May 30, 2017

Storytelling Technology — Cave Paintings to Snapchat

Limestone cliffs above Chauvet Cave — now called the prehistoric Sistine Chapel — in southern France showcase cave paintings more than 30,000 years old. Smoky black depictions of bison, mammoths, panthers and rhinoceroses are streaked with claw marks from bears — lumbering beasts that predate the art, the cave itself.

The reason for its existence? To tell a story. To mark down in stone that something happened, someone saw something, felt something and they wanted others to know.

We have always told stories from the same place — from a desire to share — it is the medium and permanency of which we tell those stories that’s changed so rapidly in the digital age. From cave paintings to cuneiform to the Greek alphabet to Gutenberg’s printing press to the typewriter to movies to television to computers and yes, virtual reality — the evolution of storytelling technology is vast.

As virtual reality transforms the way we play video games, train our military and even search for life on other planets, it’s social media that’s in the midst of a storytelling arms race — the quest to transform how we emit our everyday lives and extraordinary events in real time to others.

A Technological “Stories” Timeline

July 2011- 2012

Snapchat launches as Picaboo, an iOS-only app, and is soon re-incorporated as Snapchat, an app centered on private, person-to-person photo sharing. New features develop, allowing users to send pictures, messages and videos to friends all with the same premise — content is only available for a short time before they become inaccessible.

October 2013

Snapchat introduces a "My Story" feature, letting users compile snaps into chronological storylines accessible to all of their friends. Stories are later expanded to "Live Stories," allowing users at on-location events to contribute snaps to a curated story available to all Snapchat users. New features like “Discover,” “Our Story,” “Memories,” and “World Stickers” allow users to share and stream stories with a global audience, even creating public and private storage areas to save and reminisce over what once was.

August 2016

Instagram launches its stories feature that allows users to watch, stream and share multiple photos and videos together in a slideshow format. Instagram stories’ photos and videos will disappear after 24 hours and won’t appear on your profile grid or in a feed.

January 2017

Facebook launches its stories feature in Ireland, which allows users to watch and share temporary photos and videos in a slideshow that disappears 24 hours later. Just months later, the feature was opened in further markets and is now a staple of the mobile app.

May 2017

Snapchat rolls out a new stories update allowing several users to contribute to the same story in chronological order that disappear after 24 hours.

While Instagram and Facebook strive to keep up with Snapchat’s storytelling innovation, questions surrounding this phenomena, our insatiable desire to share ephemeral stories, go largely unasked. Unlike the Chauvet Cave painters, our stories’ permanency is shrouded by our instant access to tools and a desire to stream the things that happened, that we saw and felt, instantaneously to others.

The question of whether the stories were better then as opposed to now is moot. You can’t compare a cave painting to a Snap. But our desire to actively create — rather than just passively absorb — authentic and unfiltered content is as strong as ever. Storytelling technology tools are just the medium. Not the story.

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