In one of my favorite science fiction movies, Her (2013), the protagonist Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) lives in the near future and has an unusual profession. He writes sentimental letters on behalf of people who struggle to express their feelings in writing.
When I watched the movie, and I won’t spoil the plot for those who haven’t seen it, it comforted me to think that in a future of technological advancements, emotions would prevail. As mentioned in a recent article about artificial intelligence (AI), there is no machine that can replace human creativity and emotion when it comes to storytelling. Hopefully, technologies like AI will only serve as support for people involved in the creation of stories, such as novelists, screenwriters, or corporate communicators.
However, we cannot assume that a technological future will be entirely rosy for narrative authors either. In the digital era, storytellers will face challenges arising from the changing landscape of media consumption and technological advancements.
How to Approach Storytelling in the Fourth Industrial Revolution
Below, we will explore six storytelling challenges in a digital world that may intensify as the digitalization of our economies progresses. To counter each challenge, we offer recommendations that narrative authors can implement.
1. Shorter attention spans. With the abundance of content available on different platforms, capturing and maintaining the audience’s attention has become increasingly difficult. We no longer read; now we scan. When watching a movie or reading a book, it’s likely that we are simultaneously engaging in other tasks such as checking our mobile devices or browsing the internet. Many companies have shifted their focus from measuring the number of visitors to their web pages to measuring the number of minutes visitors spend consuming their content. So, how can we capture the audience’s attention amidst all this noise? The importance of telling fascinating narratives using effective delivery techniques is now more critical than ever.
2. Content saturation. The proliferation of content on various platforms, such as social media, streaming services, and websites, has created intense competition for audience attention. Storytellers must find unique and innovative ways to stand out in a sea of content. In this context, it is recommended to focus on high-quality, unique, and original stories that avoid falling into stereotypes and clichés. Storytellers should ask themselves: Can I surprise my audience with unexpected plot twists, memorable characters, or a hypnotic narrative?
3. Distribution. While digital platforms have expanded the reach of narrative creators, they have also made it difficult for new and emerging voices to be discovered. Algorithms can influence which content is promoted and seen, making it crucial for storytellers to navigate distribution channels effectively. To gain visibility, storytellers should use digital marketing strategies to spread stories on social media, collaborate with other content creators, participate in relevant events, and consider investing in advertising.
4. Monetization. Finding sustainable sources of income in the digital era can be challenging for storytellers (jobs like Theodore Twombly’s are unlikely in the real world). Traditional monetization models, such as selling theater tickets or books, may not be as reliable, and narrative creators often need to explore alternative avenues such as crowdfunding, merchandising, or brand partnerships.
5. Adaptability to new technologies. As we explored in a previous article, storytellers must adapt to evolving technologies such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), artificial intelligence (AI), and interactive storytelling. Incorporating these new tools and techniques into storytelling requires both creativity and technical skills. For instance, storytellers will have to learn how to please audiences with higher interactivity and alternative endings.
6. Copyright and intellectual property. In the digital era, protecting intellectual property is a growing challenge. Authors must deal with copyright issues, concerns about plagiarism, and unauthorized distribution to safeguard their work and ensure they receive proper credit and compensation. It is essential to be familiar with these issues and seek the necessary legal advice to protect the authorship of content.
Learning and Continuous Improvement
These recommendations are always valid, but they are even more relevant in the new environment we live in. To address storytelling challenges in a digital world, authors must remain alert and engage in a cycle of constant learning. It is imperative to study the work of other successful storytellers, take courses or workshops on emerging technological topics, and seek constructive feedback. We must overcome the fear of failure and dare to try new formulas and push our creativity to the limit. The constant pursuit of excellence will help storytellers stand out in the technological world without fearing machines.