Cultural Storytelling

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When it comes to protecting the environment, storytelling is one of the greatest methods of striking the emotion in individuals needed to get them to make a difference. Sparking an emotion in the audience is one characteristic of storytelling that can be much more effective in convincing people to take action (Robin, 2013). As Katie Harrison (2014) pointed out in a blog post on “Digital Storytelling,” a narrative story telling a message you want to portray can be much more effective than posting a sign.” Adding images to that narrative can be even more powerful. Take, as an example, this television commercial about littering. Filmed as part of  the “Keep America Beautiful” campaign in 1971, the advertisement was designed to get people to be more responsible for protecting the environment at the individual level, attempting to elicit action by individuals.

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Regardless of the symbolism of the “red man” having fast food garbage thrown at his feet by the “white man” and the obvious absence of the responsibility that industry and manufacturing companies had on large-scale pollution offenses, the ad campaign was very successful. 100,000 people were motivated in four months time to request information about reducing pollution. The campaign is attributed with getting people to reduce litter by as much as 88% in 300 communities in 38 states by 1983 (Ad Council, 2004, p. 7-8).

Bringing things forward to the 21st century, according to “About Our Community” information at The Story of Stuff project, “Five years and 40 million views later, we’re a Community of 500,000 changemakers worldwide, working to build a more healthy and just planet” (“Story of Stuff,” n.d.). The project uses a video narrator overlaying animated illustrations to tell the story of how the products we purchase all have an impact on our environment and how the results might not always be obvious.

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The following is a short animated video encourages using eco-friendly Ganesh idols instead of non-biodegradable products that fill the rivers with products during a popular Ganesh Chaturhi festival in India where 100’s of thousands of idols are immersed in the rivers as a means of asking for a blessing of wealth and prosperity.

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As new modalities are developed, new opportunities are made available for engaging a new generation. Probably one of the more popular area for citizen engagement comes from online games for kids and incorporation of storytelling methods in class curriculum. “Storytelling appeals to children’s imaginations and emotions and helps make learning more meaningful. When children listen to stories, they create mental images that belong to them, connecting the content to something personally significant” (Goral & Gnadinger, 2006, p. 4).

PBSkids has a interactive game called eekoworld where you can create your own EekoCreature which lives in an environment that you choose. While your creature is moving around it may encounter choices about what happens is its world.  There is an interactive game that has you look around a typical house to determine if there are things you can change to conserve resources like turning off the water or containing an oil spill in the garage. There are several other modules related to recycling, plants and animals and the future. Lesson plans for teacher are available, as well as activities that parents can do with their children as family. Community-based projects are included to cultivate stewardship of the land.

My creature:


My creature’s world:


Frank Rose (2011) says, “…if stories themselves are universal, the way we tell them changes with the technology at hand. Every new medium has given rise to a new form of narrative” (p.1). A good example of this comes from a recent USC Anneberg Innovation Lab event called CRUNCH Hackaton: Transmedia Brading for Environmental Awareness. Teams of students came together to create “media experiences” to be used as transmedia storytelling to get the public more involved in environmental issues like air quality or access to parks. The winning project “…was a game for children, in which players build their own communities and raise their environmental awareness by planting, watering and fertilizing plants virtually” (Wang, 2013).

Using storytelling methods to involve the public in environmental education, whether from the corporate world or from a non-profit organization, has been recognized as a communication method that “…established a common ground among all participates and provides a faster method of establishing a social relationship” of which, hopefully, excites people to take action (Barker & Gower, 2010, p. 302). I expect that we’ll be seeing storytelling continued to be used as a means of getting a message across to an audience as we, as humans, respond to that kind of personalization.



Barker, R., & Gower, K. (2010). Strategic application of storytelling in organizations: Toward effective communication in a diverse world. Journal Of Business Communication, 47(3), 295-312. doi:10.1177/0021943610369782

Basu, S. (2010, September 3). 10 environment games that teach kids about earth, ecology & conservation. Retrieved from

Goral, M., & Gnadinger, C. (2006). Using Storytelling to teach mathematics concepts. Australian

Primary Mathematics Classroom, 11(1), 4-8.

Harrison, K. (2014, February 5). Digital storytelling. Retrieved from

Ma, K., Liao, I., Frazier, J., Hauser, H., & Kostis, H. (2012). Scientific Storytelling Using Visualization. IEEE Computer Graphics & Applications, 32(1), 12-19. doi:10.1109/MCG.2012.24

Pitrelli, N. (2011). Science journalism and digital storytelling. JCOM: Journal Of Science Communication, 10(4), 1-2.

Public service advertising that changed a nation. (2004, September). The Advertising Council.

Robin, B. (2013). About digital storytelling: The 7 elements of digital storytelling. Retrieved from

Rose, F. (2011, November 3). The art of immersion: Why do we tell stories? Retrieved from

Wang, J. (2013, September 29). USC students compete in environmental hackathon. Retrieved from


Elements of Digital Storytelling

note: I have also made this post available in a Google document if that is easier for making edit suggestions.

At a very early age I was introduced to a pre-cursor of digital storytelling by way of the record album. When I was four years old, my parents bought a toy store. Since I wasn’t yet in school I got to hang out with my mom at the store all day long. One way to keep me entertained was to put record albums on the turntable. One of my favorites was an album of fairy tales told by “Tammy.”

Tammy-albumThe doll, “Tammy,” was a competitor of Barbie and was one of my older sister’s dolls. One of my other favorite albums was stories told by Troll dolls. I’ve got that album somewhere stashed in the garage. During the long days spent at work I would listen to these albums. I would begin by placing the record needle at the beginning of the album. After a time, because I had listened to the same records over, and over, and over again, I would begin to get bored. One time I jumped up and down and found that in doing so, I could make the needle skip to a new section. All of a sudden I had a different story, much like a pick-your-own-adventure type story. That was great fun and made for complete and unexpected variations on the same old story lines.

Andrew Stanton (2012) suggests in his Ted Talk, Andrews Stanton: The clues to a great story, that there are no rules for storytelling, only guidelines. Stanton suggests that a few of the guidelines he uses include having a strong theme like asking a question, “Who am I,” that is carried throughout the story. You should also be telling your story in a way that has the audience leaving with a sense of wonder and the storyteller should use what one knows in order to make the story authentic. Depending on the story that is being told and the storyteller’s skill, which guidelines to follow or how closely to follow them, produces an opportunity for a great story.

I think the most important element of storytelling is that the recipient leaves with some kind of emotional experience, whether that be affirmation, anger, a call for action to right a wrong; some kind of emotion that gives one pause for thought. One of the 7 Elements of Digital Storytelling as outlined by The Center for Digital Storytelling at the University of Houston, is ‘”Emotional Content  – Serious issues that come alive in a personal and powerful way and connects the audience to the story.” I’m not sure I completely agree that the emotion has to be “serious,” but I do think that you need something in your story that people can be inspired by, something that stimulates one’s emotions. Or in the case of the pieced together fairy tales, which I found quite hilarious, stories with unexpected turns, that always ended with “happily ever after” for at least one of the story’s characters.

One of the biggest differences digital storytelling has from passive storytelling is access. Not only can you be a consumer of stories available through multiple online platforms, but you can also be a producer as well. Because of the openness of the web and availability of social media, when you publish a story you have the opportunity to get feedback and critiques, a chance to revise, and the ability to republish. It is true that before there were online platforms for access, storytellings were getting feedback, critique and even possibly rewriting their work, going digital opens up the options. Bryan Alexander (2011)  asks; “How does being digital enable new aspects of storytelling?” and talks about how the use of social media has impacted digital storytelling by creating access to producing and consuming, supporting, showing examples, experimenting, and obtaining critiques (p. 14). These activities are confirmed by Clay Shirky (2010) , in an interview in Storytelling Part 4: Potential of Social Media when he talks about social media giving the opportunity for feedback, competition, and learning from others as social media outlets provide opportunities for storytellers to share their work.

