Ted Goranson - Personal Blog

The blog of Ted Goranson. This is both a personal blog and an ongoing update on his projects.

The Future of Storytelling

Published: 31 Jul 2014

Things are moving. We now have a name for our web startup, redframer.com, plus some emerging designs and some movement on marketing. It is ever so important now that we maintain focus, so a goal is to budget more time for the content we have prepared for here.

Another goal is to sift through the conference landscape and start to re-engage. In a former, rich life I went to a conference nearly every month, careening among disciplines. Now it is time to start travelling again and we have to sort out the few to invest in. The film and AI worlds present a lot of options, but very few that are focused on the kind of future we see. Well, that’s a problem for later.

This week we are working on the narrative gatherings. If you want to be with the smartest people on the planet, thinking about where we are going, where would you go? I suppose at some point, we’ll present at the Hypertext and Social Media Conference.

There’s little imagination there and a whole lot of trend following but some serious interest in engineering. This is a good place for presenting what we see for assisted, collaborative second-order media generation.

Beth is investing heavily in the Intelligent Narrative Technologies Workshop. She presented there when it was an AAAI special focus workshop. She rejoined this year and will likely be a regular there. You can see a movie of her complete presentation over at her new site. That meeting is a small group of mostly academics, but includes the best of these.

The Future of Storytelling Event

The circus of presentation.

Now we are considering something quite different and we are not sure how to proceed. There is a yearly do in New York called the Future of Storytelling Summit. It is limited to 500 people, which is not huge; but in my experience there are never as many as a hundred people doing truly worthwhile work in any discipline. Will a critical mass of them be there? Will the need to amuse and entertain make it impossible to imagine well?

You'll probably want to noodle about the website to get an idea about what Google calls Khan Academy meets Cirque du Soleil.

The thing is put together as part entertainment and part interaction, both centered on curated thought leaders, many of them in advertising. At first blush, it seems more intent on promoting itself and being hip than advancing the art. It will be extraordinarily expensive for us, and as a general rule I don’t go where I’m not a participant. We will surely go, It has given me a chance to think about what I would say if asked; that is what this post is about.

Some time ago I was invited to Davos, which can be described as The Future of Economic Justice Summit. I decided not to go, that they stand in the way of possible progress. But FOST sounds like it has possibilities and does it matter if entertainment penetrates it?

Three Worlds of Stories

We believe that stories live in three worlds, folded together.

I believe stories exist in three worlds.

The World You See

There are the traditional stories, the ones we visibly consume. These are created by professionals (I mean this in the sense that we recognize them as artists) and we’ve been very clever at devising the consumption network and integrating it into commerce. When most people think of story, this is what they think of.

This is what the FOST folks have in mind, it seems.

The commercial model is evolving quickly and who creates and how it is delivered are changing. Some of the creative tools are evolving as well, but more slowly, but the nature of the package is changing perhaps not much. Movies are still movies, books are books. Hypermedia may emerge but hasn’t yet. Not here. Games could possibly matter, but not yet.

Change of this type is not new; we have the last hundred years of shuffling creation/distribution models since the emergence of film. We do have someperspectives on this.

What seems new is the commercialization of perspectives on those changes, and that's not very interesting if you are interested in stories per se.

The action that matters is in the two other worlds of story.

The World You Create

We have the world in which we build ourselves. We fashion fundamental notions of who we are and what it takes to be alive. We do this by creating our own stories, entering them then elaborating and projecting them.

These are internal, largely subconscious, pervasive and contagious. The weaker of us simply adopt ordinary story elements, integrating key qualities of self into consumption networks. fashion is our primary means of making this explicit. I maintain that this world of stories is changing quickly in essential and powerful ways.

The four novel influences on storytelling we mention above (in the parenthetical) are key here: movies; jazz; noir; folding.

Film and arts at the edge of film are where the power is in this world. We generally recognize that this world exists and that it consists of narrative. Whole industries are sustained to engineer and manipulate these narratives, again by clever accomodate to commerce. But we know relatively little in terms of dynamics beyond intuition and following what worked in the past.

