by Barry Chudakov on July 31st, 2012

The Tool That Tells the Story

More people around the globe own a mobile phone than own a toothbrush. By the end of 2012 connected devices will outnumber humans on planet earth. It’s is an ideal time to ask: how do these tools change the oldest way we have always communicated—by telling stories? As an introduction to this evolving narration, here is the Preface from my recently published book The Tool That Tells the Story.



This is a book about stories and the new tools that tell them.

The anecdotal structure of this book is intentional. I have set aside the charts and graphs; these will not give us what we need. You will find no case study of how to increase customer fulfillment in the digital economy, or why Apple’s iCloud sets out a successful course for the company’s future. Instead, here you will encounter the mingled voices of a T-shirt videographer, a Facebook criminal, Harry Potter fans, a Bangladeshi artist, and Lonelygirl15, among others.

It is precisely because my intent is to make this book useful for professional communicators and other device-tethered travelers trying to decipher the emerging digital economy that I have not focused on telling the stories of brands and products.

In Wherever You Go, There You Are, Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, writes:

The old fairy tales, we are told by their modern interpreters … are ancient maps, offering their own guidance for the development of full human beings.



In this book I explore new maps that offer equally valuable guidance for understanding who we are in the world of FaceR Celebrity and Pinterest, Vimeo and TweetDeck. Unlike the stories that Kabat-Zinn refers to, these have not been “told in twilight and darkness around fires for thousands of years.”

This book reveals that stories are the vehicles we use to re-enact what is happening around us. But often we tell the story indirectly, in the code of the moment, barely hinting at the larger implications or why we might be telling it. In this measure our stories are present-day intimations of future directions.

Often when stories are old, ones we’ve heard before exactly or in some minor variation, we forget what stories do; their powers are hidden in the familiar. But when we hear new stories, ones that may even seem to us outrageous, it becomes clear their recounting is essential to the human experience. Storytelling is re-creation. This mode of re-creation is a way of witnessing, realizing, and processing what is happening to us.
As we do this—and as humans we do it constantly over small and big matters—our re-creation is highly iterative. Our stories almost always entail repetition, recurrence, or reiteration. Why is this?

The answer lies in our highly social nature: we are inveterate explainers. We explain to share our vision. This calls to mind Dr. John Medina’s dictum: “We do not see with our eyes. We see with our brains … Vision trumps all other senses. Visual processing doesn’t just assist in the perception of our world. It dominates the perception of our world.”[2] The prize at the bottom of the storytelling box is inward sight, also called insight, which is a little-acknowledged byproduct of re-creation. Inward sight is the seeing that comes inwardly—to the mind’s eye, to your consciousness—when re-viewing something (in your mind, in a story) that previously you had known only outwardly, via experience in the so-called real world.

Since many business people today are interested in storytelling, they might reasonably expect this text to be filled with commercial case histories and accounts of genius communication professionals. In fact, my belief is that branding and corporate communications have much to learn from the people who are telling stories in their own way, using their own tools like streaming lifecasting video or quantified-self apps. We all live in story world now. Here, everyone is a media outlet; everyone (and every brand) is a narrator.


Surprise, Flickr, h. koppdelaney, some rights reserved.


Many accounts in the book are raw and unfiltered. Sometimes their meanings are not wholly clear. Most have not had the benefit of re-telling and polishing. However, we will see that by understanding how our narratives intersect with our lives, “providing our lives with meaning, unity and purpose,” as Daniel P. McAdams said, we can experience inward sight and gain awareness about what we are actually doing and where we may be headed, personally and collectively.

Central to that understanding is seeing how new devices tell new versions in different ways. IDC, the global intelligence firm, predicts that shipments of smart connected devices will surpass 1.1 billion in 2012 and that by 2016, more than 1.84 billion devices will ship—twice as many as in 2011. Further, a new biometric monitoring study of digital immigrants vs. digital natives concludes:

Digital Immigrants are intuitively linear—they want to see a beginning, middle, and end to stories. For Natives, stories still need a beginning, middle and end, but they will accept it in any order. Digital Natives are subconsciously switching between platforms and can pick up different pieces of a story from different mediums in any order ….

Dr. Carl Marci, CEO and Chief Scientist, Innerscope Research, remarks:

“Storytellers and marketers in this digital age will continue to face an increasingly complex environment with a higher bar for engaging an audience of consumers.”

Once new tools are in our hands we start to tell a different story than we told before. This change of narrative alters our lives.


The Tool That Tells the Story is now available on Amazon.


Email This Post Email This Post     Print This Post Print This Post

From Stories

We invite your thoughts and comments about this post. Leave a reply here.

Note: XHTML is allowed. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS