History of the Story: From Homer to Instagram

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In-app stories – modern invention or modern reinvention? 

 

You may think the answer to this question is clear, or even redundant. However, I argue that going back in time, to the earliest form of ‘stories’ will not only answer some crucial questions about exactly what is the modern-day story (think Instagram), but also crystallize intrinsic understanding about why stories even matter … even in the digital era.

Let me first give some context to this story. We are Storyly. We create in-app stories. We are passionate about in-app stories. I’m going to give you just some of the reasons why.  

 

From Homer to Brad Pitt – Stories in History

 

History of the Story: from Homer to Instagram

You probably could not recall what you ate for breakfast last Tuesday, but I bet you know the story of the ancient Greek Trojan war. How is this so? How can you so easily recall a ‘story’ that has not been falsified and probably has little relevance to your life? 

Homer’s Iliad (the story of the Trojan war) was a story that has been loved and re-told since the 8th Century B.C.E. It is suggested it was particularly loved by Alexander the Great. Stories have been the primary vehicle for education and entertainment since as early as the 12th century B.C.E through oral storytellers (bards) in Ancient Greece. Whilst many things have died out through history, such as gladiator matches, dragon mythology, the old English language, fashion, and so forth, stories have remained constant throughout our human history.

Stories were one of the first ways you got to know the world around you as a child. Stories are the way you understand your grandmother’s past – through her anecdotes and tales. These stories are what introduced you to concepts such as the ‘loss of innocence’ from the mandatory reading of ‘Lord of the Flies’ in high school. Today, stories are what helps you know what your friends are doing in their daily lives, through digitized snapshots, known as ‘stories’. Whether it is Instagram story emojis, filters, or captions – they all help to tell a story. 

Stories are what enabled Brad Pitt to act in the movie Troy, 10,000 years later after Homer’s Iliad was born. All thanks to a perfectly crafted, engaging story. 

Whilst the story-telling method, and content of the stories have changed vastly throughout history, their place in society, history, and our everyday lives have not. 

 

Stories Aid Understanding, Memory Formation and Information Retrieval

 

History of the Story- from Homer to Instagram2

An example of the popular format of Instagram stories

 

I remember, my nerdy best friend, during her high school days used to go to an after-school class. There she “learned how to learn”. It was called “brain dynamics”. Yes, you heard that right, she was learning how to learn. Later that same concept prominent theme of my first university degree. But, that is neither here, nor there, to the point, I am about to make. 

Whilst I am sure her class consisted of numerous valuable lessons, one poignant point I remember is that apparently, you remember things easier if you present those facts or information in a story. Whilst I used to tease her for her OTT nerdy ways, I did put into practice this technique throughout my life. The results were always consistently positive.

There has been some anecdotal evidence provided that supports the theory that when information is presented in a ‘story’ format, that it aids memory formation and memory recognition and recall (two distinct forms of retrieving information in the brain). The Canadian Association for Neuroscience discusses the techniques that the “world’s top memory champions” use to remember information, which is to “create stories rich with meaning to remember random information, such as the order of a deck of cards.

Judy Willis, a board-certified neurologist, in her blog titled ‘To Help Kids Remember What They Need to Learn Tell a Story’, published on Psychology Today, provides a helpful guide on how to educate your children through stories. She writes:

“​Neuroscience research into memory highlights the power of learning through stories to help kids build understanding and long-term memory, in even the most challenging (or boring) school subjects”

Quite simply, presenting information in a story-format helps people create memories. It also helps access those memories and to understand the information better. 

I am an anti-consumerist at heart, whose profession is a marketer (ironic, but true). However, I believe there is a clear case of your brand’s information presented in a story format. Stories are understood and stories are remembered. This could be the difference between a user remembering your excellent onboarding content, because it was presented in story format, and coming back, or uninstalling your app.  

 

In-App Stories Are Familiar Yet Fresh

 

Is it really possible that something can be so new yet so familiar? I have such mixed feelings about this. Much of humanity is built upon explorers, conquering the world in search of something new. However, there is also an equally strong force that evidences the human tendency towards familiarity.  I cannot offer an explanation about how to reconcile these two opposing variables. However, I can provide evidence that states that these two drives are prevalent and powerful. 

It is obvious, familiarity is one of the main app design and UX pillars. There is also numerous evidence that suggests that humans gravitate towards familiarity. A psychology study carried out by Bornstein, et., al (1987) discusses how people who were merely subliminally exposed to an individual had a greater liking towards that individual, in comparison to control groups. Familiarity also breeds comfort, security, and stability. 

So then, what do new things breed?

New or ‘novel’ things tend to breed attention. According to the principles of habituation, our brains are geared towards novel (new) stimuli. This makes sense and is not a groundbreaking concept. So, how does this relate to stories? The current generation was introduced to and familiarised with stories. Since it was popularized by Instagram and Snapchat. Yet, it is still a novel experience to see such functionality on other mainstream apps. Why? Because in-app story functionality is specifically built by those apps, only for their apps. There is no third-party provider of in-app story functionality, which other apps have utilized to put stories on their apps. 

I will not get into all of the product benefits of in-app stories, such as emoji-sliders, unlimited content, and two-way communication. Why? this is the topic of a whole separate blog post! This post is about focusing on the ethos of the story, and why we think it matters. 

 

Final Thoughts on In-app Stories and the Story

 

So why in-app stories? Whilst stories might be a trending part of millennial culture, even LinkedIn is jumping on the bandwagon, we believe it is no accident that stories have been adopted by modern culture and has been reinvented. We believe that stories have played a vital role throughout human history. This means something. We think that stories are one of the most reliable and engaging forms of communication.

Stories are familiar, yet still new. Stories have a great capacity to increase memory-formation, understanding, and retrieval. Lastly, stories were loved and used for thousands of years. This is why we think that stories are the perfect vehicle for brands to communicate with their users. These are just some of the many reasons why we launched Storyly.

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