Because the dynamics are evolving and sometimes abruptly changing, prior expertise cannot be trusted. I'll say this again a different way. We are clever and at cleverest and most inventive when inventing ourselves. The tools are changing in how we build ourselves. Social media is a factor, but only as thread material. We don't know what we are capable of. Anyone who confidently predicts is delusional. Our best guide comes not from what came before but what the constraints are in the what I'll call the Third World of Stories.

We've only seen four new things in storytelling in a hundred years I believe.


This is massive and has pulled all other narrative forms along. (TeeVee is just a sibling.)

The novel is now cinematic, as is music. All advertising is cinematic now insofar as the stories. Some of FOST deals with narrative retailing. For us, the future of storytelling includes the future of movies.


Some will argue that this does not belong on the list but I think it truly new in the last hundred years and fundamental to how stories are formed.

By jazz, I mean collaborative improvisation based on acknowledging boundaries and playing with them — taking the constraints of rhythm and dancing within it; referencing a melody and turning it around; discovering the limits of an instrument and bending it; taking the very limiting notion of harmony and chord progression and dicing it.

All these require the listener to keep in mind the edges that are being manipulated. It is as much about constraints as it is freedom and it is no wonder we have the narrative (however fictional) of its origins in slavery.


This is the notion that the world of the movie (nominally but not necessarily a movie) is controlled in some essential way by the presence of the viewer. Odd coincidences occur for our amusement. Innocent, everyday people's lives are interrupted so we can have some pleasure. Key events in the film world are staged in ways that are essentially impossible, only so our cinematic window can make sense.

This is also based on an implicit understanding, the complement of the one behind jazz. There, we have to be conscious in some way of the limits that are being bent and broken. In noir, these are hidden in the machinery of the story and presented as the way the world is.

Those three: movies, jazz and noir are uniquely American inventions and I believe have more power than the commercial and military advantages normally assigned to my culture.

The next is a whole world phenomenon and it fascinates. It depends on the others.

Narrative Folding

At its simplest, this is the story acknowledging itself, possibly by having a story within. But it covers a large vocabulary of self-aware, reflexive and ironic devices. I am attempting to identify these because I believe they are evolving quickly and many examples depend on knowledge of previous instances.

These are noir jazz, in effect.

The Third World

How the mind fashions narrative.

The key to all this is what I consider the third world of storytelling., what happens in our minds.

Using a food metaphor: you have chefs preparing food. You have diners enjoying it. But you also have the biology of the system. Both the creators and consumers of the food reference this in the sense that they know what works, but the details of enzymes and amino acids are unknown to either.

But they matter, because no one can go outside the boundaries of how the body works. Everyone has the same gastrointestinal basics, which happen to be complex, esoteric and relatively immutable.

Back to narrative: the system of story creation gets to stretch the way the mind works. That's how we define creative people. Consumers are creative too, in ways we've noted. But if you want to work with the future of storytelling, you have to work with the way the mind manages stories. This is different than how the mind uses stories to build an identity and make decisions. It is more fundamental, dealing with how memories are stored and recalled, how facts are structured and language formed.

We don’t think logically, though we form thoughts into logical strings when explaining or justifying. We don’t store facts, we store pieces of stories.

All of our concepts are narrative fragments. All of our actions are decided in contexts that we fabricate as larger narrative situations. Logicians know they had a problem in how to reason about this, They knew decades ago and developed some formal tools to extend logic to suit humans. It works.

Situation theory works. It works in the human space. It works in the mathematical space. This is a very big deal. We now have an implementation that works in the computer space.

The Whole System

Work in all three worlds is more effective than work in any one.

Stories. Futures.

You need to work in all three worlds and we get a lot of leverage by doing so.

In the creation end, we focus on film in the context of multimedia environments. We think that people like to consume films by watching of course, but a second order consumption is talking about them and creating multimedia structures from them.

In the personal identity world, we leverage social media. Currently, you can only interact as you would personally by saying and showing things you think are cool. These reflect inner narratives. But what if you could transition to seeing and mastering your inner narratives, taking the stuff (like movies) that others merely consume and creating new artifacts to share?

Now that would be something.

What you need is something in the support system that helps you surf your inner narrative. The future rests on our ability to build this and turn control of it to people. We will try.

© copyright Ted Goranson, 2014