Storytelling Matters

The Live Art and the Power of Words

Archive for the month “June, 2013”

Strike a Balance

Last week I saw a woman texting during a live performance. She wasn’t in the audience, however; she was on the stage as part of the show. This wouldn’t be so strange if texting was part of the show, but it was a 19th century story done in 19th century style. There were no modern tweaks. It seemed that the woman took advantage of being in the background of the show to connect to her private world. However, she made her private connections in public on a stage as others watched.

Looking around in public places, I often see people with their heads in devices, pressing buttons, focused downward, not outward. Stories of people’s lives and the dramatic moments of living are often mediated by machines. Social connections are not always made person to person, in the flesh. Perhaps you witness the same thing, and like me, are also guilty of being an ostrich with a machine at times.

I read a great piece in the New York Times the other day that spoke eloquently about this very situation Novelist Jonathan Safran Foer addressed the importance of striking a balance in all things technological and all things human. He says, “Each step ‘forward’ has made it easier, just a little, to avoid the emotional work of being present, to convey information rather than humanity.”

Being present. People are at risk of forgetting how to do this, and that is why I believe that live performances are so important. Barry and I see that people are forgetting about being present during our storytelling performances: audiences don’t always know how to be audiences. People are not always aware of their impact on other audience members; they are often immensely surprised by their emotional responses to live narrative. Foer expresses concern about this: “I worry that the closer the world gets to our fingertips, the further it gets from our hearts.”

Foer also says that making emotional connections takes more time than is possible with the speed of much of today’s communications. He is right. It takes more work to engage fully, to be present, to be open to emotions and emotional exchanges with others than to participate in digital conversations, once removed from the live-and-in-person side of social interaction.

Mediated communications present an interesting tautology. Famous for erecting bridges that connect people to people and information, they also can erect a barrier that separates people from face to face, in person, connections. Remember the woman I saw texting during a show? She wasn’t connected with the narrative unfolding around her on the stage. Despite being physically part of a group, she was apart from them, alone in a way, connected only to what was on her phone.

Technology is wonderful. Building humanity through technology is also wonderful; how many of us become touched or even passionate about social issues thanks to social media and digital storytelling? That is a great good. But face to face humanity is also wonderful and it is essential in fulfilling our human potential. Read Foer’s article, you will see! Here is that link again….

Live performance is one way to preserve balance, to build emotional connection and intelligence, to allow the world to touch our fingertips and hearts (tipping my hat to Foer here). So if you haven’t done so lately, attend a live show. Be fully present. Feel it. After it is over, use technology to evaluate it or share it with others.

Strike a balance.


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