In the past, civilizations’ storytelling was an oral tradition that was passed down via those who memorized the great battles and lessons of the age. These were passed from city to city, town to town, tribe to tribe by the storytellers who recreated them in dynamic verbal performance. Once the printing press came along stories could be written and shared over and over in a form that did not change, but those who controlled the printing presses controlled what the public received. In the modern age of social media storytelling has taken an entirely new leap into the hands and control of the general public. Everyone with technology can tell their story. Everyone can have a say in what information is put out for the masses to access. It is the era of the ‘voice of the people’. From a folklore perspective, this is exciting. Folklore consists of the things a civilization finds valuable enough to pass along to one another. There is a traditional aspect and an adaptive aspect. The adaptive aspect allows the person passing it on to change things just a bit. For example, a meme is a modern example of a piece of folklore. The picture is consistent while the wording is changed to express the user’s views; then if it is picked up and passed along to others, who pass it on to others, who pass it on to others….well, you see how it goes. It is the passing it along that makes it a valuable indicator of what the culture values because if the senders did not find it funny, interesting, meaningful, or significant in some way it would simply disappear. Instead of the ‘powers that be’ having a say in what hits the airwaves, everyone with a phone or computer has a say now. We are now content producers and content consumers.
This is a powerful place. While there is no doubt that there is information overload on the internet, and we must constantly sort the valuable from the dross, for the first time in history the underdog, the common man, the powerless have a voice. Massive movements in social awareness have hit the airwaves in the past few years – because the people had a voice. Minority rights movements, gay rights movements, feminist movements, etc. have all gained traction because the people had a voice and could stand up for the changes they wanted by telling their stories.
When you tweet, snap and post you are telling a story about you, about your life, about what matters to you. Years from now, if researchers can ever sort through the masses of information, those who study folklore will have more than a sufficient amount of fodder for discovering what was important or unimportant to our culture. In a way, social media is like a giant wall of graffiti that everyone contributes to. While there are moments that it looks a lot like vanity overload, from a storytelling perspective there is an immense value in the voice you can have. That being said, I’ll end here with a few suggestions: primarily that as a responsible citizen you think about the stories you are telling. Do you really want to tell the story of your tumultuous break-up, of our naked party blooper, or report in on our ingrown toenail? I don’t know, it’s up to you. What’s your story?