There are endless and unknown ways in which digital storytelling can grow and evolve. In a recorded interveiw, Storytelling Part 1: Change of Storytelling (2010), Henry Jenkins talks about Transmedia in which stories can play across multimedia, dispersing across multiple platforms with multiple points of contact and Shirky talks about stories evolving into multiple threads, happening over a long period of time. Alexander (2011) talks about telling a story through multiple delivery methods either in collaboration with one another or with each mode telling the story in a way best suited for the medium (p. 14). One example of a Transmedia project is Half The Sky Movement, which uses videos, websites, games (Facebook and Mobile), along with on-site presentations and discussion forums to reach a wide audience.

Half the Sky Movement: The Game Trailer:

An example of a transmedia story that is fiction-related is The Lizzie Bennet Diaries  (2012) which was mainly a series of video posts made to YouTube that retold the Pride and Prejudice story and included twitter and tumblr posts. It ran for just about a year and has since branched out into new story threads based on some of the other Pride and Prejudice characters. These threads are telling the story from their own character’s perspective. Another example is the winning story of Story 2013 a Transmedia competition held at higher education institutions in Switzerland, called Michael2023 (2013). This is a story of how social media becomes part of one’s life in the year 2023.

Why do we study or participate in digital storytelling as a distinct art form or communication medium? Because we can. Mostly because the opportunity is there. In a video interview with Dean Janse (2010), from Participation Culture Foundation, in Storytelling Part 1: Change of Storytelling, he says that the masses can now create stories to an unlimited audience in ways that they haven’t been able to in the past.

In the past, storytelling for the masses was done by a few who had the money for recording and access to very expensive film equipment. Along with dedicated time to creating the recording or film of a story. Then these stories were consumed in limited dedicated spaces at prescribed dates and time. With today’s technology, almost anyone can document elements of a story and put one together. Anyone can tell their story and more importantly, anyone can share that story. People who may not have had a voice in the past are now able to share their stories and tell them themselves, instead of relying on someone else to tell their story for them. Youtube is one platform where people are telling their stories. Accounting to (2012) every second, one hour of video is uploaded to YouTube. And YouTube is only one of many publishing platforms.


Is this image a digital story? What if the words making up the image is a story?

Is there really such as thing as digital Storytelling, or are we just talking about using technology to tell a story? In many ways, I think “digital” being placed in front of storytelling is misguided. You don’t say digital journalism when you are reading an online version of a traditionally published newspaper, and you don’t say digital diagnosis when your doctor reads the digital images of an MRI report.

If I had to come up with a definition, digital storytelling is a method in which a story is told with the use of some kind of digital means. At the most basic level, the difference between digital storytelling and non-digital storytelling is in the way in which the story is being captured or manipulated. To me, a storyteller being recorded with a digital camera or digital audio recorder isn’t a digital story, but rather a digital recording of a story being told. But a series of moving images recorded with or without narrative through a digital camera would be considered a digital story because the story that is unfolding through the images is using electronic means to help tell the story.

I also think to put a definition on the terms somehow diminishes its capacity, and limits the innovative ideas one might apply to it. Just as giving a definition to an “outstanding” column on a rubric might constrain what “outstanding” could be for a student, I’m willing to accept a broader definition of digital storytelling, and leave the assessment and judgement of the quality of the story to show for itself.

“About digital storytelling: The 7 elements of digital storytelling”, Retrieved from

Alexander, B. (2011). The new digital storytelling: Creating narratives with new media.  Santa Barbara, California•Denver, Colorado•Oxford, England: ABC-CLIO, LLC.

“Andrew Stanton: The clues to a great story.” Feb 2012 Retrieved from

The Association of Independents in Radio: AIR! Retrieved from

Baris, D., Jung, N., and Steiner, L. (2013). Michael2023. Retrieved from

Choose your own adventure. (2013, December 9). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Half the sky movement: Turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide. Retrieved from

Lizzie Bennet diaries. Retrieved from

Lizzie Bennet diaries YouTube playlist. Retrieved from

Moloney, K. “What is Transmedia Storytelling?” Retrieved from

One hour per second. (2012). Retrieved from

Plett, H. (2013, December 17). “How to stop the spiral of self-doubt.” Retrieved from

Story2013. (2013). Retrieved from

Storytelling part 1: Change of storytelling. (2010).

Storytelling part 4: Potential of social media. (2010). Retrieved from