12 Nov 2010


The oldest form of storytelling as well as the most personal and intimate is of course ORAL STORYTELLING. Around as long as human language, it is said it is one of the things that distinguish us from other animals. Evident in ancient cultures such as the Australian Aborigines, community storytelling offered the security of explanation (how life began, why things happen etc) as well as entertainment and enchantment.

What of other ancient societies though? Prehistoric man used CAVE PAINTINGS, for what purpose we are not entirely sure, though some would argue that they were the first 'written' stories. With the earliest known European ones dating back some 35,000 years, perhaps the most well known example is the Lascaux Caves discovered by some children in the Pyrenees Mountains.

And the 'FIRST CIVILIZATIONS'? What of Egypt where the first known short stories were written down some 4000 years ago. What of the middle ages which saw the maturing of the story form, both oral and written? What of the 'new world' were many stories were recorded by central American cultures in stone and on perishable materials such as hide?

And modern man, how are his stories told? Ever since AD868 when the world's earliest dated printed book, THE DIAMOND SUTRA, was created in China, the printed word has become ever more important with some even arguing that the PRINTING PRESS was the best invention of the fifteenth century. Not so, argue others - that would have to go to digital technology which in 1995 saw the first book, Douglas Hofstadter's Fluid Concepts And Creative Analogies: Computer Models Of The Fundamental Mechanisms Of Thought, being sold over the Internet by Seattle-based Amazon.com AND 2010 which saw Steig Larrson become the first member of Kindle's Million Club, selling more than one million e-copies of the Millennium Trilogy which brings us to .......

Tomorrow and the future of storytelling.

With the rise of technological advances, the traditional art of storytelling is transforming, some would say dying out to be replaced by video, the Internet, mass market books and the other forms of media that will no doubt follow. AND yet others argue that storytelling will never die out, parents will always tell bedtime stories which will always play an important role in our culture. What do you think?


Mary said...

I have great faith that parents (and anyone else) will continue to tell stories :-)
I have a digital reader but read more traditional books. I continue to buy paper books and borrow from my local library.

Arti said...

I love to read paper books, though I have never used kindle et al... The feel of the paperback and the thrill of turning pages cannot be matched by digital books. And I think that parents story telling is very important for a childs growth:)
Have a nice day:)

Misha1989 said...

Thanks for the interesting article!
I don't think storytelling can ever die out. I don't enjoy reading ebooks . I still prefer the traditional books.

A said...


My favorite subject.

I think Story Telling is heading towards an end.

People are more interested to read one liner with a picture...that is all.

Reading books is disappearing. Short Stories are no longer popular. Magazines are popular if they have pictures.

I asked a friend of mine who used to love reading. He says no one has patience and concentration to read more than 5 lines. He lost reading qualities too.

Internet has done a lot of good things but on the other hand it has made people impatient with quick access to just the specific information people are looking. One does not need to read around or understand the concept. Internet tells all.

I work in technology (on developing faster internet) yet these are my opinions.

Willa said...

Story telling is an intrinsic part of being a human being, it is a psychological mechanism allowing us to pass on experiences, values etc. I think it will become more and more integrating in society, for example in branding and advertising.
And me? I will keep on reading and telling stories.

Willa said...

ps. just wrote a post about this post :-)

A said...


Do you mind sharing your email address? If you don't, please send me a short note at


I have a question for you that I cannot ask as comment. It is not relevant to the this post

GMR said...

Personal opinion...the art of storytelling will never die. Even with technology advancements and such people LOVE a good story and the myriad of ways to read or hear it just play into that interest. Some are die hard listeners, others paper readers, and still other electronical addicts....but there is room for all in the story telling world.

Kelly said...

There really is an art to telling a story well. I'm not a very good story teller (or joke teller).

I never told my kids bedtime stories. I read to them instead.

bibliophile brouhaha said...

Hey, thanks for stopping by earlier - it's very nice to meet you, as well! Hope all is well across the pond!

-Linds, bibliophile brouhaha

Suko said...

This is a great presentation, Petty, a short history of storytelling, to be viewed and read on the computer screen. Yet it felt accessible and personal. Perhaps that is the direction we are headed in, a mix of old tradition and modern technology.

Dizzy C said...

Great posting.

I am not ready to give up my paper books for storytelling to my youngest or my shelves of books in favour of an Ereader.

Saying that modern tech does give more scope for sharing stories.

I love your postings and have an award for you on my little blog.

carol :)

StarTraci said...

I worry about this a lot and I try to balance the digital technology that surrounds us and telling stories and reading books. I have a few books on my iPhone but I really prefer a REAL book and I hope that I am imparting that to my children.

Very interesting post, Petty. You always share the greatest things with us!


budh.aaah said...

Oh I think just as the computer never can replace the hand (for an artist- my Pa also firmly believed so and he was a genius) same way oral storytelling can never be replaced by anything. I remember whiling away many a night listening raptly to the ghost stories from people.

My patrenal aunt too is a great storyteller..Then come the books. The beauty of holding a book in the hand can not be compared to reading it on the comp or watching it as a movie..

kavita said...

Its a bad habit but i love reading my book on bed .I love smell of the paper and i also love collecting book marks .
My kids love listening to stories which most often i do for them ...they love it more than cartoons and animation films.

naida said...

Great post!
I dont think storytelling will every die out, no matter the advances in technology.
Theres something great about telling a story or reading out loud and sharing it with others.


Marinela said...

Interesting article Petty, yeh I like to read paper books :)

purplume said...

There was an island near Thailand, when that big tsunami took so many lives. The people on the island were saved by an oral tradition that said if the waves pulled far back into the ocean run for high ground. The people did it and survived.