cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by entrelec

No one denies the power of story.

We are wired for storytelling. It’s the world’s oldest tradition. It’s what makes us human. It matters for game designers. It produces results in business. People who market brands and specialize in SEO are storytellers.

And now I reach for the sure to please images of cave paintings.

I’m on board with all of this. It’s been in my bag of interests long before ds106, before 50+ Ways, before even the stuff did at Maricopa, it might have to go all the way back to Go Dog Go.

I just wonder, after all the nodding and assenting is done, in looking at a lot of published things, in reading blogs, in just seeing how people communicate online, if they really do take on storytelling? I also see in working with my ds106 students that many of them are really challenged when I ask them to make something up, to play with the truth, to go outside story as a series of events. Where else in a university class are you encouraged TO MAKE S*** UP? I’d be all over that, but since a kid I have been a card carrying sarcastic.

On the other hand, I wonder if it might get nauseating if every bit of human interaction devolved into a personal narrative. Or ones that were not really interesting. I recall a student tumblr sarcastically groaning about profs sharing personal stories (the GIFs are worth the click)

Ouch, now this is coming off like a bit of Snobbish Story Superiority. No, folks, I am learning this all the time. I am in eternal practice mode. But I find myself more and more tuned to hearing and seeing stories, or their potential, or just appreciating the casual passing or acknowledging of a story moment.

In a way I am less interested in calculated efforts to tell stories (to sell me stuff or as a means to get attention) and the ones that are more subtle, or accidental, or just… natural. Two of them interrupted my day recently, and I cannot help in not only wanting to share them but also riff on them.

Amongst the regular twitter browsing and grazing, I saw a link from Ma’ayan Plaut to one of her Oberlin web team blog posts. I had the pleasure to meet Ma’ayan last year at UMW’s Faculty Academy, as well as again recently on a quick Oberlin visit (and again, I am wanting to heap gushing praise on the Obiemaps project, it is one of the coolest ed tech informational things I have seen recently).

I really liked the elegant design of the Oberlin Workteam blogs, and started clicking around to see what her other colleagues blog about. I landed on this lovely story by Violet Peña where she took an “event”, a thing in her day, noting a similar vintage bicycle next to hers. It would have bene interesting to reflect on the chance occurrence of two old Fuji road bikes, same color being in the same bicycle rack, yet Violet ratchers up the interestingness level by creating a fictional narrative on “Duality”

He was on that fabled bike now, glorying in its speed and its silence, wheels kissing the pavement””softly, gently””as the road unrolled before them. As he passed the Faculty of Symbology, his eye was caught by the bike rack by the front door, for there in the rack was a bike identical to his own, down to the custom burnt-sienna handlebar tape. He felt a jolt in the pit of his stomach; he looked down at his own bike, back at the other bike, and the next instant, he was hitting the ground and rolling, loose paving granules digging into his palms. He lay there for a full minute, dazed by the fall and unable to figure out why he had fallen.

And then my neurons starting firing, because Violet’s photo of her Fuji bike frame rewinded my own memory back to my own Fuji bicycle. I was 12 years old, and my friend Marc had gotten a new ten speed bicycle for his birthday. That alone dates this time period, it was not a road bike, but a “Ten Speed”, with those sleek curled handle bars. And I was a kid still riding around on my banana seat Schwinn knockoff, though now I wish I had that bike now.

Armed with the “my best friend has one” I lobbied my parents for a ten-speed for my birthday. We went to the same local bike store that Marc’s parents shopped at, but there was a newer bike that charmed us. In thinking about this I was struggling to remember the model. I knew it was a Fuji, and it was lemon yellow. Its unusual feature was a rear drum break.

I diverted two hours combing through my boxes of old photos because I had a memory of my Dad with that old Fuji- he took it with him in 1990 when my parents moved to FLorida, and he was still riding my old bike around the neighborhood. Hoping that the photo might show the model name, I hunted through old photos in vain, but gained pleasant= distractions and flashbacks from my rather extensive and likely embarrassing collection of old letters, journals, even audio cassettes.

