storytelling. In our favourite popular culture texts, archaeologists search for ancient texts, journalists fight to reveal the truth on important stories and teenage girls narrate their stories through diaries they keep.

However, there is another role that storytelling plays aside from just documenting our past and present; it also allows us to imagine our future.

One of the most well-known texts that explores the future is George Orwell’s novel 1984, written in 1949. In 1984, the protagonist Winston Smith’s every movement is watched by the ruling Party via all-seeing and hearing telescreens that are installed in every nook and cranny of his home, workplace and city. Winston works in the ironically named Ministry of Truth where his job is to change and destroy historical records to suit the ever-changing role of the Party in international conflicts. Unsurprisingly, Winston becomes frustrated of the oppression he faces, with his first major act of rebellion being keeping a diary that he illegally purchases to record his criminal thoughts of love, lust, loneliness and independent thinking.

While 1984 covers many future anxieties, the core issue with the society portrayed in the novel is that storytelling and the recording of the truth is restricted and manipulated at every moment. Orwell adeptly reflects the importance of storytelling to justice, freedom and independence in human society.

While 1984 is a story that imagines a grim and oppressive future, ultimately Orwell’s goal was to encourage us to take action to avoid such a situation. According to futurist Wendell Bell, Orwell himself was a futurist. Speaking on futurists, Bell said:

‘They aim to raise the level of human understanding and consciousness about the interrelatedness of all people to each other … In the broadest sense, futurists hope to inform people’s expectations of the future and to help make their efforts shape the future.’

It is clear that the stories we tell dictate the future we will reach as a society. As we have discussed, stories are used to shape and educate our society, and this includes to help us imagine and work towards the future we strive for. This can be in positive ways, by telling stories of utopian futures that motivate us to take action to reach them; and negative, by warning of the future we are hurtling towards if we don’t change our ways, as Orwell did in 1984.

The way storytelling is portrayed in media and the ways stories are told illustrate the way that analogy and imaginings fuel human invention, action and change. Stories are a thread that connect our past, present and future.

References

George Orwell, 1984 (United Kingdom: Secker & Warburg, 1949)

Wendell Bell, Foundations of Future Studies; History, purposes, and knowledge (Somerset: Taylor & Francis, 1997)

 

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