If you can tell the future, you can keep it, my father said as we hurtled down what is unarguably one of the most gut-tearing, mind-freezing, white-knuckled drives, where cars literally sit on each other’s bumpers at 90mph; Ghana.
The future conjured up images of an animal. I get to keep a future. All mine, I thought. It’s there, he continued, somewhere. He paused mid sentence as if holding back the truth…and it’ll come, but you’ll need to coax it out. It could also fall in front of you and how would you won’t know.
My dad was my hero, a real buccaneer— something that was confirmed in his twilight years — which I never fully acknowledged. He was the peripatetic businessman who travelled tirelessly to regions unknown to peer into the future, a deal maker seeking an opportunity. He never gave up. In the 1960s he was part of the Ghanaian wave of civil servants sent to the UK on study scholarship. Revered by his friends and those who came to know him; he had a fiery temper, his words and actions always left a deep impression on me.
The future isn’t an orphan. It travels as a family but not always discreet so there are many outcomes, but if you’re passionate about what you do, you stand a chance of crafting something for you, and others, but that rarely happens.
In 2004 I created a future.
We will soon be transparent jellies opined a London writer. This is atrocious said the New York Times , and how will the family structure remain intact. The is how we greeted the telephone in the 1870s. We welcome its middle class virtues and cleanliness, wrote the Electrical Review, a popular journal, and undoubtedly this will replace servants of their domestic duties. The world of communications stands to be revolutionised — electricity in the 19th century had arrived.
As these unfathomable technologies were upending the world, similar revolutions were being recognised in cultures and the mind, albeit limitedly. The French appropriated Japanese art to create Impressionism. Picasso ripped of Nigerian sculptors to produce cubism. In the deep recesses of Western minds, Freudism, Jungism, behavioural psychology and neuroscience were set to flourish, power through empire and nation’s greed was about to unleash the tyranny of wars. Then a powerful new medium would emerge from this all and some in cinema. A Future of Story had its template in place.
Story is what we all tell each other. This Christmas it’s likely you’ve told a fair number. Narratologists say it should have a beginning, middle and an end. Godard said rubbish, and who were we to complain. Its structure need not be fixed. Our ability to tell stories is what journalism tapped into, not the other way around e.g. Daniel Defoe of Robinson Crusoe fame. But journalism had its price literally. What would people buy from a journalist? Gossip, news, things that would naturally affect their lives. And how could one become a journalist and then deliver to an audience? Journalism is inherently about power. Power more often than not is found in wealth and status. This loop shapes what we’re told and how it shapes us.
A future in 2004 was video and hyperlinked jump of points. It was the Outernet situated in every community — the Internet getting up and walking outside its virtual home, as was featured on Apple’s website.
It now has the more literal name, the Internet of things. A future was mobile. It had always been since the birth of photography and television. It was a democratisation ( a bastard word that even progressive Walter Lipmann understood as power for elites). It was about mine and your story rather than the corporated architected view. Soon this view would be corrupted from Internet 1, 2, 3 with block chain tech — they’ll find a way around.
A future of storytelling was about data analysis and what media semiotically and cognitively meant. Until then we’d largely been using interpretivism — feedback data that resided upon human qualitative skills. I looked at my Chemistry degree notes (see below). By passing a substrate through an an infrared spectroscopy machine, I could determine a structure of the chemical. The science cut out the human qualitative element.
It was only a matter of time before it would become part of our new world. In 2005 at the Washington Press Club, where I’m seated, I see it in one Adrian Holovaty
My award from this august group of the US’s best recognised journalism and academic institutions headed by the chair a pulitzer winner, Jan Schaffer is for designing, coding and creating viewmagazine.tv ( which is due a relaunch in 2019)
Then the future really arrived. From the general position of let’s see what happens, in the digital age everyone wanted in on prospecting. The new age digital Gold Rush was framing the future and proclaiming you and you alone had found it, giving you commercial muscle; hence “THE” future of storytelling and not, “A” future... I’m guilty too but for playing the game.
In David Hockney’s The Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the lost techniques of the Old Masters, at the end of the book Hockney reveals an illustration symptomatic of art and indeed story. A linear transposition depicting Western art movements is splintered into several shards from the 1990s splintering like light hitting a prism even more in the digital age. The lesson is clear. There is no such thing as an all knowing unified art form. Not now.There is no one future of storytelling. How on earth could we agree upon the West’s dominant view against historic cultures in the Middle East, China, Asia and Africa — given what we now know.
The thing about inventing something I learned is how it can becomes a life hobby, a dependency. From realising you had nothing, knew nothing and expected nothing, an idea becomes infectious. And, yes it requires being coaxed out. 2005’s awards were a result of experiments over a period of career in television e.g. BBC Newsnight, radio and dotcoms and a wandering flaneurstic imagination — bad in school, brilliant in the creative field. The Ghanaians have a motto, Sankofa. A phrase my dad uttered on many occasions. It literally means “go and retrieve”, but symbolically points to how the past holds secrets for the future — if you know the past.
Peering back more than a 100 years ago at the discovery of light, the common themes towards breakthroughs in storytelling was technology, rudimentary use of data, new understandings of the mind, acknowledging cultures and society and pillaging their ideas without credit, and the evolution and complexities of cinema — as a supreme form for filmmaking.
If asked what is the future of storytelling, firstly I say it is indeterminate, a foolish pursuit We can no more tell the future, than know with certainty what’s happening outside at this very moment. But just as in 2000 you could not have foreseen Facebook from Friends United showing glimpse of what was possible, whether it would be mass adopted depended on several other factors e.g.money, power, publicity.
Secondly, the future of storytelling is aligned, with principles of design thinking. The audience will decide what they want.
Thirdly, an empathy for cultural and societal differences. Primarily these difference is what journalism seizes upon because its architects have limited empathy and understanding the experience of others.
Fourthly, a deeper understanding of the moving image expanding upon its cinema lingua franca. Television news did our understanding of the language of film, a disservice. When was the last time you found a news piece memorable?
Sixthly, the unstoppable influence of data and machine language. As one friend put it, Cambridge Analytica was like many other companies using data. What’s required is an ethical use of information we freely give away.
It’s clear a deeper understanding of the mind, how it works in the way we absorb stories , and why we’re prone to act in ways that is much about our genetic make-up, as well as environmental and cultural factors.
…this is a story, with no end in sight! Video uploaded next week.