Failing to find it in my own archives, I went to the web, and fell in love with the Classic Fuji web site, where someone has lovingly scanned and organized the history of Fuji bikes from 1971-1991. I seem to remember the model was a “Special Tourer” and I am pretty sure I found it in the 1975 catalog.

It was truly Violet’s photo of that downtube Fuji label that connected me with that bike. I put plenty of miles on it as a teen, and am fairly sure I took it away to college for my first years, before I finally upgraded to a room-mates Trek years later.

I don’t have any epic or personal story about that bike to share here, but want to share the ripple effect of a story like Violet’s to trigger my own memories, the cross cutting flow of remembering getting that bike, the kind of freedom a bicycle enables, the idea that my Dad held on to that bike and rode it in his retirement years Florida 20+ years later.

The outcome of storytelling are not strictly for the creator, there is a secondary story effect on the listener and out own connections we make with a story- so I cannot help buy appreciate Violet’s story, one made by someone I have never met before, and pretty much found accidentally via some link curiosity on the web.

If you do not have these serendipity experiences, you either are not on the same open web I am on, or are not venturing out enough. This stuff happens ALL THE TIME TO ME.

As Ira Glass says, “It’s time for Act 2″….

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

Living in a small town, I know of few things more exciting than getting a delivery. Lacking nearby stores, I do a lot of my shopping online. So the other day, I looked up from the computer when I heard a faint brake squeak outside.

The UPS Truck is here! I remembered some guitar related goodies I ordered from Amazon.

Now the other thing about living up here is there is one driver who does deliveries. For many years when I lived here, and I had a fair amount of stuff ordered for my previous job, I got to know them all by first name. Because when they came by, they would have conversations, it was not the anonymous stop and drop of living in Phoenix. So there was Jack the UPS guy, Lorrie the FedEx Air lady, and Al the FedEx ground guy.

When i was here last summer, I got a UPS delivery, and was sad when it was some other guy then Jack. Some friends said they heard he had moved to Colorado. Oh well. I did not even get the new guys name.

But yesterday, when I went out on the porch to see what was coming, I was pleased to hear the loud Aerosmith music blaring from the brown van and to see Jack’s happy gait strolling towards me.

We shook hands and he joked about me not being here for a long time. I mentioned hearing he had moved away.

And then he told me a story that pretty much yanked my heart out and tossed it down the street. He had suffered a tragic loss, and described how it got to be had since he knew so many people in town, and he got weary of all the well intentioned outpouring of concern because there was then the having to retell his own story again and again.

I did not need to ask the details, I can guess close enough from the way he described it. And how he tok his family on a 4 month trip around the west to just get away from the loss (which of course is always there).

And I can relate to the loss, and I can do it myself without having to tell my story again. You can appreciate a story without reciprocating. You can appreciate a story just by listening.

That visit was a giant gift in a tiny package.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

And so I find myself again thinking about the ways we do and sometimes do not make a human connection with the people we interact with in exchanges. It does not mean a deep personal story has to pass every time, but there is something rather important in making eye contact, not yakking on the cell phone in the grocery line, in making some meaningful conversation, in the ways we meet people we do not know out there.

And again, within an hour, two different stories I had intersections with, from different spaces. came my way. Unintentionally.

I cannot get enough of this serendipity.

And it’s not that any storytelling is powerful- much of it sucks (and also different people will react to them in various degrees)– but like many other things, the only way you get better at something is to try doing it again and again (and again and again) (and experimenting).

So here is my sales pitch, sans story. Do you want to ramp up your own stuff? Get yer butt over to ds106. I am working on some major re-designs of both the site and approach for January 2013’s UMW class launch.

As Ira Glass says, “Stay with us…”

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. I think the student stuff is funny in the way that I often think assholes are funny. Sarcasm cranked up to that degree is kid stuff and either they out grow it to return to an innocent receptivity of heart and mind or it solidifies and they become Certified Adult Assholes.

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