Kendra Salvatore

Imagination, rekindled

Author, Kendra Salvatore, Strategy Director BBH NY

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of attending The Future of Storytelling summit, and hearing from the passionate community of people from the worlds of media, technology, and communications who are exploring how storytelling is evolving in the digital age.

I will not summarize all of the great thinking thought and feelings felt. Go to the website and watch the videos from the expertly curated speakers, dig into all of their enlightening perspectives, look up their incredible projects – some links are provided below.

What I’d like to delve into is only one particular feeling I picked up across attendees and speakers; the future of storytelling is about feeling like a child.

Here are some powerful ways that the speakers encouraged a sense of pure, childlike emotion, perhaps unbeknownst to them, that we can learn from:

Follow our ideals

Two astronauts (of the 533 who have ever been to space) spoke about their ‘orbital moments’, what it feels like to be in space. When you see the earth from afar, there is first pure awe. Then, there is revelation – that we are fragile, we are one and we are capable of anything. These astronauts see an idyllic version of the world and are re-energized to create it when their feet are back on the ground. We discussed that besides astronauts, the champions of unwavering utopian sense of the world are children. They believe in hope, in peace, that they can be whatever they want to be. We can find opportunity for this positivity and optimism in our storytelling and apply it more often, especially when things feel most dystopian and complex. A documentary in progress, Constellation aims to spread this mentality to the world.

Preserve curiosity

When children ask questions of adults, there is an important exchange that happens – a kid finds courage to explore an original idea and they’re rewarded by a personal answer that is memorable and meaningful.

Pretty soon, some important adults we can ask questions to are going to die. Specifically, Holocaust survivors. Inspired by the need to maintain this childlike curiosity and learning around the Holocaust a few important organizations have used emerging technology to record many hours of footage with survivors. Language processing and display technologies allow a 3D virtual holocaust survivor to process and answer original questions in real time.

Harness the power of live experience

Jeffery Seller, producer of Hamilton, Avenue Q, Rent and In the Heights led an intimate round table about the emotional exchange that happens through live musical performance. A live performance is a real time exchange of creative energy between people. He spoke of being most impacted by this feeling in childhood and following that feeling to where he is now. A sweet moment in the conversation occurred when a YouTube star confessed that she couldn’t draw a live audience in the traditional staged way that Mr. Seller is devoted to, so she turned to Google Hangouts and, voilà, over time millions saw her sing live. Whether traditional or modern in method, they both admitted the emotional exchange created in live performance is needed today more than ever, in a world where a lot of our creativity is mediated instead of spontaneously heard and felt.

Champion physicality

The O.G. puppeteers on Sesame Street are of the most dedicated to their craft of any storyteller today. They connect with millions of children with their hands held high, inside puppets mouths and bodies, where slight movements of the wrist or finger convey entire worlds of emotion and connection with children viewing at home. These incredible artists have been provoking children’s imaginations for about 30 years. We all tried it. It’s hard to bring life to felt and glue (albeit very cute felt and glue). These physical nuances, that rock children’s worlds, should not be underestimated. Sometimes smallest physical gestures can be the most powerful means for communication, even when broadcast to millions.

Embrace uncertainty

Neuroscientist Beau Lotto reminded us that as human beings, we hate uncertainty – we hate to not know. This is because primitively, to not know was to die – and therefore today, uncertainty still creates stress.

He suggests that the solution to uncertainty is play because play is where uncertainty is celebrated. A child is the best example of embracing this way of being, uncertainty is inherent and play is practiced with abandon.

Sometimes in our industry, we do things we already know are going to be great. To this, Lotto would say, ‘who cares’. In this vein, maybe the true creative visionaries will be we who shed our pretense for childlike uncertainty and play. Through this, truly innovative, inspiring storytelling can take place.

Seek newness

One of the most powerful uses of virtual reality is to give people transportative experiences they have never had before. Being in space. Learning dance in Cuba. New experiences in turn can provoke feelings we have never felt before. In correlation with research I’ve done on VR, the closest feeling to being in a VR world is the feeling of being a child: where experiences are new and wonderful, feelings are surprising and pure, and you discover them for yourself (unlike filmic storytelling that leads you where it wants you to go). If we use VR in the right ways to tell stories, we can return to this kind of pure emotion and experience that our modern adult, civilized lives are so good at stomping out.

I left with a renewed commitment to telling stories from the heart and the gut. A dedication to simplicity in our communication. It is our job and responsibility to identify and amplify the aspirational feelings that being a child so perfectly exemplifies. We have the best of the physical and digital world to do this, to champion these feelings more than ever, in a world where we may need them more than ever.