For several months, I've been collecting media coverage of new tools like The Atavist, Byliner and Longreads.
Last June, for example, ReadWriteWeb described the iOS app for the Atavist as “… changing the way nonfiction stories are created and sold.” More recently, Christopher Mims, writing at Technology Review, described The Atavist as "one eBook platform to rule them all".
The addition of multimedia elements – video, audio, perhaps animation – does open up a range of possibilities for more effective communication of an essential idea. Digital formats also make it possible to sell shorter-form works at a profit, assuming demand for that product exists and the market can find that content.
I’m interested in the new tools, but most seem to offer less onerous ways to put words and images on screens. As Mims noted in his review, "When a team transitions from building things for itself to building a platform, it's got to be easy enough for anyone to use it."
"Faster, better, cheaper" is nothing to sneeze at. As much as these platforms are changing what stories are created and sold, though, they aren't really challenging story-telling itself.
In Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto, Peter Brantley’s “The Curation of Obscurity” includes a paragraph that stopped me in my tracks:
I am increasingly convinced that a great deal of human story-sharing must persist at the simplest level available. We are not very intelligent creatures; we poison our world, craft intricate designs of power that do violence to hopes and dreams, and treat each other with willful, artful cruelty. These are not necessarily the hallmarks of a long-lived species. I suspect our ability to use the full level of technical tools at our disposal to assist our storytelling has been superseded by the potential complexity of the stories those tools can tell. It is our storytelling singularity, and one we have yet to master.
As Joseph Campbell beautifully explained in his 1988 book, The Power of Myth, we have long connected through story. Doing so now may be more important than ever. It's sobering to think that our problem may not be the tools, but the users.