Power of Storytelling in a Future We Can’t Predict

I have had the “power of stories” rolling around in my head all week.  I’ve also been thinking about how disconnected I’ve been feeling from my community. I don’t go to Narrators anymore, I don’t attend library events and I haven’t made time for many virtual events this year.  The most interaction I’ve had with new people this year has been through school group work and the hyperlib chats this semester.

With all that said, of course, storytelling is powerful.  It connects us with other human experiences and allows us to imagine a different set of scenarios and events.  The point I want to make here though is that storytelling programming, as presented in the readings, is going to be even more important in the future.

I’m going to make a big leap here and attempt to connect the power of storytelling to the issues emerging surrounding deep fakes.  Deep fakes are popping up as a concern all over the place.  Images and videos can be manipulated by AI to perfectly (almost) imitate real people and events.  In this polarized climate, both sides are bound to see something and accept it as real without further research, leading to an even deeper polarized climate through continued technologically enhanced misinformation.  In general, I think this is the next wave for LIS education.  As information professionals, it will land on our table to help combat this problem in the next generation.  Information literacy is already vital and will need to adapt quickly to all the changes coming.  Digital preservation is going to have to be even more careful to articulate authenticity through metadata and ensure the items preserved have not been altered with malintent. In other words, there are going to be so many aspects that we face in the next two decades that we are not able to prepare for adequately during our time in school.  Classes like this that teach us to step out of the box and focus on creative solutions and community engagement are key.

Ok, so to link all this to the power of storytelling.  Stephens writes “Story-based experiences of all kinds can increase listeners’ understanding of diverse groups, demonstrate the value of everyone’s experience, and remind listeners of their shared humanity”.  It is clear that storytelling experiences could have an effect on the views and understanding within an individual. Hearing something you know you basically can trust and feeling the connection of emotion with another individual through that shared experience opens up trust, understanding, and possibly critical thoughts in other aspects of their life.   If we are heading into a world where we are unable to trust video and images, I believe a strong return to individual connection through interaction and storytelling could be part of the solution for this societal problem.  Just as librarians are going to have to work to help assert authority into information that is valuable and well-vetted, we also have the opportunity to provide space for individuals to interact with others in real-time.  Sure, a storyteller can lie or stretch the truth.  That has been true throughout the ages, and humans have adapted to pick up on or expect these elaborations.  The difference is that a person has a chance to sit in a room and look into the eyes of another human and experience the reality that the storyteller puts forth in her/his own words.  The words out of the mouth of the storyteller can be trusted as far as knowing that those are truly the words he/she spoke. Whereas a deep fake video produces an experience that wholeheartedly cannot be trusted.  We are adept at recognizing that videos and images can be taken out of context, and we expect memory to play a part in aberrations of the truth from a storyteller, but with a deep fake all trust is lost.  If we are to continue down this path, and we will be since this technology is powerful, cheap, and “fun” for the entertainment industry, then we as information professionals need to hone in on programs and services that meet the new needs of a community where deep fakes proliferate.  While teaching literacy skills can be part of that wouldn’t it also be well worth it to promote activities that pull people into real-world interactions where another person’s story can be experienced without any of the concerns of AI impacts?

References:

Stephens, M. (2020). Office hours: The power of stories (part 2)